The expansive Białowieża forest is one of the last and largest lowland, mixed-broadleaf, virgin forests in Europe. Massive patches of old-growth forest and flooded forest cover the area, scattered with symbolic, giant, ancient oak trees. Spanning two countries, the forest is protected as a national park on both sides of the border, with the larger part, Bielaviežskaja Pušča, in Belarus and the smaller, Białowieża Forest, in Poland. The ecosystem is also physically divided by the border fence separating the two countries.

The protected areas, as well as several high-value mires and bogs in their periphery, are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the 19th and 20th Centuries, many wetlands in the area were drained and several rivers straightened, which hugely influenced the status of the ecosystem. Water storage function was lost and the groundwater level significantly dropped with damaging knock-on effects on dominant native tree species such as oak, spruce, pine, and linden.

Quick Facts
  • Project: Bialowieza Forest Conservation Program
  • Project size: 1,500 km²
  • Project leader: Monika Kotulak
  • Project start: 2012
FZS-staff analyzing wolf movement patterns in Bialowieza. © Daniel Rosengren
An aerial photo of a naturally flowing river in the Bielaviežkaja Pušča National Park, Belarus. © Daniel Rosengren
European bison at sunrise in Bielaviežkaja Pušča National Park. © Daniel Rosengren
A young roe deer in Bielaviežkaja Pušča National Park. © Daniel Rosengren
The Bialowieza forest is famous for its giant, old oak trees. © Daniel Rosengren
The Eurasian Nuthatch is one of the species that stays in Bialowieza throughout the winter. © Daniel Rosengren
Red deer on the edge of the Bialowieza Forest. © Daniel Rosengren
FZS staff studying a map of the Bialowieza Forest project area. © Daniel Rosengren
The bark of a veteran oak tree in the Bialowieza forest. © Daniel Rosengren
An Alder-dominated flooded forest, restoring natural water levels to the Bialowieza Forest is a priority for the project. © Daniel Rosengren
Bialowieza harbors the world’s largest wild herds of European bison. © Daniel Rosengren
One of Bialowieza’s free-flowing rivers, restoring straightened rivers is a project priority. © Daniel Rosengren

Conservation Activities

Ecosystem restoration

Many of the conservation challenges and threats to the Białowieża ecosystem stem from anthropogenic changes to the area’s hydrology. Since 2012, FZS’s focus in the area, together with our partners in Belarus and Poland, has been to restore historical water levels. This is achieved by ‘re-meandering’ straightened rivers and blocking non-natural drainage channels. Restoring the natural hydrological regime is of key importance for the ecological functionality of the forest. So far, we have restored roughly four kilometers of the Salomienka river and 3,200 hectares of drained wetlands in the area. However, this is only the start, large areas still require restoration, and a cross-border approach to restoration work is needed. As such, in 2019 we started cooperation with Polish stakeholders: national park, forestry agency, and NGOs on joint restoration efforts. We are also facilitating knowledge transfer through exchange visits and scientific cooperation, with a focus on restoration methods and best-practice, between Bielaviežskaja Pušča National Park in Belarus and the Bavarian National Park in Germany.

Public outreach

FZS and partners organize workshops and open lectures targeted at national park staff and other interested members of the community. These outreach events are focused on specific topics on nature conservation. The Bielaviežskaja Pušča National Park in Belarus, with support from FZS, also organizes open, themed events such as wolf night, bat night, biodiversity day, and wetlands day. These events draw people to the area and include a series of activities such as workshops, excursions, and games to raise awareness of conservation issues and the park’s wildlife and nature.

Ecosystem monitoring

Feasibility studies are conducted prior to our restoration work; while hydrology and biodiversity at these sites are monitored before, during, and after restoration. We also monitor key species like badgers, bats, wolves, lynx, and birds using camera traps, telemetry, acoustic recorders, and other up-to-date methods and equipment. We carry out this work in order to better understand the value of the forest, build capacity amongst national park staff, and increase general awareness about the value of wild nature as well as wetlands restoration.

Milestones

Work begins on updating the National Park Management Plan, and to develop a cross-border hydrological plan for the Białowieża forest between Belarus and Poland.

2021

Beginning of cooperation with Polish Białowieża stakeholders.

2019

330 ha of Dzikoe mire rewetted to create a buffer zone with agricultural lands and 4 km of Salomienka river in Belarus restored to its historical meanders.

2019

Restoration of the first 1,200 ha of the formerly drained Dziki Nikar mire in the Belarusian part of the park.

2016

First joint biodiversity research and monitoring launched including camera trapping, and research on forest-dwelling bats.

2013

Expansion of core zone of the Bielaviežskaja Pušča National Park in Belarus from roughly 30,000 ha to 60,000 ha.

2012

Start of FZS cooperation with APB – Birdlife, Belarus in and around Bielaviežskaja Pušča National Park.

2012

Expansion of the national park on the Belarusian side where it is known as the Bielaviežskaja Pušča National Park.

1991

Białowieża forest, both in Poland and Belarus, declare a cross-border UNESCO World Natural Heritage site.

1979

Designation of Białowieża Forest as a national park on the Polish side of the border.

1923

News from Belarus

  • 03/23/2021Project update

    Polesia’s vast Almany Mires Reserve expanded, securing more habitat for threatened species

    03/23/2021Project update

    Polesia’s vast Almany Mires Reserve expanded, securing more habitat for threatened species

    Almany harbours a rich diversity of species. Large predators like Eurasian lynx and wolf roam in search of prey, which also thrive in the area; The Almany Mires Nature Reserve now spans over 104,000 hectares.

  • 03/16/2021Project update

    Learnings from Ukraine’s Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

    03/16/2021Project update

    Learnings from Ukraine’s Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

    Two FZS researchers are using camera traps to examine wildlife within FZS projects in Europe that have different levels of human impact. Their findings aim to benefit decision-makers, assist with expanding protected areas, and measure the health of wildlife populations elsewhere.

  • 12/24/2020FZS in the media

    Chernobyl fears resurface as river dredging begins in exclusion zone (The Guardian)

    12/24/2020FZS in the media

    Chernobyl fears resurface as river dredging begins in exclusion zone (The Guardian)

    In July 2020, the dredging of the Pripyat began. This is part of constructing the 2,000km long E40 waterway linking the Baltic and Black seas, passing through Poland, Belarus and Ukraine. This goes against recommendations from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that the Chernobyl exclusion zone should remain undisturbed.

Project Partners

Successful conservation is always the result of great teamwork. We collaborate with local communities, national authorities, and conservation organizations. Our partners make our conservation work possible.

  • APB-BirdLife Belarus
  • Administration of Bielaviežskaja Pušča National Park
Show partners

“Unknown to most of the world, Bialowieza Forest is a true gem amongst national parks. It is the last primeval forest in Europe. The true magic of wild nature captivates everyone who ventures to discover its beauty.”

Irina Kashpei, Project Manager

Contact

Zoologische Gesellschaft Frankfurt von 1858 e.V.
Bernhard-Grzimek-Allee 1
60316 Frankfurt

Telephone: +49 (0)69 - 94 34 46 0
Fax: +49 (0)69 - 43 93 48
E-Mail

You will find our office in the Zoogesellschaftshaus (4th floor).
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