Danish-Polish Environmental Co-operation 1991-2000

Chapter 11
The Polish natural treasures

Bialowieza Forest - Sustainable Management of Nature and Forestry

Despite the changes that human pressure puts upon the environment, Poland is one of the European countries with the highest level of biological diversity. This is due to favourable natural conditions and variable human impact which, in spite of local problems, is generally of lower intensity than in the surrounding countries. The wealth of flora and fauna in some areas is unique not only to Europe but also to the world as a whole.

Poland is characterised by high biological diversity and large areas of almost intact nature. Due to the high concentration of industry and mining in relatively small areas and the domination of extensive farming, very large areas in the northeast remain under a fairly low pressure of civilisation, maintaining the riches of natural ecosystems and preserved habitats of species which are now rare in other European countries.

In order to protect its natural treasures, Poland has created a system of protected areas, national parks, nature reserves, landscape parks, areas of protected landscape, etc. Until now, this covers more than 26 per cent of the country but there are plans to bring further valuable areas under protection. Fortunately, there has been a long and healthy tradition of nature protection in Poland which means that most of the naturally precious areas are already protected by law.

DANCEE has supported several technical assistance projects which have been implemented in the sector related to nature protection. The contribution from the DANCEE cofinancing has been approximately 75 per cent. The projects include both forest and nature reserve management and cover totally more than 6,000 km2.

The Polish natural treasures

On the basis of the regulations set out in the Nature Conservation Act, a wellfunctioning system of protected areas has been established.

This includes:
22 national parks covering 0.94 per cent of Poland
1204 strictly or partially nature reserves covering 0.4 per cent of Poland and comprising:
589 forestry reserves
136 floristic reserves
127 peatland reserves
130 faunistic reserves
113 landscape reserves
50 reserves for abiotic nature
32 steppes reserves
24 aquatic reserves
3 reserves for halophytic vegetation
109 landscape parks covering 6.6 per cent of Poland
260 areas of protected landscape covering 18.5 per cent of Poland

Wetlands: A particularly valuable group of naturally precious areas include marshes and peatlands. The most extensive of these areas are the 1400 km2 Biebrza Marshes, Poland's largest natural area of water retention. Apart from this, there are further five larger areas where raised bogs occur - two in the north, one in the east and two in the south. Fens are scattered throughout the country, except for the south, though they are particularly prevalent in the east.

The last 40 years have brought continuous changes in the country's hydrological condition partly as a result of natural factors and to a great extent, thanks to faster runoff due to water management in the form of drainage, the results have been a more or less marked drying of nearly all wetlands and subsequent changes in flora and fauna. The negative consequences of human activity have been intensified by more than 14 years of hydrological drought. Raised bogs and transitional peatlands have been most affected while improper drainage has led to the disappearance of small ponds in fields, and of areas with trees and shrubs.

A national park consists of protected areas with special scientific, natural, social, cultural and educational values and with a surface area of at least 1000 hectares where all nature and landscape values are protected.

A nature reserve is an area consisting of ecosystems preserved in a natural or hardly changed state established by a decision of a Voivode or a Minister where the establishment of such a site is required under Poland's international commitments.

Landscape parks are areas protected because of their natural, historical and cultural as well as tourist values which has been defined by the Voivodship authorities.

And finally, the protected landscape areas consist of areas with different types of ecosystems which are distinguished by their landscape. Their management should ensure a state of relative ecological equilibrium between natural systems.

One of the priority areas for environmental protection investments financed by the National Fund in Poland concentrates on the conservation of nature. Providing financial assistance for projects implemented in regions under special care should ensure this. The projects focus on organisation and management of teaching, training and research centres with scientific facilities in national parks as well as restitution and reintroduction of endangered species and restoration of natural heritage in parks and palace gardens registered as historical sites.

Biodiversity: There is no doubt that the biological diversity of Poland is enormous. The numbers speaks for themselves: There are approximately 370 species of plants in Poland, of which 12 per cent are considered endemic. However, under the impact of a range of anthropogenic and natural or quasi- natural factors, plant species are undergoing dynamic but not always favourable changes. In the last several decades, 3 out of 280 community species have disappeared, while 55 are in decline and almost 130 are endangered to a greater or lesser extent.

Observations carried out over many years have led to more than 33,000 species of animals being recorded in the Polish terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Among these are 38 relict species and 36 species that are endemic. The list of animals threatened to different extents accounts to more than 1300 species with 140 either on the verge of extinction or highly threatened. Extinction threatens at least 105 vertebrate species, among them 67 birds and 29 mammals. The latter group includes the brown bear, the wolf, the lynx, the wildcat and the otter. Some of the threatened species like the bee-eater, the alpine marmot and the Aesculapian snake is presently on the verge of extinction in Poland. As a consequence, Polish law strictly protects threatened species.

Forests: Forest ecosystems cover 28 per cent of Poland. In terms of percentage relative forest cover, Poland takes the 16th place in Europe. However, the covers vary markedly from region to region, from 12 per cent in the north west part of Mazowieckie to nearly 50 per cent in the southern part of Lubuskie Voivodship. The Central Provinces in general have only about 11 per cent cover. This is a major difference from the situation in the late 18th century where forests still covered about 60 per cent of the country.

The two World Wars have caused particularly significant losses in the forest ecosystem but the post-war period has been characterised by a steady increase in cover. The monitoring findings actually point to a marked improvement in the state of health of trees in recent years, though the state of broad-leaved species is generally better than that of conifers. The situation in 1998 was the best in a decade though still unsatisfactory.

Protected areas in Poland Institute of Environmental protection - UNEP-GRIDWarsaw, Web-site

Bialowieza Forest - Sustainable Management of Nature and Forestry

Poland has a lot of natural heritages. One of them is the Bialowieza Forest, which is one of the last areas of European lowland forest still maintaining many characteristics of the primeval forest. Through nature management, conservation, education and interpretation the aim of the project is to preserve this UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Bialowieza Forest is situated in the Eastern part of Poland, the so-called Green Lungs of Poland, in the border zone to Belarus. It is part of a large forest complex covering both Polish and Belorussian territories, where the Polish part comprises approximately 25 per cent. Because the Bialowieza Forest contains many characteristics of the primeval forest it is designated as a World Heritage Site and 4,747 ha are set aside as strictly protected area within a National Park comprising 10,500 ha.

The remaining forest is designated as a Forest Promotional Complex and comprises active nature protection areas to productive forestry areas, small-scale farmland and villages. The population in the area is approximately 56,000, a rural population that has traditionally been dependent and still is dependent on the forest for their livelihood.

Administratively the area belongs to the Voivodship of Bialystok and contains nine local communities.

Four projects have been initiated in the region, which all are closely linked to the Bialowieza Forest.

The objective:

The project "Bialowieza Forest - Protection, Public Awareness, Sustainable Management and Income Generation" aims at integrating the need for local development with the strong national and international demand for an efficient protection of the natural values of the forest.

These issues have caused harsh discussions from time to time between various authorities, national and international nature protection organisations and the local people. In spite of this different opinions the project has worked towards a common vision for the area by improving the dialogue between the key stakeholders, encouraging local people to take an active interest in the continued and improved protection of the forest and developing income generating activities linked to the natural and cultural values. Because of the widespread involvement in the development of the forest there is a potential for a strong interaction between the local population, the voluntary and the regional and central authorities.

The objectives of the project were:
A partly developed and agreed upon strategy for nature protection and local livelihood in the area
Pilot activities to protect the nature and strengthen the socio-economic status of the local communities, implemented and sustained trough improved capacity and decisionmaking processes among stakeholders.
Improved opportunities for the general public in terms of education and tourism based on the natural and cultural values
Methodology for zonification and planning of Bialowieza Forest securing nature and forest values.

The procedure:

The project focused on the nature management and conservation in the national parks, the development of the nature education and interpretation with a focus on the public actively experiencing and perceiving the nature, training in sustainable forest development based on the holistic/multiple use approach of promotional forest complexes, and local income generation through nature based tourism. Thus, the project covers the main target areas of the green sub-strategy reflected in the Country Programme.

The protection of natural values through active management involving local stakeholders is a developed concept in Denmark and of course useful experiences will be shared through the project.

Possibly, the most significant justification for the Danish assistance in this case is the present need in Poland for donor support to the implementation of the governmentally approved "Contract for Bialowieza Forest". This aims at establishing a common understanding among the often clashing interests, securing both the nature and the local economy and including the enlargement of the National Park to the whole area. The implementation of this contract will secure the conservation of the unique biodiversity and significantly contribute to the Polish formulation of policies, methodologies and practices with respect to integrating the conservation with local development needs.

The result:

The Danish contribution comprises International and Polish consultancy services, workshops, study visits including equipping the museum and the two education centres in the area. The Polish contributions comprise manpower, logistics and facilities, supporting participation in workshops etc. The project contributes to a sustainable management and improved nature protection in one of Europe's most important and spectacular forest areas.

The following results have been accomplished:
The public awareness is strengthened through improved nature and sustainable forest interpretation and improved information to visitors
The potential for incorporating knowledge and ideas from the project into the curriculum of schools on different levels has been assessed and pilot projects directed at special segments are carried out.
The potential for eco-tourism and recreation activities has been assessed, mapped and strengthened through pilot activities
The local spatial plans, eco-food potential, local eco-tourism opportunities and other job opportunities have been studied, proposals for improvements made and pilot activities implemented
Based on the richer Forest Exercise, the dialogue between the stakeholders in the area has been stimulated resulting in a common vision, a number of concrete proposals related to nature protection and an overall zoning based on nature values and forest production values have been carried out in the pilot areas
The capacity for a joint understanding and decision-making on both local and national level about future nature protection and sustainable management zones is developed.