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Sound and independent information
on the environment


Nature protection and biodiversity (Poland)

Why should we care about this issue

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Poland is a country with a huge natural diversity. Its biodiversity is among the richest in Europe. The decisive factor in this is the transitional climate which is influenced by oceanic and continental air masses, a favourable geographical position in the centre of the continent with no natural barriers to the east or the west, a varied geological structure, varied landform features and hydrographic make-up and varied soil types. Poland’s natural diversity has also been affected by the widely varying conditions of economic and cultural development (compared with other European countries): unevenly spread industrialisation and urbanisation, large areas characterised by traditional, extensive agriculture and extensive ancient forests (the Białowieza Forest is the best preserved area of primeval forest in Europe).

Under the National Strategy for the protection and sustainable use of biodiversity and the Action Programme for 2007-2013, all human activities, in all areas, (economic, scientific, legal and educational) should serve the overriding aim of: ‘Preserving the wealth of biodiversity at local, national and global level, and ensuring the sustainable development of all levels at which it occurs (genetic, species, ecosystem), allowing for the socio-economic developmental needs of Poland and the need to ensure appropriate conditions for living and for the development of  society.’

The state and impacts

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

The biodiversity of Poland is quite precisely known. It is estimated that the number of species on the territory of Poland totals around 63 000, of which 28 000 species are plants and fungi and 35 000 species are animals (of which around 700 species are vertebrates). There are 485 communities of plants (using the Braun-Blanquet method), which characterise the entire biodiversity of land, freshwater and marine communities. Around 12 % of them are endemic communities.

According to the Polish Red Book of Animals (2001), 111 species of vertebrates are endangered or vulnerable. Negative trends have also been observed with regard to 1 648 species of plant, where 29 % of the endangered species are lichens, 20 % liverworts and macromycetes, 18 % mosses and 15 % vascular plants (Polish Red Book of Plants, 2001).

Poland is characterised by a rich mosaic of habitats which are the result of traditional ways of life, particularly in agricultural areas. A considerable portion of agricultural areas has high natural value, providing refuge for threatened flora and fauna. Thanks to small scale agriculture, Poland has retained to this day local crop varieties and traditional breeds.

The following rare and threatened species listed in the Habitats Directive at European level are subject to protection in Poland: 80 types of natural habitats, 92 species of plants, including 7 whose specimens can be taken from the wild, and 143 species of animal (excluding birds), including 20 whose specimens can be taken from the wild. The current results of monitoring of species and natural habitats indicate that in the continental region (which makes up 96.2 % of the area of the country), the majority of species and habitats are in an unfavourable-inadequate conservation status (U1). Species and natural habitats in the alpine regions (the Carpathians) are in a better conservation status, but this region accounts for only 3.2 % of the total area of the country. In both regions, the conservation status of species was more favourable than the status of habitats.

Fig. 1: Assessment of the conservation status of species and habitats based on expert information and the results of State Environmental Monitoring studies carried out in 2006-2009 (source: GIOŚ/PMŚ)

Changes in the numbers of indicator species of birds in the agricultural landscape summarised in the Farmland Bird Index 23 (FBI 23) showed an initial decline of 15 % in 2000-2004, followed by a period of slow improvement (2005-2007) and, in 2008, a rapid return to the original levels of 2000.

Fig. 2: Population index of 23 common farmland bird species (Farmland Bird Index) (source: GIOŚ/PMŚ)

The results of bird monitoring, including monitoring of the Natura 2000 special bird protection areas show that in 2000-2008 there was an increase in the populations of the most common species of birds.

Fig. 3: Changes in the aggregated population index of 87 common species of birds registered in the MPPL programme, distributed over protected areas as: SPAs, non-SPAs, and for the country overall (source: GIOŚ/PMŚ)

A representative example of the changes in the natural environment can be seen in the changes in the populations of birds selected as flagship species, which are indicators of the extensive utilisation of the landscape.

Fig 4: Selected flagship bird species population index (source: GIOŚ/PMŚ)

One practical step taken to protect biodiversity has been the creation of a network of protected areas and sites in Poland. The most valuable natural areas that were placed under protection (as at the end of 2008) were: 23 national parks, 1 441 nature reserves, 120 scenic landscape parks and 418 protected landscape areas.  Other forms of protecting nature are: ecological sites (6 798 sites), documentation posts (164 sites), natural-landscape complexes (214 sites) and 35 833 natural monuments. Some 32 % of the territory of Poland is protected in one way or another, usually on grounds of natural or scenic importance.

Fig. 5: Areas of special natural value protected by law in Poland 1998-2008 (source: GUS)

As part of its integration with the European Union, Poland actively joined the Natura 2000 environmental network programme, whose main aim is to create a system for the effective protection of natural habitats and species of importance at a European level. From 2004-2009, Poland sent the European Commission a series of proposed lists of areas, as a result of which (as at the end of October 2009) 144 SAC bird areas have been designated (covering 15.8 % of the land area of the country) and 823 areas of Community importance have been submitted to the European Commission (covering 11 % of the country’s land area). The total area covered by Natura 2000 is 19.8 % of the total land area of Poland.

Fig. 6: National network of protected areas in Poland (source: GDOŚ)

Despite the significant growth in the number of protected areas and efforts to restore biodiversity, the particular problems which need to be resolved if further progress is to be made in protecting biodiversity include: the fact that some areas of great natural value have been omitted from the system of protected areas, lack of adequate tools for preserving biodiversity outside protected areas, lack of legal provision for creating environmental corridors, and a weak protection regime for protected landscape areas. Another problem is difficulty in gaining public acceptance of the creation of new or expansion of existing protected areas, including Natura 2000 and national parks (e.g. Jurajski, Turnicki and Mazurski national parks, and expanding Białowieża).

Poland is not threatened by deforestation in the same way as has been observed in many other countries, which threatens sustainable development. Forests currently account for 29.0 % of the area of Poland (approx. 9 m hectares). A further increase in the forested areas of the country is planned, taking into account natural conditions. Afforestation works in Poland are the responsibility of the National Afforestation Programme (KPZL), whose main aim, in conformity with the aims of the National Policy on Forests, is to increase the forested areas of Poland to 30 % in 2020 and 33 % in 2050. Poland is characterised by the predominance of state-owned forests, which are not such an important feature in other parts of the European Union. 78 % of Polish forests are managed by the state. Forests in national parks, municipal forests and other forests belonging to the Treasury constitute 4 % of all forest areas. The remaining 18 % are private. However, the protection, management and use of private forests give great cause for concern. They are fragmented, often poorly managed or neglected, and occupy an area of some 1.6 million hectares, or 18 % of all woodland in Poland.

Woodland ecosystems in Poland are the most valuable and most widely occurring element in all forms of nature conservation, which cover 32 % of the area of the country. Almost half (43.5 %) of protected areas are made up of woodland. The areas managed by the State Forests National Forest Holding contain the majority of the most valuable and most scenic areas and natural protection sites.

The key drivers and pressures

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

Poland has long traditions of protecting the natural environment. It has successfully set in place a series of mechanisms that favour the protection and conservation of biodiversity. However, it has not been possible to avoid the threats to biodiversity posed by modern civilisation. Particularly serious issues which need to be resolved if further progress is to be made in protecting biodiversity include: the strong degradation of the natural environment in areas previously and/or currently subjected to increased anthropogenic pressure, and the decline in biodiversity observed in intensively farmed agricultural land. The gradual modernisation of farming in Poland, excluding large areas of light soils from farming and the general availability of modern crop seeds pose a threat to local populations and old varieties of all crop plants. Another factor that threatens biodiversity is increasing pressure from tourism on areas of high natural value. Tourism, along with other economic activities, can degrade the environment, destabilise the way its resources operate, and thereby upset the mechanisms by which they can be used in the process of creating and offering tourist products. It is estimated that tourism makes a 5-7 % contribution to degrading the natural environment, compared with 60 % for industry and 15 % for agriculture. The dangers from tourism are increasing in the more popular areas, places of large-scale recreation, where norms for permitted tourist impact are flouted. Areas that are under particular threat of this kind of degradation are the Baltic coastline, the Mazurian Lakes, and the Tatra and Karkonosze Mountains. Encroaching urbanisation and infrastructure development (in particular linear infrastructure) resulted in the loss and degradation of natural habitats through shrinking farmland around big cities.

Another problem is the increasing threat of invasive alien species, which is the result mainly of global trade, transport and tourism, which makes it easier for alien species to be introduced and multiply in the environment. Alien species have been considered a substantial threat to native biodiversity for many years. It is estimated that over 30 % of all fish and over 10 % of all mammals in Poland are alien species introduced deliberately or accidentally. The native flora is also affected by this problem. The flora of Poland consists of some 2 935 species that are or have become native species, 445 of them of alien origin, of which 290 species are kenophytes (plants introduced to Poland after 1500).

Fig. 7: Proportions of species introduced deliberately, accidentally or the reason for whose introduction in Poland is not known (source: IOP PAN)

Information on alien species has been collected by the Polish Academy of Sciences Nature Conservation Institute in a database available on the internet. In 1999, the Natural Conservation Institute started work on a database of ‘Alien species in Poland’. This database initially contained some 233 alien species. In 2003, this was supplemented and made available on the Internet in Polish and English at: 

In 2008, the database contained a total of 791 alien species of plants, animals and fungi. Information has been collected for some of them regarding their biology and the reasons, time and place of introduction to Poland, current location and population trends, as well as their impact on native species, habitats and ecosystems. It has also been determined whether some species need to be controlled, and methods of population control suggested.

Of the total woodland species, around one-third are species whose survival depends on having a sufficient quantity of deadwood. Forestry is currently undergoing a process of transformation towards multifunctionality. These changes are reflected in records on protecting the forests (Forestry Rules), which recommend that as much of 10 % of the volume of wood be left until it ‘dies of natural causes’.

Table 1: Quantity of deadwood in forests (source: MŚ)







of the total forested areas of Poland

Proportion per hectare

of the total forested areas of Poland

Proportion per hectare

















[million mt]


[million mt]


The amount of deadwood in private forests is less than that in state forests, due to the lack of protected areas where certain quantities of deadwood are left in order to preserve biodiversity.

The 2020 outlook

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Protecting biodiversity and the landscape is important to secure the environmental security of the country. The Polish Government’s efforts to improve the natural environment, backed by increasing public involvement, have resulted in the gradual elimination of the threats to and the changes which are threatening the environment. The main activities undertaken in this respect are:

  • improving knowledge base on biodiversity of the natural environment by carrying out inventories in selected regions,
  • ensuring a gradual improvement in air and water quality by creating conditions to reduce the impact of human activity on the environment,
  • continuing to develop the national network of protected areas by establishing new national parks, nature reserves and scenic national parks. Incorporating ecological corridors (woodland, rivers, etc) to allow genetic exchange among local populations,
  • expanding restitution and reintroduction programmes, particularly of threatened species of plants and animals,
  • ensuring that the introduction of species that may pose a threat to the integrity of natural ecosystems and habitats or that constitute a threat to native species is effectively counteracted,
  • more vigorous activity to promote environmental knowledge and awareness  among the general public,
  • further increasing the afforestation of the country adapted to natural and landscape conditions,
  • developing ideas of sustainable and multifunctional forestry,
  • implementation of agri-environmental programmes to encourage environmentally friendly actions in agricultural areas and to support the protection of genetic resources for food production and farming,
  • the enforcement of nature protection requirements in planning at local level,
  • implementation of the Natura 2000 network in Poland to protect the most valuable natural habitats. Any undertakings that may have a negative impact on natural habitats must undergo an environmental impact assessment, and incorporate compensatory measures where required,
  • designating areas of high nature value (HNV), which will play an important role in monitoring the implementation of biodiversity protection policy instruments in agricultural and forest areas, including in particular the EU programme on rural development.


Existing and planned responses

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

For a number of years, Poland has been an active participant on the international scene in the work of organisations and institutions aiming to resolve global and regional environmental and sustainable development issues. One form of this is the adoption and implementation of international agreements and conventions. To date Poland has ratified 12 such multilateral agreements which directly relate to the protection and sustainable utilisation of biodiversity. Many of them operate at a global level, while others take the form of regional or sub-regional agreements.

The environmental protection needs of the country are reflected in a series of programme documents, the most important of them being:


Other important links:

Bird monitoring:
Natural habitats and species monitoring:
Forest monitoring:  
Natura 2000:
DGLP report on the state of the forests:  
GUS Annual Statistics on Environmental Protection 2009:


The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.

European Environment Agency (EEA)
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