A Day in my Forest

Article expired Published 29 Sep 2010 Last modified 03 Sep 2015
2 min read
This content has been archived on 03 Sep 2015, reason: Content not regularly updated
Silent except for the humming of bees and the distant hammering of woodpeckers, Białowieża Forest is a fairytale landscape of tall trees, peat bogs and meadows – home to innumerable species of birds, invertebrates, lichens, fungi and other flora and fauna includ-ing grey wolves, lynx, elk and a large herd of rare European bison.

About a thousand years ago, all our countries were covered by woods like this.

Mateusz Szymura, Białowieża National Park Nature Conservation Team

The forest straddles the Polish-Belarusian border and at 1200 km2 is the largest surviving piece of virgin woodland anywhere in Europe.

Once a hunting ground for mediaeval Polish kings and later for Russian Tsars, Białowieża remained relatively undisturbed by humans until large-scale logging and killing of bison in World War I. The last bison died in 1919 and the species was only saved from extinction through a breeding programme that drew on the few remaining specimens left in zoos and private collections. There are now more than 450 bison in the Polish part of the forest, many of which roam free.

"In Białowieża forest you can see the full cycle of life, a cycle which isn’t stopped by human intervention." Mateusz Szymura

The National Park, created in 1921, is an area in the heart of the forest on the Polish side. It is now also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most important part of the Białowieża Forest Biosphere Reserve.

In the ‘strictly protected’ zone of the Park, the forces of nature are allowed to take their course without any human interference. Covered in moss and mushrooms, decomposing trees lie on the ground, allowing staff to observe how fast the forest naturally regenerates.

Other areas of the Park are ‘actively protected’, which means that staff work to maintain the natural ecosystems and habitats for plants, animals and fungi.

"The forest has a unique ecosystem. Some species still behave like they did centu-ries ago. It’s behavior you can’t see anywhere else." Mateusz Szymura

Białowieża forest is a magnificent open air laboratory for observing natural processes. Re-searchers from many scientific institutions are currently based here, studying a wide variety of topics including the structure and functioning of natural ecosystems, human impacts on these processes, and forest management. They’re also monitoring the possible effects of climate change on the forest, and specifically whether the tree ecosystems will retreat.

Weather observations show a small increase in the average annual temperature here over the last 50 years, and there has also been some lowering of the groundwater level. So far, the only indications of climate-related impacts have been an earlier blossoming of certain plants, and a lower resistance to insects among the spruce trees, perhaps caused by the decrease in rainfall. The changes noted are far from clear, however, and more time will be needed before any definitive conclusions about the likely impacts of climate change can be drawn.

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
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