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Hope in Poland’s Białowieża Forest as UN body calls for halt to illegal logging

There were tears of joy in Kracow, Poland and the ancient Białowieża Forest when UN delegates called for its illegal logging to be halted.

Despite being acknowledged as a jewel of temperate primeval forests, and being both a UNESCO World Heritage and a Natura 2000 site, the Government has tripled the amount of commercial logging allowed there: between January and April 2017, some 10,000 trees were harvested.

In the forest, activists have been risking arrest to stop the harvesters as a series of blockades take place to protect the forest deemed by scientists to be Poland’s most important forest for biodiversity preservation.

In Kracow, activists at the 41st meeting of the UNESCO Committee had been pushing for action. ClientEarth lawyer Agata Szafraniuk said: “UNESCO’s renewed call to halt logging in Bialowieza Forest is yet another stop sign for Poland’s Minister of Environment. He has already ignored appeals from the European Commission, scientists and Polish people. Let’s hope this fresh warning will stop the illegal logging before Europe’s oldest forest is irreversibly damaged.”

The Polish government says it is cutting down trees because of a beetle infestation; scientists counter that they “are cutting spruces to sell the wood,” that the beetle outbreak will end naturally, and that “old trees and dead wood, standing and fallen, are of crucial importance for biodiversity, and cannot be replaced by other structures such as young trees.” Indeed the survival of critically endangered birds – the white-backed and three-toed woodpeckers, and the pygmy owl – is linked to the presence of dead and rotting wood. The government has not clarified how the harvested wood is used.

Despite the UN’s clear message, many are concerned that logging will continue and the Polish Ministry of Environment will try to defy the decision from Kracow. Members of the European Parliament are asking the European Commission to stop the loggings and hold Poland accountable for breaching the Habitats Directive.

More information on how to help save this forest can be found at www.save-bialowieza.net

Photograph - Grzegorz Broniatowski 2017