Poland vows to continue logging in Białowieża forest despite court ban | World news

Poland will keep logging in the ancient forest of Białowieża despite an order from the EU’s top court to halt the practice, the country’s environment minister has said.

The court of justice of the European Union last week ordered Poland to suspend logging operations pending a final judgment on its dispute with the EU.

The environment minister, Jan Szyszko, said on Monday that operations would continue and the government was preparing a response to the court, to be sent by Friday.

Polish television station TVN24 showed footage of machines felling trees in the Białowieża forest, which has been listed as a Unesco world heritage site.

Greenpeace’s Polish spokesman said: “The felling is continuing, even if it is at a lower intensity.”

On Saturday, a cameraman trying to establish if the felling operations were continuing was assaulted by employees of one of the logging companies, an incident that was condemned on Monday by the authorities.

The EU took Poland to court on 13 July, arguing that the Białowieża operations were destroying a forest that boasts unique plant and animal life, including the continent’s largest mammal, the European bison.

The Polish government said it had authorised the logging, which began in May last year, to contain damage caused by a spruce bark beetle infestation and to fight the risk of forest fires.

But scientists, ecologists and the EU have protested and activists allege the logging is a cover for commercial cutting of protected old-growth forests.

The forest, which straddles Poland’s eastern border with Belarus, includes one of the largest surviving parts of the primeval forest that covered the European plain 10,000 years ago.

The Unesco committee overseeing the world heritage sites project has joined the EU in calling on Poland to halt the logging operations.

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EU court orders Poland to stop logging in Białowieża forest | Environment

The European Union’s top court has ordered Poland to immediately halt large-scale logging in an ancient protected forest, one of many cases that has pitted the nationalist, eurosceptic government in Warsaw against the bloc.

The EU’s executive commission earlier this year sued Poland at the European court of justice (ECJ) over logging in the Białowieża forest, a Unesco World Heritage site.

Straddling the border between Poland and Belarus, it is one of Europe’s last primeval forests and home to its largest herd of European bison as well as unique birds and insects.

In an interim decision, the ECJ said the logging should stop immediately as it could cause “serious and irreversible damage” to the forest. The main case filed by the commission against Warsaw at the ECJ could take years to conclude.

The commission has said the logging violates the bloc’s wildlife protection laws. Poland’s environment ministry, which declined to comment on the ECJ announcement, says it is needed to protect the forest from an invasion of beetles.

The ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) has also tripled the quota of wood that can be harvested in Białowieża.

Environmentalists say the vast majority of trees felled so far were not affected by the beetles. They have been holding regular protests to try to halt the logging and Unesco has also appealed to Poland stop cutting down the trees.

“If Polish authorities do not respect the (ECJ) decision, it will be in serious conflict with EU law,” said Agata Szafraniuk, a lawyer at ClientEarth, an environmentalist group.

Poland’s environment minister Jan Szyszko – who enjoys the backing of forester and hunting lobbies – was quoted as saying on Friday that more than one million trees must be cut down in Białowieża this year because of the beetle invasion.

As well as stoking tensions with Brussels, the issue has deeply divided Poles – as have other moves by PiS, including its tightening of control over state media and the courts and its refusal to host any refugees who arrive in the EU.

A local group of nationalist activists in Białowieża has called the environmentalists “green terrorists” and has vowed to confront them, prompting Krzysztof Cibor of Greenpeace to say: “The defenders in the Białowieża forest are vigilant, but we all hope that nothing bad will happen.”

Environmentalists say Szyszko’s real motives are political and economic because increased logging brings more revenues to the local community, one of the poorest in Poland, helping to boost support for PiS.

“Around half of the wood sold was from trees more than 100 years old,” said another green group, Wild Poland Foundation.

Plans several years ago to extend the protected area of the forest ran into stiff local opposition.

Szyszko is a powerful figure in the PiS government because of his close links to the ultra-Catholic broadcasting network of a politically influential priest, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk.

PiS has built an increasingly close alliance with Rydzyk, who encourages his followers to back the party in return for financial grants for his various business projects.

Poland still has several days to react to the ECJ interim decision. Should Poland lose the main case at the ECJ, it could be fined a lump sum of more than €4m and possible daily penalties of up to €300,000 for every day in which Warsaw fails to adhere to the court’s decision.

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EU calls for immediate ban on logging in Poland’s Białowieża forest | Environment

Europe’s last major parcel of primeval woodland could be set for a reprieve after the EU asked the European court to authorise an immediate ban on logging in Poland’s Białowieża forest.

Around 80,000 cubic metres of forest have been cleared since the Polish government tripled logging operations around the Unesco world heritage site last year.

The European commission said that it had acted because the increased logging of trees over a century-old “poses a major threat to the integrity of this … site.”

EU environment commissioner, Karmenu Vella told the Guardian: “We have asked that Polish authorities cease and desist operations immediately. These actions are clear, practical steps that the European commission has taken to protect one of the last remaining primeval forests in Europe.”

Environmentalists applauded the move, with WWF Poland’s Dariusz Gatkowski calling for the commission “to quickly implement today’s positive decision and take Poland to court, fulfilling its role as guardian of Europe’s natural heritage and the laws that protect it.”

Spruce trees in the Białowieża forest, where large-scale logging authorised by the Polish government began in May of last year

Spruce trees in the Białowieża forest, where large-scale logging authorised by the Polish government began in May of last year. Photograph: Wojtek Radwański/AFP/Getty Images

Agata Szafraniuk of the ClientEarth legal firm, said: “Decisive and immediate action is the only way to avoid irreversible damage to this ancient forest. We hope that the court of justice will impose the ban on logging, as a matter of urgency, before breaking for the summer holiday, which starts on July 21st.”

Last week, Unesco threatened to put Białowieża on its list of world heritage sites in danger unless Poland halted the deforestation, which has felled 30,000 cubic metres of coppice in just the first four months of 2017.

But quick compliance from the Polish government is thought unlikely, after the country’s environment ministry tweeted that it was “delighted” at the prospect of a court case yesterday. A second tweet said: “We have hard data on the #Buszowska (Białowieża) forest and we will be pleased to present it before the tribunal.”

Last month, Poland’s environment minister, Jan Szyszko, called for the site to be stripped of its Unesco status, despite fears of a collapse in its biodiversity, which includes wolves, lynx and Europe’s largest bison population.

The Polish government argues that increased tree fells are needed to contain a bark beetle outbreak in Białowieża, although the science behind its case has been denounced by many of the world’s environmental scientists.

Campaigners trying to block the Białowieża logging say that armed foresters in camouflage units are now routinely stopping and searching young people in the area after a spate of lock-ins around tree-clearing machines.

Ariel Brunner, the senior policy chief for BirdLife Europe said: “The tragedy of Białowieża is more than just the devastation of nature, it is the spine-chilling destruction of memory and an affront to democracy and legality. In taking a clear and strong stance on the ecological destruction of Białowieża, the European commission has today shown its ‘heart of oak’.”

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