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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Primeval forest must lose Unesco protection, says Poland | Environment

Poland’s environment minister, Jan Szyszko, whom green activists have criticised for allowing large-scale logging in the ancient Białowieża forest, has called for the woodland to be stripped of Unesco’s natural heritage status, banning human intervention.

Białowieża, straddling 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. It also boasts unique plant and animal life, including the continent’s largest mammal, the European bison.

“The Białowieża forest was granted Unesco natural heritage status illegally and without consulting the local community,” Szyszko said in a statement, after having announced that “a complaint had been lodged with the prosecutor’s office” regarding the matter.

Szyszko said he found it contradictory for the forest to have Unesco natural heritage status – which bans any human intervention – and simultaneously belong to the EU’s Natura 2000 network of protected areas, which according to Szyszko allows the current logging.

The Polish government has said it 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.

Szyszko would like to see Białowieża granted a different Unesco status – mixed natural-cultural heritage – “and not just natural because man’s activity is visible to the naked eye in this forest”, he said.

Greenpeace, whose activists chained themselves to woodcutting equipment this month to block the logging, immediately denounced Szyszko’s statement as “further manipulation”. The environmental group also said logging was in fact out of line with the Natura 2000 rules.

“This is an attempt by the minister to impose his own narrative,” said activist Katarzyna Kościesza of the ClientEarth environmental group.

Szyszko’s statement comes two weeks before the annual Unesco world heritage session, which this year will take place in the southern Polish city of Kraków. The forest gained the coveted “natural heritage” label in 2011.

Unesco has previously expressed concern over the logging, as has the European commission, which in April warned Warsaw that it could take legal action to halt the logging.

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