Primeval forest is an inspirational wonder
REGULAR readers may remember my trip into the depths of the Bialowieza (Beowlaveeska) Reserve in Poland, the last great deciduous forest in Europe.
It’s 2,000 years in the making and strictly protected from the hand of man. Even the Nazis during the Second World War ensured that the European Bison were left alone, and they actually shot a few of their own soldiers for poaching this magnificent creature.
Of course, as you may imagine, it was a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’, and some of my contacts told me that Hermann Goering, a big fan of hunting, was known to have shot a large bull bison for his trophy wall.
To be alone in the forest, thousands of acres of it, and the same again over the border into Belarus, was a truly inspiring experience, and I was saddened to hear that the Polish government are hinting that they wish to authorise the felling of some of the trees. The whole point of Bialowieza, it’s uniqueness, is that it is left alone, and when trees fall down, unless they fall across a forestry road, they are left in situ and nature takes over.
It is estimated that there are as many fallen trees in various states of decay, teeming with thousands of species of wildlife, as there are healthy trees; it is indeed a magical place.
I saw black woodpeckers hitting some of the dead trees like jack-hammers, timber flying everywhere as they searched for grubs; marvelled at wolf tracks in the snow; photographed parades of red deer as they made their way across open ground and, best of all, came face to face with the bison.
Some of my friends in the area have recently taken part in protests against the proposed tree-felling, something I may have joined myself if the flights had been convenient.
The Forest is a Unesco World Heritage Site. World Heritage Sites are cultural and/or natural sites considered to be of outstanding universal value – places or buildings which are considered to have special importance for everyone.
They are thought to represent the most significant, unique or best examples of the world’s cultural and/or natural heritage. Because of this they have been inscribed on the World Heritage List by the World Heritage Committee.
Once a country signs the Convention, and has sites inscribed on the World Heritage List, the resulting prestige often helps raise awareness among citizens and governments for heritage preservation. Greater awareness leads to a general rise in the level of the protection and conservation given to heritage properties.
A country may also receive financial assistance and expert advice from the World Heritage Committee to support activities for the preservation of its sites. Today, 191 countries (called States Parties) have ratified the Convention, making it an almost universally accepted set of principles and framework of action.
The following is how Unesco describe the area: A complex of lowland forests that are characteristics of the Central European mixed forests terrestrial ecoregion. The area has exceptional conservation significance due to the scale of its old growth forests, which include extensive undisturbed areas where natural processes are on-going.
A consequence is the richness in dead wood, standing and on the ground, and consequently a high diversity of fungi and saproxylic invertebrates.
Fifty nine mammal species, over 250 bird, 13 amphibian, seven reptile and over 12,000 invertebrate species.
The iconic symbol of the property is the European Bison: approximately 900 individuals in the whole property which make almost 25 per cent of the total world’s population and over 30 per cent of free-living animals.
Bialowieza Forest conserves a diverse complex of protected forest ecosystems and a range of associated non-forest habitats, including wet meadows, river valleys and other wetlands.
The large and integral forest area supports complete food webs including viable populations of large mammals and large carnivores (wolf, lynx and otter) amongst others.
The Laughing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Padfield, Glossop
●● Red deer at Bialowieza Forest, Poland