Over the past week
Danielle van Oijen, from the forest team in Milieudefensie/Friends of the
Earth Netherlands, joined the action camp for Białowieza forest just a
few kilometers from the border with Belarus. Here, she shares her reflections
on her time there.
forest in Poland - the last wild ancient lowland forest left in the European
Union - continues to be logged at unprecedented speed, despite the European
Court of Justice calling for an immediate halt last month because of the
irreversible damage. Białowieza forest is protected under strong European
laws and is a World Heritage Site. Some parts have not been logged, planted or
converted in centuries. But the unthinkable is happening: the Polish government
refuses to stop the logging.
The action camp is
a gathering of forest enthusiasts, scientists and families. Hnutí
DUHA/Friends of the Earth Czech Republic activists are also regulars at the
camp. Neighbours from the small village nearby are supportive and bring in
heaps of material, blankets, food and encouraging words. These often first-time
activists are hugely successful in blocking harvesters - the huge machines with
a big arm that can cut down, de-branch and resize a tree in mere seconds. Every
day the harvesters are blocked, hundreds of trees are saved.
I took part in one
blockade to prevent a logtruck from leaving the forest with illegal wood. Trees
that were over 100 years old were about to be transported. They shouldn't have
been felled in the first place. Tourists and locals spontaneously decided to
join our blockade. I saw tears flowing as their beloved 'Puszcza' is in danger.
the clearcuts and other logging, the sights are devastating. Forest soils that
haven't been disturbed in centuries now lie barren under the sun. Giant oak
trees - where you would need more than 5 people holding hands to circle them -
are not spared from the destruction caused by the harvesters. Hundreds of
thousands of trees are still standing marked for logging, even in nature
reserves inside the forest. The ecological processes that have created this
forest over centuries have come to an abrupt halt.
monitoring we saw the iconic European bison, one of the last wild herds in
Europe. We heard wolves howling from the camp. Ten species of woodpecker make
use of the abundant dead wood and insect life in the forest. For Polish and
foreign people alike, this is a treasure that needs protection. In its
untouched form it can support the local economy through tourism, education and
research programs. This can be made real if the whole of the forest becomes a
ultra-conservative government and its allies in the church and state forest
service will not have it. They want the income from selling wood. But why here,
why must this forest be destroyed? Poland has extensive plantation forests all
over the country with low biodiversity values that can serve for wood
consumption. It seems higher politics are at play here. The current Minister of
Environment lost a battle over a road passing through another nature area and
now seems determined to save face by destroying another. Poland is currently
under heavy scrutiny over new laws that endanger its young democracy.
The people in the
camp and their allies will persist and they will win. My only hope is that not
too much of the forest is lost before that. Majestic oaks, ash, lime, hornbeam,
hazel, spruce and alder have been growing here for centuries. This forest needs
to become a national park now.
Everyone can join
and support the forest movement for Białowieza. Check out the Białowieza website to see what
support you can give. Go and see the forest, while it is still there. Or join the forest march on the 13th of
August in Białowieza.