Białowieża Forest, known as Belovezhskaya Pushcha (Belarusian: Белавежская пушча) in Belarus and Puszcza Białowieska in Poland, is an ancient woodland that straddles the border between the two countries, located 70 km (43 mi) north of Brest (Belarus) and 62 km (39 mi) southeast of Białystok (Poland). It is one of the last and largest remaining parts of the immense primeval forest that once stretched across the European Plain. This UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve lies in parts of the Brest Voblast and Hrodna Voblast in Belarus and on the Polish side near the town of Białowieża in the Podlaskie Voivodeship.
Scientists and environmental campaigners have accused the Polish government of bringing the ecosystem of the Białowieża forest in north-eastern Poland to the “brink of collapse”, one year after a revised forest management plan permitted the trebling of state logging activity and removed a ban on logging in old-growth areas.
Large parts of the forest, which spans Poland’s eastern border with Belarus and contains some of Europe’s last remaining primeval woodland, are subject to natural processes not disturbed by direct human intervention.
A Unesco natural world heritage site – the only one in Poland – the forest is home to about 1,070 species of vascular plants, 4,000 species of fungi, more than 10,000 species of insect, 180 breeding bird species and 58 species of mammal, including many species dependent on natural processes and threatened with extinction.
“At some point there will be a collapse, and if and when it happens, it’s gone forever – no amount of money in the universe can bring it back,” said Prof Tomasz Wesołowski, a forest biologist at the University of Wrocław who has been conducting fieldwork in Białowieża for each of the last 43 years. “With every tree cut, we are closer to this point of no return.”