WWF alarmed by call to strip Europe’s last remaining primeval forest of UNESCO protections
The Białowieża Forest World Heritage site lies on the border between Poland and Belarus and covers an area of over 140,000 hectares. Home to thousands of species including the largest population of European bison, it has been described by UNESCO as an “irreplaceable area for biodiversity conservation.”
“Stripping Białowieża of UNESCO natural heritage status would place Europe’s best preserved lowland forest under existential threat. This is an irreplaceable site – we should be doing everything we can to protect it, not opening it up for intensified logging. We urge the Polish government to safeguard Białowieża for future generations and stand by its UNESCO commitments,” said Dariusz Gatkowski, WWF-Poland Biodiversity Policy Specialist
The call to strip the site of natural heritage status and instead grant it mixed status comes less than two weeks before the 41st session of the World Heritage Committee is due to begin in Krakow (2-12 July). WWF urges Committee delegates to be vigilant to attempts to weaken protections for Białowieża Forest, and highlights the danger logging poses to the irreplaceable value of the site.
“It is extremely concerning that an area recognised as having outstanding universal value can so easily come under threat. The Polish government is disregarding the voices of its own people to pursue its own agenda. In these circumstances, how can they be trusted to nominate a new site?” said Aslihan Tumer, Head of Global Campaigns at WWF International.
Last year, more than 175,000 people signed an online appeal for the protection of the Białowieża forest against large-scale logging.
WWF reiterates the role of the World Heritage Committee in protecting recognized sites and the danger posed by over-politicization. In 2016, a number of advisory body recommendations on the necessary protection for Białowieża Forest were ignored when Committee decisions were taken.
“We call on the World Heritage Committee to uphold their role as the guardians of these remarkable sites,” added Tumer.
As a UNESCO natural World Heritage site, Poland is required to maintain the continuity and integrity of Białowieża Forest. Increased logging could adversely affect the conservation of the site's habitats and species as well as cause irreparable biodiversity loss, including wood extraction in old-growth forest, as noted in the infringement decision issued by the European Commission in response to a joint NGO complaint last year.
Earlier in 2016, the government of Poland approved plans for industrial-scale logging in part of the Polish section of the World Heritage site, citing the need to tackle a bark beetle infestation in the area. The move, which triples logging limits including in mature stands, was widely condemned by environmental NGOs, including WWF and also by the European Commission, for being in breach of Polish and European laws, as well as Poland’s commitments to UNESCO.
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Notes to Editors:
Images are available here.
A WWF report “Protecting people through nature: places of world natural heritage as a driver of sustainable development” published last year as part of the Saving Our Shared Heritage campaign showed that nearly half of the world's natural heritage sites are endangered by harmful industrial activities.
The draft decision to be considered at the 41st session of the World Heritage Committee in Poland in July can be found here.
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Scott Edwards | WWF International | firstname.lastname@example.org | +44 7887 954116
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