The impressive Bialowieza Forest, one of Europe’s last primeval lowland forests and one of the few remnants of a continent-scale woods, is being partially restored.
By Rex Graham
The UNESCO World Heritage Site 70 km (43 mi) north of Brest, Belarus, is inhabited by about 800 European bison and 250 bird species, including the Great Snipe, Greater Spotted Eagle and the vulnerable and elusive Aquatic Warbler, which hides in marshes with oxygen-rich waters.
Red and Roe Deer and Wild Boar also inhabit the forest. The oldest oak trees there live up to about 450 years and many of the largest oaks are individually named.
Aquatic Warbler preserve
A conservation project started in November 2016 will return ancient water levels to 1,163 hectares (2,874 acres) of national parkland bordering Poland and Belarus. The bird-rich forests are home to the Aquatic Warbler and other warblers, Black and Hazel Grouse, Capercaillie, Three-toed and White-backed Woodpeckers, thrushes, flycatchers and owls.
The project will be one of the largest fen rehabilitation projects in Europe, which includes the construction of 112 natural dams by December. A fen is flat area that collects rainfall and surface water. The rise in water levels from the dams will benefit the so-called Dziki Nikar mire, a wetland that is the source of the Narevka River, one of the main water arteries feeding the Polish part of Bialowieza Forest.
Birds prosper with bison
“Most of our rare species are associated with water but have become rare due to water shortages,” Alexander Vintchevski, an ecologist and director of APB BirdLife Belarus, said in a news release. “If we restore the peatland, we will bring back these species.”
The results of the project will begin to be evident in 2 years in the peatlands, which are wetlands with thick organic soil layers made up of decaying plant material. A fen is a particular type of wet peatland.
In Poland, the Bialowieza Forest is included within Bialowieza National Park. In Belarus, the forest is within Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park.
Peat wetlands soak up twice as much carbon as a forest, but most have been drained for farming. The one-time carbon sinks become carbon emitters. “Rewetting” the lowland forests of Belarus is a simple, but powerful way to help the climate, and enhance water supplies, and improve fishing, recreational opportunities, traditional berry picking and wildlife habitat.
“Many of the pioneering solutions that have been tested in Belarus are now being used in neighbouring countries,” said BirdLife International.