For the animals of the primeval Białowieża Forest, stretching from the north-eastern part of Poland into Belarus, there are no borders. Boars and wolves regularly make an appearance on both sides of the frontier. “Countries are walled off with solid fences, but animals dig under them and cross the border easily,” explained Karol Wojciechowski, who works on the Polish side in Białowieża National Park. Because of its unique biodiversity, the park is designated as a World Heritage Site.
Białowieża Forest is the only place where the European bison, Europe’s biggest land mammal, can still roam freely like in the old days. With its majestic build, the animal more than deserves its nickname of King of the Forest. One of the first sights after passing the gate of Białowieża National Park is a huge bison head made of wood. Sculptor Sławomir Dowbysz said: “People here have a special link with the bison – the symbol of Białowieża.”
The forest is not only famous for its bison but also for the enormous diversity of habitats and species – including those that are scarce or even extinct elsewhere in Europe. One of the typical sights of the forest landscape is a large amount of dead, uprooted trees. They are a true haven for many species of insects to develop and live.
Every season is special in Białowieża Forest. For example, in early spring visitors can listen to birds and frogs trying to impress potential partners with a “concert” at the start of the mating season. The forest is famous for the birds that inhabit it, especially the Eurasian three-toed woodpecker, the white-backed woodpecker and various species of owls.
The EU plays a key role in preserving this diversity. Białowieża National Park benefits from being in the Natura 2000 network, an EU scheme that sets out to protect Europe’s most valuable species and their habitats. In addition the park also receives money from several European funds, including the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), to better protect animals. For example, thanks to European funding, bisons are kept in a semi-natural reserve, where they can be observed online by means of a live webcam.
Białowieża Biodiversity Academy is able to organise workshops thanks to funding from the Rural Development Programme for 2007 – 2013. The main goal of the workshops is to improve people’s understanding of nature and to explore the biodiversity of the Białowieża National Park. “We are open for all nature enthusiasts: for families, children, and professionals,” said Olimpia Pabian, who is the academy’s coordinator. Workshop participants come not only from Poland, but also from other European countries.
Tourism in this area is also co-funded by the EU, especially thanks to the Neighbourhood Programme Poland–Belarus-Ukraine.