On Poland’s far border lies Białowieża, one of the last remnants of Europe’s primeval forest. It’s a haven for birds and mammals, but it’s also under threat, as our writer discovered on a new trip
This area has never been exploited or managed, and a unique feature is the dead wood decomposing into the forest floor. It looks picturesque, with moss and flowers covering fallen trunks, and voles scampering along them, but it is also key to the forest’s exceptional biodiversity: the dead wood hosts millions of organisms, which in turn sustain incredible numbers of, often rare, birds. Numerous species of woodpeckers, flitting about and drumming on the trunks, are entirely dependent on standing dead trees.
But outside the strictly-protected zone, state-employed foresters are still busily logging, and have successfully campaigned to be allowed to greatly increase felling and clearing dead wood in a bid to fight bark beetle infestation. Environmentalists would like to see the whole forest protected: dead wood is key to its ecology, and birds and other wildlife move around, and depend on, the whole forest, not just the protected area.