Białowieża

Treasure or Resource?

 

Is the Białowieża forest disappearing? The last remaining big primeval forest in Europe plays an important role in the survival of certain animal species but also in the Polish logging industry. Can these two opposites coexist?

 

The subject of the photo project ‘Białowieża’ is the last remaining big primeval forest in Europe. This forest can still be considered a wilderness, as it was allowed to develop itself without major human interference. Unfortunately, these areas are becoming more rare in Europe. The Białowieża forest, for example, is severely endangered by the logging industry, even though a part of the forest is recognized as world heritage by UNESCO and therefore is legally protected by international treaties.

 

By becoming more aware of the endangerment of this important piece of nature, I chose to travel to Poland in the context of my master project and observe the situation for myself. Once there, I could see how severely the forest was damaged and tried to capture it by using my camera.

 

The main reason the Polish government gives to allow logging in the forest, is the epidemic of the European spruce bark beetle. These insects attack weakened trees which impairs their structural integrity and ultimately leads to their demise. As a precautionary measure, these trees are chopped down for the safety of the public and to stop the epidemic of spreading itself further.

 

This reason turned out to be a cover to organize logging on an industrial scale. This conclusion is being confirmed by multiple articles and conversations I had with the local population.

 

In April 2018, the European Court of Justice has given its verdict on the logging in the Białowieża forest. It states that the logging was illegal. This verdict is a huge victory for the activists and a lot of other people, but especially for the 250 birds and 62 mammal species that are living in the forest. 

 

Unfortunately, this period of logging has gone on for two years and has led to the destruction of an area that is more than double the size of the city of Ghent. In other words, 180.000 dead trees. 

 

Although  Poland has  withdrawn its  heavy machinery  out of the Białowieża forest, this does not prevent it from happening again or somewhere else.