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Wild Nature in the Heart of Europe

The formation of diversified landscapes and ecosystems in Poland is the result of its location in central Europe, between the sea and the mountains, in the area frequently affected by glaciation. Forests are a good example of such a diversity. The presence of large forested areas in Poland, most of which is owned by The National Forest Administration, has made it possible to help preserve a number of species, both those endangered or extinct elsewhere.

Today large, dense forest areas as those in Poland are a rarity in central and western Europe. The Białowieża Forest, a one-of-a-kind primeval forest that is still pristine and free of human involvement, has undergone natural processes for thousands of years. Thanks to a centuries-old conservation, the part of once an enormous forested European area has been saved in Poland.

The European bison is the most important and characteristic mammal associated with the Białowieża Forest and our pride as well as one of Poland’s symbols across the world. The World War I brought about the extinction of these animals, and the last specimen from Białowieża was killed in 1919. Almost 90 years ago the fate of these species depended on just a few animals that had survived. The unusual effort by both the Polish and German founders of the International Bison Protection Society saved the species from extinction. The society began a successful breeding based on the animals living in zoos and on private farms. Today there are more than 1200 bisons countrywide, which constitutes almost 28% of the world’s population.

It’s time to move to the Bieszczady Mountains. With the onset of spring, the first chirping sounds of birds can be heard. Robin’s wistful singing echoes across the still peaceful forest. A fire crest sings along from behind a spruce bush. It is the second smallest bird right after the gold crest. Its singing is powerful, highpitched and piercing, easily sawing through the leafy thicket to warn intruders of the bird’s territory. Cardamine glanduligera blooms in Bieszczady in April. It’s a Carpathian subendemic plant, growing in the Carpathian Mountains and the surrounded areas. It blooms shortly before trees start to grow leaves when the sunlight and its warmth penetrate the forests deep to the ground. In the Bieszczady beech woods, it spreads into whole beautiful carpets of intensely purple flowers.

The area by the river San in the Bieszczady Mountains is the only place to find an extremely rare variety of reptiles. It’s home to Poland’s unique arboreal Aesculapian snake, known to be a climbing master. The snake is a constrictor that feeds on rodents and lizards and kills them by weaving its muscular body around them. Another peculiar snake specimen, native to Bieszczady, is a black grass snake.

A wild meadow dotted with flowers, bursting with different shapes, a mosaics of colors and voices of nature is an impressive sight, a treat to the senses and a stress relief. In the fresh delicate green grass, multicolored plants bloom into the stunning waves splashing across the fields.

As the flora blooming spreads in time, from spring to autumn, plants attract innumerable swarms of insects with their colors, pollen and sweet nectar. Nectar–rich flowers attract one of the greatest local butterflies - a swallowtail butterfly or Peartree Swallowtail, which fly over the meadows without flapping their wings, hence their name.

The stag beetle is the biggest-sized (over 8 cm in length) beetle which lives in various places in different parts of Poland, especially in oldgrowth forests and old oak clusters. The male’s imposing, overgrown mandibles are its main characteristics. The name of the beetle comes from its similarity to deer’s antlers. The insect uses the giant mandibles to fight for a female and its success depends on mandibles’ size and strength.

The south-western part of the Lubuskie Lake District is dominated by pines which cover most of the area, forming Rzepin Pine Forest. Its tree density has always been high, and has been on the rise in recent years. Large stretches of pine woods produce fresh air permeated with the fragrance of oils, creating a wonderful microclimate and habitat for many plants and animals. Some stretches of oaks and beeches add to the variety of the forested landscape. Among fallen old trees left in the woods to rot, you can encounter another beetle native to Poland, the rot-feeding European rhinoceros beetle. The Rzepin Forest in unique in other respects as well. For more than 200 years, it’s been a place of the Europe’s greatest rutting ground. Every year in August, deer stags gather in huge numbers in the forest’s well-hidden spots of Dobrosułowskie Meadows, which turns into a temporary centre for this exceptional, autumn happening.

Natural values of Polish river valleys, life habitats for birds, fish, invertebrates and unique plant species are basically non-existent in other European countries. Clean small rivers meandering through natural valleys with all their biological diversity on European lowlands have become a rarity. The River Drawa is a good example; its crystal clear, cold and oxygenated water is home to fish and other organisms that wouldn’t stand a chance to survive elsewhere. The river winds among mixed forests that grow inclined on its steep embankments. Sometimes the crowns of giant beeches meet over its surface to form a tunnel of colorful leaves. Here and there uprooted trees break the river’s rapid current to form a quiet spot, often used by animals. The middle stretch of the river passes through an active army training ground, which has become a new bisons’ feeding area. Brought in 1980 from the Białowieża Forest, the animals had little difficulty adapting to the local blend of appears from our continent at a quick rate. The Aquatic Warbler is a species that deserves to be mentioned: a tiny bird that made Poland its main habitat. At the moment, the Warbler’s population counts more than 3000 singing males, 2500 of them in the Biebrza area which accounts for more than 25 % of its world’s breeding population and constitutes the European Union’s largest habitat.

Wildlife is an immeasurable commodity, a beauty in itself, which manifests in movement, harmony of colors and shapes, abundance of plants and animals. Interaction with nature offers pleasant aesthetic and emotional experiences. After all, it’s the diversity of forms and regional differences that make the world a fascinating place. It’s worth remembering, as wild, pristine nature is becoming a rare and precious thing. As the level of material and cultural life rises, wildlife becomes more fascinating and sought-after. People need to get in touch with something spontaneous and unique and a close contact with nature helps them to experience something unusual, which fills their souls.

Article authors and editors: Tomasz Ogrodowczyk, Michał Ogrodowczyk
Photographs: Tomasz Ogrodowczyk
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Polish State Forests

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