Białowieża Forest

Country
Belarus,
Poland
Inscribed in
1992
Criteria
(ix)
(x)
The conservation outlook for this site has been assessed as "significant concern" in the latest assessment cycle. Explore the Conservation Outlook Assessment for the site below. You have the option to access the summary, or the detailed assessment.

Situated on the watershed of the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, this immense forest range, consisting of evergreens and broad-leaved trees, is home to some remarkable animal life, including rare mammals such as the wolf, the lynx and the otter, as well as some 300 European Bison, a species which has been reintroduced into the park. © UNESCO

© IUCN/Elena Osipova

Summary

2020 Conservation Outlook

Finalised on
02 Dec 2020
Significant concern
This transboundary site stretching across the border between Poland and Belarus was initially comprised of two national parks. The 2014 extension of the World Heritage site has resulted in significant additions to the site and the configuration that included the most significant areas of old-growth forests of the Bialowieza Forest, however it added complexity to the management of the site since newly added areas on the Polish side are managed by the Polish State Forests and stretch across three forest management districts. During 2016-2018 severe logging took place in the Polish part of the site, made possible through the amendments to the Forest Management Plan for the Białowieża Forest District, as well as logging of old-growth forests provided by the decision 51 of the Polish General Directorate of the State Forests and wood extraction in the management zones originally excluded from logging. In 2017, both the World Heritage Committee and the European Commission expressed their concerns over the increased logging and over potential adverse impacts on the conservation of the site’s habitats and species as well as irreparable biodiversity loss, including through removal of trees of 100 years and more. The logging has been finally halted by the ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union from April 2018, which found these operations illegitimate. The preparation of the transboundary management plan for the entire World Heritage site has started, but the process is slow, and therefore concerns remain that until an integrated transboundary management framework will be operationalized, the World Heritage site will remain subject to different management regimes with different approaches. These concerns are strenghened by the process of preparation of forest management plans for the three forest districts on the Polish part of the site, which started in Autumn 2019, prior to the preparation of the Integrated Management Plan for the entire World Heritage site, thus, without a general framework of the integrated management. Apart from issues related to logging and forest management, other threats exist. Climate change affects functioning of the forest ecosystems, including ground water regime, plant and animal phenology, and health of populations of some species (e.g. Norway spruce). Additionally, African Swine Fever caused collapse of the population of wild boars – one of the key-stone species of forest ecosystems, and this collapse has been deepened by human intervention – severe hunting aimed at pushing wild boar population density below 0.1 individual per square kilometre in Poland and aimed at its eradication in Belarus. These factors should be seriously considered, while assessing the stability of the forest ecosystem, even if it is not possible to assess the effects with high accuracy.

Current state and trend of VALUES

High Concern
Trend
Deteriorating
While the diversity of forest flora and fauna of the World Heritage site seems to remain relatively well preserved and dynamic, high concerns have arisen recently about the state and overall integrity of forest ecosystems, especially related to logging operations in the Polish part of the site during the period of 2016-2018, whose consequences will be visible for decades if not centuries. These activities have been halted by Court of Justice of European Union (2018) by its ruling of April 2018. Serious concerns have also been raised on the dramatic reduction of wild boar populations, which changed functioning of the whole ecosystem via change in biomass and energy cycling.

Overall THREATS

High Threat
Since the last assessment, logging has been stopped following the verdict of the Court of Justice of the European Union and has been limited to safety cuts only recently. However, it has already impacted on the World Heritage sites and some of the impacts have been considerable. A number of threats remain, such as extensive road network within the site, tourism infrastructure and housing developing without any spatial planning documents, and the border fence, which prevents free movement and gene among large mammals’ populations. Changes in temperature and precipitation and shifts in phenology and seasonality have been previously observed, but the overall extent and impact of climate change on the values of the site needs to be studied further. Climate change may also significantly increase the risk of forest fires in the future. The threats resulting from the climate change should not be underestimated.

Overall PROTECTION and MANAGEMENT

Serious Concern
The 2014 extension of the World Heritage site has resulted not only in significant additions to the site with all of the most important old-growth forest stands now being included into the boundaries of the site, but also in intensification of transboundary cooperation. However, effective coordination between three authorities responsible for the management of the site – the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park in Belarus and the Bialowieza National Park and the Forestry Administration in Poland – still needs to be strengthened and operationalized. The 2018 sentence of the Court of Justice of European Union on Poland breaking EU Natura 2000 legislation demonstrated that the effectiveness of the legislative framework on the Polish side needs to be improved and monitored. Little progress in the preparation of management plans both for the entire Polish part of the World Heritage site and of the transboundary Integrated Management Plan is of serious concern for the protection of the site’s integrity and its OUV.

Full assessment

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Finalised on
02 Dec 2020

Description of values

Diverse complex of forest ecosystems with extensive old-growth forests

Criterion
(ix)
Bialowieza Forest conserves a diverse complex of forest ecosystems which exemplify the Central European mixed forests terrestrial ecoregion, and a range of associated non-forest habitats, including wet meadows, river valleys and other wetlands. The area has an exceptionally high nature conservation value, including extensive old-growth forests. The large and integral forest area supports complete food webs including viable populations of large mammals and large carnivores (wolf, lynx and otter) amongst other. The richness in dead wood, standing and on the ground, leads to a consequent high diversity of fungi and saproxylic invertebrates (World Heritage Committee, 2014).

Extraordinary diversity of forest flora and fungi

Criterion
(x)
The site includes a large area with substantially undisturbed natural vegetation that mainly includes old-aged deciduous and coniferous forests. The forest vegetation in BF is dominated by fresh oak-linden-hornbeam forest. The second most significant forest communities are ash-alder flood plain forests, and bog-birch forest (Thelypterido-Betuletum pubescentis) (IUCN, 2014). There are over 1,060 vascular plant species and an estimate of over 400 lichen species. Recent data confirms over 230 bryophyte species, 71 liverworts and 2 antocerotes. In terms of its mycoflora, Bialowieza Forest can be considered one of the most important refuges for large-cap fungi (macromycete) in the whole boreo-nemoral region. Just in a small area of 10,000 ha, over 1,600 macromycete species were listed. Out of 33 macromycete species regarded as critically endangered in Europe, at least 5 occur in the site (IUCN, 2014).

Outstanding diversity of forest fauna

Criterion
(x)
The site is home to the largest free-roaming population of European Bison. The diverse fauna of the site also includes 59 mammal species, over 250 bird species, 13 amphibians, 7 reptiles, and over 12,000 invertebrates (World Heritage Committee, 2014).

Assessment information

Low Threat
Since the last assessment, logging has been stopped following the verdict of the Court of Justice of the European Union, thus it is no longer a serious threat to the OUV of the World Heritage site; however, the site has already been heavily affected. Some threats remain, such as the extensive road network within the site, tourism infrastructure, unplanned development of housing and the border fence, which limits free movement and genetic exchange among large mammals’ populations.
Tourism/ Recreation Areas
(Hotels and other tourism infrastructure and facilities)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Scattered(5-15%)
Outside site
There are three large hotel complexes in and around Bialowieza village on the Polish side (UNESCO and IUCN, 2008). Despite being relatively well-managed, this is a significant visitation pressure (Council of Europe, 2009). On the Belorussian side, the “Father Frost House”, situated in an exclave of the National Park, receives high numbers of visitors during the orthodox Christmas season. 275.000 tourists haven been reported for 2016 (State Party of Poland and Belarus, 2016), indicating stable tourism numbers around 300.000/annum (Kobyak, 2011). Concerns were also previously expressed about, the new 190 km “bypass” road skirting Belovezhskaya Pushcha and improving access to the Belorussian part of the site from Brest, Hrodna and also Poland, may result in increased and potentially poorly managed tourism development (Karpik, 2011). However, the core areas of the site are under strict protection and are not affected by tourism development.
Hunting and trapping
(Hunting and control of populations of herbivores)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Scattered(5-15%)
Predators’ numbers seem to be at an unnaturally low level on the Belorussian side but a moratorium on wolf hunting in the limits of the World Heritage site has been implemented (UNESCO, 2019). The artificially maintained high density of herbivores may compromise forest rejuvenation, and hence the long-term integrity of the site (Kuijken, 2012). Supplementary feeding of European bison strongly modifies its behaviour, annual life cycle and distribution in space and time (Krasińska and Krasiński 2007). Side effect of supplementary feeding is decrease in health status of European bison due to increased rates of parasitic invasions due to passing of parasites between individuals at feeding sites (Kołodziej-Sobocińska et al. 2018, 2016). Since the last outlook assessment, in its both parts (Polish and Belarusian) natural dieback of wild boar, caused by African swine fever, has been deepened by intensive hunting aimed at complete eradication of the species from the forest in the Belarusian part of the World Heritage site and keeping its density below 0.1 individual/square kilometer in the Polish part. As this is one of the key-stone species, which strongly modifies functioning of forest ecosystems, dramatic collapse of its population may change course of many ecological processes (e.g. control of rodent populations, dynamics of forest plants, cleaning forest of carcases, etc.), which consequently may influence stability of forest ecosystems and the long term integrity of the World Heritage site.
Other Ecosystem Modifications
(Border fence leading to habitat fragmentation and impaired gene flow among mammal populations)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Localised(<5%)
The border fence between Belarus and Poland impairs large mammal migration and gene flow between the protected areas that comprise the World Heritage site on both sides of the border (UNESCO and IUCN, 2008; Daleszczyk et al., 2009). At the same time, it prevents interbreeding of two genetically different populations of European Bison (with the Belorusian population carrying genes of the Lowland-Caucasian line (Kuijken, 2012). The overall impact of this habitat fragmentation is considered limited (UNESCO and IUCN, 2008).
Invasive Non-Native/ Alien Species
(Non-native species)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Throughout(>50%)
Outside site
There are close to 160 woody and close to 200 herbaceaus plants species alien to Bialowieza Forest (Adamowski et al., 2002), which are spontaneously spreading in the site's limits. The most wide spread are red oak (Quercus rubra), domestic apple (Malus domestica) ash-leaved maple (Acer negundo) and black cherry (Prunus serotina). These are significant threats to native plants and ecological processes, thus, require further monitoring (UNESCO and IUCN, 2008, Adamowski et al., 2002). Among non-woody invasive species the most wide spread in forest ecosystems is Impatiens parviflora and in non-forest ecosystems (but encroaching on logged areas) Solidago canadensis/Solidago serotina/Solidago gigantea. Locally they dominate the landscape suppressing native vegetation, thus, negatively affecting native flora and fauna of invertebrates. Among the vertebrate animals Neovison vison and Nyctereutes procyonoides are wide spread for several decades, still affecting biodiversity of their preys and taking part in dispersal of non-native plants (e.g. Prunus cerasifera)  (Kauhala and Kowalczyk, 2011; Brzeziński et al., 2019). Procyon lotor have also been observed, but only very limited number of times; however, it needs to be carefully monitored.
Roads/ Railroads
(Roads)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Localised(<5%)
A network of roads exists within the World Heritage site, particularly on the Belarusian side, many of which are maintained for fire prevention purposes. During its evaluation of the site’s extension IUCN recommended that “the States Parties carefully assess the real need for maintaining these roads and fire prevention corridors, and reduce their numbers through a programme of rationalization, accompanied by appropriate monitoring” (IUCN, 2014). On Polish side, the upgrade of the Narewkowska Road, linking Białowieża and Narewka is a concern (UNESCO, 2019). With the better pavement and introduction of the road into popular car navigation systems (e.g. Google Map) it may bring increase of the number of cars passing through it and increase in their speed, causing higher risks for crossing animals and reducing connectivity of the ecosystem  separated by the road (UNESCO, 2019). Narewkowska Road was officially opened on 03 February 2020. Since February 2019, traffic volume and road fatalities on the 12 km long section of the road were monitored using camera-traps and dedicated fatalities surveys by a team of NGOs and scientists from Polish Academy of Sciences. The research revealed that prior to the upgrade of the road, the mean traffic volume in spring months (March-May; corrected for seasonal variation and day of the week variation) was 23 cars/day, while after the upgrade increased to 62 cars/day (170% increase), mostly in May. That should be compared against the predicted mean of 46 cars/day, as stated in the EIA prepared for the upgrade project. During the spring 2020, the threshold value of 46 cars/day was exceeded in 56% (49/88) of days surveyed, with maximum value of 264 cars/day. These figures underestimate the magnitude of change, as the data from 2019 (prior to upgrade) show that highest traffic on that road is usually observed in July-September, and records from these months for the year 2020 (after upgrade) are still unavailable for analysis (IUCN Consultation, 2020).
Logging/ Wood Harvesting
(Legal and illegal logging, including salvage and sanitary cuttings)
High Threat
Inside site
, Widespread(15-50%)
Outside site
Since 2016, serious concerns have been raised over increased logging in the Polish part of Bialowieza Forest. The European Commission has decided to refer Poland to the Court of Justice of the EU and, as logging operations have started on a significant scale, has also requested the Court for “interim measures compelling Poland to suspend the works immediately” (European Commission, 2017, http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-17-1935_en.htm). An interim Decision by the Court of Justice issued on the 27th of July 2017 called on Poland to halt logging, recognizing high potential for serious and irreversible damage to Bialowieza Forest. Subsequently, the Court of Justice of the European Union sentenced that increased logging was illegal, mainly due to procedural problems (Court of Justice, 2018). Since the Court decision, logging ceased in most of the areas and trees have been felled only in limited areas along the public roads and for fire safety reasons. Logging also affected the partially protected zone II, which includes old-growth forest and where no active forest management is allowed. These activities have disrupted the ecological and natural processes in the World Heritage site, resulting in negative impacts on its Outstanding Universal Value (IUCN and UNESCO, 2018; UNESCO, 2019). The management of the cleared areas is still being discussed. According to the Polish Forestry Act (1991), the cleared areas should be regenerated in the period of no longer than five years since trees were logged. However, such an intervention may disturb the course of natural processes, thus, negatively influencing values of the criterion (ix).
High Threat
Changes in temperature and precipitation and shifts in phenology and seasonality have previously been observed, but the overall extent and impact of climate change on the values of the site needs to be studied further. Climate change may also significantly increase the risk of forest fires in future. The rate of these changes is very slow and their observation must be carried out for long time; however, the risk of serious changes in the forest ecosystem of the World Heritage site is high.
Droughts, Temperature extremes
(Changes in temperature and precipitation)
High Threat
Inside site
, Throughout(>50%)
Outside site
Changes in temperature and precipitation (Pierzgalski et al., 2002; Boczoń et al., 2018), and resulting shifts in phenology of spring flowers (Sparks et al., 2009) and seasonality of bird breeding (Wesolowski and Cholowa, 2009) have been observed, but the overall extent and impact of climate change on the values of the site needs to be studied further. It is possible that recent outbreak of spruce bark beetle and subsequent spruce dieback is also an effect of extremely low precipitation combined with increasing temperatures during the last decade (IUCN Consultation, 2017; Boczoń et al. 2018), which means that many old-growths will be threatened in the future. The 2019 precipitation was at the level of about two thirds of the mean precipitation for the last 50 years (i.e. 627 mm) and caused drying out of small watercourses, water bodies and wetland forests.
Fire/ Fire Suppression
(Forest fires)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Localised(<5%)
Outside site
Forest fire is a potential threat, though only very limited fires happened in the last few years (none in 2016 and 2017, ten fires in 2018, with the total burned area of about 1.0 ha). Most of the fires take place close to villages at the edge of the forest. The risk of fires is considered relatively low currently (Lethier and Avramoski, 2016; Hoffmann and Kulakowski, 2019), however, climate change may exacerbate the risk of forest fires (IUCN, 2014). Additional potential factor increasing fire hazard is due to anthropogenic changes in hydrology which may have reduced the mesic characteristics of some forest stands, resulting in drier conditions on the forest floor. Last but not least is the fire hazard and risk imposed by former salvage logging, conducted in years 2016-2018, which increased grass cover of clearcuts, and contributed to big amount of piles of slash left on the cleared areas, often along the roads (Hoffmann and Kulakowski, 2019).
Since the last assessment, logging has been stopped following the verdict of the Court of Justice of the European Union and has been limited to safety cuts only recently. However, it has already impacted on the World Heritage sites and some of the impacts have been considerable. A number of threats remain, such as extensive road network within the site, tourism infrastructure and housing developing without any spatial planning documents, and the border fence, which prevents free movement and gene among large mammals’ populations. Changes in temperature and precipitation and shifts in phenology and seasonality have been previously observed, but the overall extent and impact of climate change on the values of the site needs to be studied further. Climate change may also significantly increase the risk of forest fires in the future. The threats resulting from the climate change should not be underestimated.
Management system
Serious Concern
This transboundary World Heritage site consists of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park in Belarus and the areas managed by the Bialowieza National Park and three forest districts of the National Forest Holding in Poland. In Belarus the whole area is managed by the National Park Authority. The administration and management of Bialowieza National Park on the Polish side is supervised by the Ministry of Environment. A management plan for the Bialowieza National Park was approved in 2014. In October 2013, a Steering Committee was established to coordinate the management of the Polish part of the site between the National Park and the National Forest Holding Administration. The Bialowieza National Park, the Polish National Forest Holding and the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park signed an agreement regarding preparation and implementation of an Integrated Management Plan (IMP) for the whole transboundary World Heritage site (IUCN, 2014). The preparations of the transboundary management plan have started in 2017 but so far the World Heritage site remains subject to different management regimes with different approaches and to decisions based on individual forest management plans (UNESCO, 2017). In May 2018, the Polish Minister of Environment appointed a committee of experts, with the objective to develop recommendations for the management plan. The commission consisted mainly of foresters and forest scientists, only a few scientists from other disciplines and NGO representatives were invited, but refused to take part. The final report of the commission was delivered at the end of the 2019 but was never made publicly available. The commission will not extend its work. According to the information of the Ministry of Climate (which temporarily replaced the Ministry of Environment), there was an internal ministerial commission working since 2019 on the development of the Integrated Management Plan but it did not develop any documents until April 2020 (Gasiuk-Pihowicz, 2020). Serious concerns arise from the fact that the National Forest Holding started preparation of the Forest Management Plans for forest districts Bialowieza, Browsk and Hajnowka in autumn 2019. These plans are expected to be implemented in 2021, which is not compliant with the 2019 decision of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee (UNESCO, 2019), according to which the preparation of Integrated Management Plan should be prioritised. Instead, the overarching IMP should set the framework for local and detailed plans and inform their development. Additionally, the Assumptions for drafting Forest Management Plans contain some worrying entries, neglecting regulations related to the World Heritage status of the Bialowieza Forest (e.g. introducing hunting to the nature reserves, which are in the zone of the partial protection I, where hunting is excluded) (Regional Directorate of State Forests in Białystok, 2020). Taking into account a lack of progress in preparation of basic parts of the Integrated Management Plan for the Polish part of the World Heritage site and need for its integration with the Belarusian part, the deadline for preparation of the IMP set for 2022 by State Parties in their report 2018 (UNESCO, 2019) will be difficult to hold.
 
Effectiveness of management system
Serious Concern
No formal management effectiveness assessment is on record for either the Polish or the Belarusian part of the World Heritage site. Significant progress has been achieved in formalizing transboundary cooperation, but there is still, firstly, a lack of progress in development of the Integrated Management Plan for the entire transboundary World Heritage site and, secondly, priority is being given to the preparation of the Forest Management Plans by the National Forest Holding in Poland, prior to the Integrated Management Plan. These are clear signs of the very low effectiveness in terms of the overarching management of the World Heritage site.
The 2018 World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission noted that the forest management regime in place in the Belarusian part ensures a strict non-intervention policy in the majority of the World Heritage site whilst active management is informed by specific conservation objectives, which is in line with the protection of the site's OUV.  However, the mission also noted the impacts of observed that logging activities on the Polish side between 2016 and 2018, which included the removal of deadwood, and overly wide safety cuttings and large-scale sanitary cuttings as well as active forest regeneration activities (UNESCO and IUCN 2018).
Boundaries
Highly Effective
The 2014 extension nomination of the site has expanded the area on the Polish side from 5,069 to 59,576.09 ha and has resulted in improved boundaries, which now include the most important old-growth stands (IUCN, 2014).
Integration into regional and national planning systems
Some Concern
The management of each entity composing the World Heritage site: Bialowieza National Park (Poland), three forest districts (Białowieża, Browsk and Hajnówka) (Poland) and State National Park Belovezhskaya Pushcha (Belarus) is embedded into a wider regional and national sustainable development framework, which also includes sustainable tourism planning (UNESCO and IUCN, 2008; Council of Europe, 2009). However, it is also clear that each of these entities are managing their parts in the same way as before the extension of the World Heritage site in 2014. Thus, the management of each entity is integrated into regional and national planning system, but there is no integrated management of the entire transboundary World Heritage site per se.
Relationships with local people
Serious Concern
NGOs and other stakeholders expressed consistent support for the extension of the World Heritage site, which added large areas on the Polish side. The extension was approved by the World Heritage Committee in June 2014. The current level of local stakeholder involvement of Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park (Belarus) is unclear, but there seems to be no formal participation of local people in the management planning process and no local stakeholder council for continuous management input (Kuijken, 2012). Since 2016, local and national NGOs in Poland have reported a lack of consultation and participation of local stakeholders and NGOs in decision-making processes regarding the World Heritage site. The newly established Committee for managing the Bialowieza Forest does not include scientists not related to the forestry sector or NGO representatives (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 2017). Communication with local communities and other stakeholders is at a very low level on both sides of the border and limited to issues concerning the management of separate parts but not the World Heritage site as one unit. In effect, local communities are expressing their discontent, with the council of the Bialowieza village adopting in 2019 a resolution VI/45/19 to hold a referendum on exiting the World Heritage system (Council of the Bialowieza commune, 2019). A lack of any clear structure and representative appointed responsible for management of the World Heritage site hinders communication with local people and local enterprises.
Legal framework
Mostly Effective
The legal basis for the conservation of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park (Belarus) consists of the Land Code of the Republic of Belarus (1999), Forest Code (2000), and the Law of the Republic of Belarus on Special Protected Natural Areas (1994, 2000). The National Park was established in 1991 on the basis of a former hunting reserve, which was founded in 1940 (UNESCO and IUCN, 2008). As all Polish protected areas, Bialowieza National Park is based on the 1991 Act on Nature Protection. The Bialowieza National Park was re-established after the Second World War by an Ordinance of the Council of Ministers in 1947 (UNESCO and IUCN, 2008). The State Party of Belarus increased the strict conservation zone of the Belarusian part of the World Heritage site by 1,250 ha and a new management plan for the Belarusian part was adopted in 2016 (UNESCO, 2017) Both protected areas are also designated as UNESCO Biosphere Reserves (UNEP-WCMC, 2011). The entire Polish part of Bialowieza Forest including the Bialowieza National Park is also part of Natura 2000 network of the European Union.
Law enforcement
Mostly Effective
The 2017 infringement procedure under EU Legislation against Poland for non-compliance with EU Natura 2000 legislation raised concerns on the effectiveness of the legislative framework on the Polish side (UNESCO, 2017; EU Commission, 2017). Since the judgement of the Court of Justice of European Union (2018), the situation stabilized and national and international laws are implemented in a more effective manner.
Implementation of Committee decisions and recommendations
Serious Concern
The slow and/or incomplete implementation of some Committee decisions and recommendations regarding the management of the site was a recurrent problem (UNESCO, 2006, 2008, 2016, 2017, 2019). This includes, the establishment of a joint management framework for the entire World Heritage site, adequate implementation of the requested SEA to assess the amended forest management (Polish part of the site), halting logging and wood extraction (UNESCO, 2017). Giving priority to the preparation of Forest Management Plans for forest districts within the boundaries of the World Heritage site (Regional Directorate of State Forests in Białystok, 2020), prior to preparation of the integrated management plan for the site is another example of ignoring the Committee recommendation and a more recent reason for serious concern.
Sustainable use
Some Concern
Significant areas of the site are now under strict protection (Belarusian part) with some zones where forest products collection (e.g. mushrooms) is allowed for local people. At the same time, commercial timber production in the vicinity of the site may still be unsustainable in that it exerts a negative impact (e.g. fragmentation) on the overall functionality of the forest ecosystems. The increased logging operations in the Polish part of the World Heritage site (see above) exceeded those that would be necessary for ensuring the safe use of the forest (EU Commission, 2017) and process of amendment of the forest management plan for Białowieża Forest District was found incompatible with EU regulations. The assumptions for drafting the project of the forest management plans in the Polish part of the site place great emphasis on spatial expansion of hunting (Regional Directorate of State Forests, 2020) to the zone of partial protection I, where hunting was not allowed according to the site’s extension nomination application (IUCN, 2014).
Sustainable finance
Some Concern
All bodies responsible for the management of the World Heritage site (Bialowieza National Park and Forest Administration in Poland, and Belovezhskaya Pushcha in Belarus) appear to be relatively well resourced in terms of human and financial capcities. In Belarus, the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park is considered a high priority area and it receives significant budget allocations from the government; its budget appears be secure in the long-term. In Poland, the Forest Administration appears to have a significant budget secured by its commercial activities; however, there is a need to clarify the additional budget that will be allocated for the management of the World Heritage site since its extension (IUCN, 2014). A lack of allocation of any financial resources for management of the World Heritage site blocks the development of its institutionalization and seriously impairs management of the site and communication with the social environment.
Staff capacity, training, and development
Mostly Effective
In the 2006 Periodic Report, it was reported that 37 staff work for Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park (UNESCO, 2006). In 2000, the Bialowieza National Park had 113 staff members (UNEP-WCMC, 2011). Staff numbers are reportedly more or less adequate in both protected areas. Senior staff turnover in Bialowieza National Park is high and local expertise of senior staff members therefore limited. The general level of staff qualification in both protected areas is unclear. Staff in both protected areas have access to some external training (UNESCO, 2006). The three forest districts, which constitute the Polish part of the World Heritage site together with Bialowieza National Park, employ about 150 staff members. This number is sufficient, however this staff is still trained mainly in forest management and do not have the necessary expertise and training to conduct management activities essential for the management of a World Heritage site, including community relations and biodiversity conservation.
Education and interpretation programs
Mostly Effective
Educational activities targeting schoolchildren and other groups are carried out in parts of the World Heritage site (States Parties of Belarus and Poland, 2017). There are museums and ecological education centres on both sides of the border. There are also guided excursions on visitor trails in Bialowieza National Park (UNESCO and IUCN, 2008). A more coordinated approach to education and interpretation and a stronger focus on the World Heritage status would improve management of this area.
Tourism and visitation management
Mostly Effective
Tourism development is not always accompanied by an equal development of interpretation programmes. It is unclear what role interpretation plays in the tourism projects on the Belorusian side of the World Heritage site (Kuijken, 2012). There is also a significant tourism development pressure near Bialowieza National Park on the Polish side, but this appears to be more integrated with interpretative activities such as guided tours on the visitor trails (UNESCO and IUCN, 2008). Given free access to the areas with no strict conservation, monitoring of tourism numbers and impacts remains difficult (States Parties of Belarus and Poland, 2017).
Monitoring
Some Concern
There is some long-term monitoring of the environment, ecosystems and some taxonomic groups of organisms carried out on permanent study plots as well as wildlife monitoring in both component parts of the site (UNEP-WCMC, 2011). However, intensified monitoring of key threats (invasive alien species, tourism impact, hydrological regime) has been recommended for Belovezhskaya Pushcha (Kuijken, 2012), and is needed in Bialowieza National Park. No joint monitoring programmes are in place (States Parties of Belarus and Poland, 2017) and so far they are not planned.
Research
Mostly Effective
There is a scientific research centre and laboratory in Kamieniuki on the Belorussian side, and an extensive research collaboration involving Bialowieza National Park Administration, the University of Warsaw, Forest Research Institute, five research centres of other universities and the Polish Academy of Sciences, and visiting scientists on the Polish side (UNEP-WCMC, 2011). Important research areas include forest ecology, entomology and bison ecology.
The 2014 extension of the World Heritage site has resulted not only in significant additions to the site with all of the most important old-growth forest stands now being included into the boundaries of the site, but also in intensification of transboundary cooperation. However, effective coordination between three authorities responsible for the management of the site – the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park in Belarus and the Bialowieza National Park and the Forestry Administration in Poland – still needs to be strengthened and operationalized. The 2018 sentence of the Court of Justice of European Union on Poland breaking EU Natura 2000 legislation demonstrated that the effectiveness of the legislative framework on the Polish side needs to be improved and monitored. Little progress in the preparation of management plans both for the entire Polish part of the World Heritage site and of the transboundary Integrated Management Plan is of serious concern for the protection of the site’s integrity and its OUV.
Assessment of the effectiveness of protection and management in addressing threats outside the site
Data Deficient
Data deficient
World Heritage values

Diverse complex of forest ecosystems with extensive old-growth forests

High Concern
Trend
Deteriorating
The enlarged boundaries of the site now include the most significant areas of old-growth forest and the areas that were impacted by past activities have been recovering. Serious concerns have been raised in the previous assessment with regards to the management and conservation of the Polish part of the World Heritage site, including the 2016 "Programme for the Białowieża Forest as a UNESCO Natural Heritage and a Natura 2000 site" which would allow active habitat restoration interventions in two thirds of each of the three Forest districts in Poland within Białowieża Forest (UNESCO, 2016) and the 2017 decision of the Polish General Directorate of the State Forests allowing logging in old-growth forest. These decisions have been annulled by the judgement of the Court of Justice of European Union (2018), which found the procedure of amending the forest management plan for Białowieża forest district not compliant with the EU law on Natura 2000. Still, large clearings logged during the years 2016-2018 impacted up to 30% of the World Heritage site (Mikusiński et al., 2018) and recovery of the ecosystems from these destructive operations will take several decades and more. Logging also took place in the partially protected zone II affecting old-growth forest of more than 100 years old, whereas active forest management is in fact not allowed in these areas according to the extension nomination of 2014. Logging has disrupted the ecological and natural processes in the site, resulting in negative impacts on its OUV (UNESCO and IUCN, 2018).

Extraordinary diversity of forest flora and fungi

High Concern
Trend
Deteriorating
No local extinctions of flora have been reported, aside of forest light demanding species (Adamowski, 2009) typical to forest ecosystems strongly modified by humans in past (e.g. xerothermic oak forest). Stopping this process would need strong but local intervention into stand structure. The spread of invasive species (Łapok et al., 2018) and lack of integrated actions to control them is of serious concern. The enhanced logging of old trees on the Polish side during 2016-2018 impacted diversity of flora (especially bryophyte and lichen species depending on dead wood and primeval forest structures) and opened the sites to invasion by light demanding, expansive and non-native species (Mikusiński et al., 2018; Orczewska et al., 2019). Active management aimed at supporting declining species and habitats or on controlling the invasive species is rarely implemented in both (Polish and Belarusian) parts of the site.

Outstanding diversity of forest fauna

High Concern
Trend
Deteriorating
No local extinctions or dramatic reductions of fauna have been reported for most of the species, and the status and trend of forest fauna are considered of low concern; however, the current changes in management and enhanced logging of old trees may impact on fauna diversity (especially species depending on dead wood and primeval forest structures (UNESCO, 2017). The scientific views on the effects of the border fence on the populations of large mammals differ. Serious concerns have been raised on the dramatic reduction of the wild boar population due to the African Swine Fever. Very intensive control measures (hunting) were applied on both sides of the border, which in the Belarusian part reduced wild boar population close to zero and in the Polish part of the World Heritage site caused collapse of the wild boar population: less than 100 individuals were reported in 2019, in contrast to previously 1500-2000 individuals.
Assessment of the current state and trend of World Heritage values
High Concern
Trend
Deteriorating
While the diversity of forest flora and fauna of the World Heritage site seems to remain relatively well preserved and dynamic, high concerns have arisen recently about the state and overall integrity of forest ecosystems, especially related to logging operations in the Polish part of the site during the period of 2016-2018, whose consequences will be visible for decades if not centuries. These activities have been halted by Court of Justice of European Union (2018) by its ruling of April 2018. Serious concerns have also been raised on the dramatic reduction of wild boar populations, which changed functioning of the whole ecosystem via change in biomass and energy cycling.

Additional information

Direct employment
In Polish part of the site, the national park and three forest districts offer c. 250 jobs. In addition, a significant number of jobs (possibly hundreds of jobs in tourism) are likely to be created in the course of tourism development and the development of sustainable natural resource use schemes within the site (UNEP-WCMC, 2011). There are more than one hundred licensed guides working for touristic offices in the Polish national park. The Belarusian national park employs over one thousand employees.
 
Wilderness and iconic features
Also only partly consisting of primary forest, Bialowieza Forest is one of the last great wildernesses in central/eastern Europe (UNEP-WCMC, 2011), with considerable wilderness values and iconic importance. The reintroduced population of European Bison strongly contributes to this value. This is also the last opportunity to experience primeval forest of this type for current and future generations (UNESCO and IUCN, 2008).
Factors negatively affecting provision of this benefit
Climate change
Impact level - High
Trend - Continuing
Pollution
Impact level - Low
Trend - Decreasing
Invasive species
Impact level - Moderate
Trend - Continuing
Habitat change
Impact level - High
Trend - Increasing
Importance for research,
Contribution to education,
Collection of genetic material
In addition to the rich local and traditional knowledge and scientific articles that have been written already about the flora of the World Heritage site, it is likely that the site harbours significant genetic resources that may be used for medicinal or other relevant uses. Each year over one hundred scientific publications are published based on data from the Białowieża Forest on both sides of the border. The forest is also used as a site for traditional ecological education as well as for formalized education on the level of primary and secondary schools and university level.
History and tradition
The site straddles the EU borderand is a symbol of the joint heritage of EU and non-EU countries. If joint management can be established there, it can become an example of international cooperation and contribute to pan-European peace building.
Outdoor recreation and tourism
Tourism, including nature-based tourism is practiced at an increasing intensity. If developed in a sustainable way, the site may offer a unique opportunity to experience undisturbed wilderness. This might also contribute significantly to income generation and the socio-economic development of the region (UNESCO and IUCN, 2008). Currently, c. €350,000 for entrance fees, hunting licenses and horse riding are paid annually in Bialowieza National Park alone (Pabian and Jaroszewicz, 2009). Specialized bird-watching tourism generates up to 2.2 million US dollars of annual income for local tourism operators (Czeszczewik et al., 2019). The lock-down in Poland due to the outbreak of COVID-19 seriously impacted the tourism sector in 2020.
 
Collection of wild plants and mushrooms
Several non-timber forest products are used from the site (UNEP-WCMC, 2011) and this use might be expanded. The annual value of mushrooms and honey extracted from the Polish part of Bialowieza Forest has been estimated at €180,000 and €100,000 respectively (Pabian and Jaroszewicz, 2009). The management regime of both components of the property should be adapted in a way that the sustainable use of these resources in support of local livelihoods and regional development is permitted and promoted. A recent assessment published in 2016 showed that recreational benefits associated with the Białowieża National Park benefits are 27 times higher than the average profits generated by the Białowieża Forest District (Giergiczny, 2016).
 
The World Heritage site provides multiple conservation, economic and scientific benefits and ecosystem services to local inhabitants, the citizens of Poland and Belarus, and also to the tourists visiting the site. There is considerable potential to maintain and enhance these benefits through more equitable and participatory management of the site, particularly in areas such as sustainable tourism development.

References

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34
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35
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