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Poland's environmentalists fight foresters for heart of primeval forest

Most Poles may feel connected to nature, but the battle for Bialowieza lays bare their belief in their right to exploit the forest

Source:  Copyright 2011, Guardian
Date:  April 6, 2011
Byline:  Damian Carrington
Original URL: Status ONLINE

It is a spectacle of savage beauty: splintered stumps and trunks lie like battlefield corpses between soaring oak and lime trees. Ochre-fringed bracket fungus feasts on the dead wood, while the first green shoots of spring pierce the leaf mold, amid the tracks of wolves and bison.

For ecologist Janusz Korbel, standing in the forest he loves and surrounded by decaying logs and branches, it is this life springing from death that is at the heart of this untouched place. "It's a kind of Eden," he says. "It was not created by humans."

The Bialowieza forest is a time capsule, protected for centuries by Polish kings and Russian tsars as a royal hunting ground. To walk among the giant, slender trees – the tallest in Europe – is to glimpse the primeval forest that once blanketed all of the continent's lowlands. "It began about 8,000 years ago and has existed since then without any meaningful interference from people," says Korbel. But Bialowieza is the last ...

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