Guest Author - Barbara Swiech
Poland has 23 National Parks that are under protection. According to Polish law, the national park should offer exceptional landscape and environmental value and should not be smaller than 100 hectares. Such area is officially formed to preserve biological variety and reconstruct natural habitat.
One of the most popular national parks in Poland is Bialowieza National Park (that was also placed as UNESCO list as World Heritage Site – biosphere reserve). The national park in Bialowieza was formed in 1932 but its history goes back to 1921 when it reached the status of natural reserve. Its terrain includes parts of primeval forest whose condition resembles the natural ancient woodland. As the Bialowieza National Park is situated on the border of Poland and Belarus, the protected area includes both - Polish and Belarusan National Parks.
Bialowieza offers the best kept virgin forest in European Lowland. Dead wood is also characteristic for the park, as fallen trees remain untouched by humans. They ensure the come back of nutritional substances to the soil and at the same time they become the habitat of various species – some of which do not exist in any part of Europe.
Bialowieza National Park has 1000 species of plants and over 3000 species of mushrooms. One of the most popular ones is the Jagiello Oak. The legend says that king Wladyslaw Jagiello sat at the oak before the winning battle with Teutonic Order in 1410. The tree fell down in 1974 and the researches showed that actually the oak had not been older than 450 years. The legend, created by Jan Jerzy Karpinski – naturalist, drew crowds of tourist that started to admire the beauty of the park. Although the oak lost its enormous branch, the tourist still come to admire the tree-trunk.
Over 12000 of animal species live in National Park of Bialowieza (among them 8 thousand of insects). The symbol of this National Park is, however, European Bison (Wisent) as this is the place where the animal was saved from extinction. The European Bison got almost extinct in 18th century. Some specimen survived only in Caucasus and Bialowieza National Park. As in 1919 the last individual of Bialowieza Park was killed, and the population of bisons in Caucasus got extinct, the specimen from zoos were brought to save the European bison. There are now about 750 bisons living in Bialowieza (440 on Polish part of the park) among 3 thousand living in the world (all of them, however, come from Bialowieza breeding).
About 140 thousand of tourists visit Bialowieza National Park each year. The most popular parts of the park’s area is still the place where the Wisents stroll. There is the fence running between Polish and Byelorussia parts of the park - however, the primeval forest in Belarus is visited only by few tourists.