Environmentalists: The wall on the Polish-Belarusian border, which will cross the Białowieża Primeval Forest (the UNESCO world heritage site), is being built in violation of the EU nature protection laws. Today, Greenpeace and the coalition “I Love Puszcza” have joined a complaint with the European Commission on this matter. Over 1600 scientists call on EC to take urgent action.
The Białowieża Primeval Forest is a cross-border forest complex, approx. 60% of the area of which lies on the territory of Belarus. From the nature point of view, the Polish and Belarusian parts of the Forest constitute one whole. Due to its unique natural value, the Polish part of the Białowieża Primeval Forest is protected by EU law as a Natura 2000 area.
A wall is being put up in one of the most precious natural regions in Poland and Europe, the erection of which will be disastrous for wildlife of the Białowieża Primeval Forest and 16 other Natura 2000 areas it will cross. This forest is the last natural lowland forest in Europe. The wall will cause cross-border damage to the environment and habitats of protected species such as wolves, lynx and wisent. Animal migration routes will be blocked, which may lead to the extinction of the lynx population in the Polish part of the Białowieża Forest.
Iwo Łoś from Greenpeace said: “It cannot be that a Member State completely ignores the provisions of EU law. The overriding social interest also does not exempt from the obligation to conduct environmental impact assessments. These procedures are there to protect nature, and therefore our future, from harmful investments. The European Commission must immediately take interim measures to suspend the construction of the wall”.
The wall also threatens maintaining the status of the UNESCO World Heritage Site by the Białowieża Forest, as it will harm the entire forest ecosystem and many key natural processes. The required environmental impact assessment has not been carried out for the investment, thus ignoring various alternatives to the wall. The project was also not subjected to public consultations, making it impossible for the public to participate in making a decision so important for the protection of natural heritage. In the face of ignoring the law and requirements of nature protection on the national ground, the only chance to stop this harmful project is the intervention of the European Commission.
Agata Szafraniuk, lawyer from the ClientEarth, explains the rationale behind the complaint to EC: “Activities adversely affecting the Natura 2000 area may only be carried out in exceptional situations, in which all the circumstances required by the law occur. The fulfillment of these criteria was not proven in the case of the construction of the border wall. However, first of all, the impact of the investment on the unique ecosystem of the Białowieża Forest has not been checked, which automatically leads to non-compliance with the law”.
The submission of the complaint to the European Commission followed the appeals filed to EC earlier this week. Over 1,600 scientists from around the world, 160 non-governmental organizations, and residents of the Białowieża Primeval Forest region have joined forces to petition the European Commission to save the forest. They call on the European Commission to act urgently and to stop the construction of the wall on the Polish-Belarusian border, which poses a serious threat to the lives of animals, nature and the local community. On Tuesday, Feb 8, 2022, they handed over letters, appeals and petitions to the European Commission’s representation in Poland, where a demonstration also took place. The submission followed a series of demonstrations against the wall organized across Poland in Białowieża, Warszawa, Poznań, Lublin and Kraków.
The European Commission stood up in defense of the Białowieża Forest in 2017 after it was massively being cut down by the Polish National Forest Holding. Only its intervention and the decision of the Court of Justice of the EU, which declared logging as illegal, stopped deforestation. NGOs and scientists hope that the European Commission will not ignore public and science calls and will take all necessary steps to stop the construction of the wall until a proper environmental impact assessment and consultation with the public are carried out.
Letter of over 1600 scientists:
Petition, signed by over 20 k people, initiated by local inhabitants of Bialowieża Forest area: https://naszademokracja.pl/petitions/nie-dla-niszczenia-puszczy-bialowieskiej-przez-budowe-muru-na-granicy