Białowieża Science Initiative

The Białowieża forest is a large forest complex composed of both conifers and broadleaved trees. It is situated on the border between Poland and Belarus. The most recent (2015 - ongoing) controversy related to the Białowieża forest status and its management refers to an outbreak of the European spruce bark beetle (Ips typographus). The ongoing conflict has engaged a substantial part of the Polish society, and has been widely covered by international media. This conflict has had a significant impact on the social perception of forestry and nature conservation in Poland and beyond. While the controversy draws on partially contradicting scientific arguments, researchers presenting diverse views on the management of Białowieża forest rarely meet for joint discussions, but rather support different media or decision makers. Open discussions between scientists representing different views on the management of the forest to elaborate on scientific consent or dissent points have been hampered by the political nature of the debate. The situation mimics similar controversies in other protected forest areas in Europe, e.g. in the Bavarian Forest in Germany, the Romanian Carpathians or the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia.

The aim of the initiative

The aims of the ‘Białowieża Science Initiative’ organised by the European Forest Institute were:

  • to collect and review already existing interdisciplinary scientific knowledge about the Białowieża Forest in relation to the controversy about forest conservation and use in the region
  • to create a space for an open scientific discussion based on scientific evidence regarding the current and future situation in the Białowieża forest
  • to identify consensus and dissent points from the perspective of science, and make different viewpoints visible based on best available scientific knowledge
  • to draw lessons/conclusions from the Bialowieza case for other areas in Europe facing similar challenges
  • to publish the findings of this science dialogue in a multi-author paper that is also accessible for decision makers, media and society

EFI’s goal is to gather researchers that have conducted robust research in Białowieża and have wide knowledge regarding this forest or the key topics discussed in relation to Białowieża. The criteria of participants’ selection was based on a scope of documented works and publications on topics related to the Białowieża Forest and/or subjects of the controversy. Social and political factors are important in the controversy and for this reason they will be included in the debate but as research topics and themes of conducted scientific analysis.

The situation in the Białowieża Forest is of high interest to many national and international audiences. Hence, organisers of the initiative recognise a demand for providing the outcomes of the event to a wider public. The initiative follows EFI’s common policy support approach aiming at providing science-based knowledge to decision-makers and enhancing science-policy dialogue.

Structure and timeframe

The initiative will consist of three parts:

  1. Scientific Workshop in the Białowieża Forest (30th, 31st of July, 1st of August 2018)
  2. Compilation of a multi-author-evidence paper (finalized Spring 2019)
  3. Presentation of findings in Brussels and in Warsaw 

Ad. I. The first part of the initiative was a two-day workshop in the Białowieża Forest. The workshop brought together 20 scientists working in the following five main topic areas: 1. forest ecology; 2. disturbances, forest (biodiversity) conservation and management, 3. socio-economic factors; 4. forest history; 5. forest policy and governance. We invited four researchers to each topic area to cover complimentary expertise and perspectives. The workshop combined presentations of key findings with two field trips and discussion rounds.

Ad. II. After the workshop, a multi-author-evidence paper was prepared engaging all scientists. The paper presents scientific evidence for the five topical areas in a comprehensive manner.

Ad. III. A dissemination, discussion and networking event will be organized in Brussels on the 15th of May. The scientific evidence paper will be presented and discussed.

List of Scientists and experts who are participating in the initiative

Per Angelstam, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Małgorzata Blicharska, Uppsala University
Lukas Giessen, European Forest Institute
Jacek Hilszczański, Forest Research Institute
Jan Holeksa, Adam Mickiewicz University
Jette Bredahl Jacobsen, University of Copenhagen
Bogdan Jaroszewicz, Białowieża Geobotanical Station, University of Warsaw
Agata Konczal, European Forest Institute
Andrzej Konieczny, University of Life Science in Lublin
Grzegorz Mikusiński, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Zbigniew Mirek Polish Academy of Science
Bart Muys, University of Leuven
Frits Mohren, Wageningen University
Krzysztof Niedziałkowski, Polish Academy of Science in Warsaw
Metodi Sotirov, University of Freiburg
Krzystof Stereńczak, Forest Research Institute
Jerzy Szwagrzyk, University of Agriculture in Cracow
Gordon Winder, Universität München
Georg Winkel, European Forest Institute
Zbigniew Witkowski, University School of Physical Education in Krakow
Rafał Zapłata, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw