Court of Justice of the European Union: logging in the Białowieża Forest is illegal – final verdict

Court of Justice, the most important court of the European Union, issued today a sentence on the Białowieża Forest case. It states that intensified logging, ordered by Jan Szyszko, (Polish Minister of Environment until December 2017) is against the European law. The sentence is in force from the moment of its announcement, The Minister of Environment is thus obliged to follow it immediately.

The coalition of non-governmental organizations fighting for the forest, together with the Camp for the Forest, perceives the Court’s sentence as a grim lesson to be taken by the Minister of Environment. Obviously, we are pleased that the European law that protects the most precious fragments of the continent, has saved Białowieża Forest from intensive logging, which would have transformed this world-scale unique place into a common production forest. It is a great victory for all Poles who care for the Polish natural heritage.

At the same time, we are sorry that the Polish minister treated the Białowieża Forest, our natural gem like a plantation and only the Court’s intervention stopped him. We urge Minister Kowalczyk to override the legal documents that had allowed this logging. From now on all decisions regarding logging in the Białowieża Forest will be regarded from the perspective of being in accordance with this sentence. Multi-million penalties apply for ignoring it.

We believe that the Minister will go back to undertaking actions so as to protect the Białowieża Forest from being logged.

It was President Lech Kaczyński who set an example how it should be done years ago. It was he that motioned a draft bill in 2006 to expand the area of the national park, which still remains a good point of departure for considering the future of the Forest.  We believe that the entire Białowieża Forest deserve the highest form of protection provided for in the Polish law, that being a national park. This is the only solution that will allow to permanently save this extraordinary forest and preserve its natural assets so that it could serve posterity and support the economic tourism-based development of the region.

By means of a reminder, pursuant to the decisions from 2017 on increasing the logging in the Białowieża Forest, which were appealed against, over 190 thousand cubic meters of wood was logged, i.e. approximately 180 thousand trees. Over half of these were logged in the oldest, centuries-old forest stands subject to protection. Such an intense logging was last time observed 30 years ago, in the socialist era.

The Camp for the Forest shall remain in the Białowieża Forest. We believe that the worst time for the Forest is gone. We do not think that the current minister is to repeat the mistakes of his predecessor, however, we follow the principle of limited trust. We shall remain and monitor every step of the State Forests in the Białowieża Forest.

There remains a risk of further, limited acquisition of wood. We are concerned about plans of planting trees, that would turn fragments of the Forest into a plantation.

There is still a legal battle before us:

⦁     We would like to litigate against those responsible for devastating the Forest – the former minister and the functionaries of the State Forests.

⦁     There are several hundred cases in courts against activists participating in the protests. We hope that now that the European Court’s verdict has been announced, these will be withdrawn.

⦁     During the protests, the Forest Guards have repeatedly used unjustified violence against the protesters, blood was shed. We are thus notifying the prosecution of cases of the Guards abusing their competences and causing bodily harm during protests. Some activists still feel the effects of these interventions.

For more, please contact:

Adam Bohdan, tel.: 532 284 313,, Wild Poland Foundation/Camp for Forest

Joanna Pawluskiewicz; 790664427; Camp for Forest


photo credits: Adam Wajrak and Camp for the Forest

Logging of the Białowieża Forest assessed unlawful by CJEU Advocate General

According to Advocate General Bot, the forestry management decisions taken by Poland concerning the Natura 2000 Puszcza Białowieska site infringe EU law.

In March 2016, minister Szyszko increased the logging in the Białowieża Forest District. The following year, the director of the State Forests, Tomaszewski, signed a decision allowing for unlimited logging of old-growth tree-stands in the entire area of the Forest with the exclusion of the national park and nature reserves.

In 2017, almost 190 000 cubic metres of wood was logged, which is four times the average annual harvest. The last time such huge annual loggings took place 30 years ago, in the times of Communist Poland. Over half of the trees were cut in protected, over hundred years old forest stands.

For the first time in the forest’s history, huge machines were used for the purpose – “harvesters”, destroying the most precious lowland forest of Europe.

The pretext used for the logging was the apparent need to combat the spruce bark beetle. Upon a decision of the Court on stopping the logging, the justification was changed and public safety was now presented as the reason for the action. The Camp for the Forest collected field data throughout all this time, which undermined the credibility of the ministry’s arguments. It turned out that the trees cut had already been long abandoned by the spruce beetle, and that they grew long distances from roads, not presenting any threat to public safety. The trees logged were crucial for maintaining the proper state of the habitats of species protected by the European law, particularly beetles, owls and woodpeckers. This was the reason for the European Commission to refer the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

The patrols and protests of the Camp for the Forest were the key source of information about the violations of law in Białowieża Forest. Instead of refraining from illegal actions, however, the State Forests decided to use the situation to intimidate the activists defending the site of UNESCO’s World Heritage against devastation. According to the information found on the website of this institution, some 187 lawsuits have been filed against persons participating in peaceful protests in the Forest. The first court hearing took place in the Civil Court in Białystok on the 7th of February this year, and ended by dismissing the charges and indicating that the demands of the State Forests contained in the lawsuit were an example of abuse of law and in contradiction to the rules of social coexistence, especially in light of the particular significance of the Białowieża Forest.

Both members of public administration – minister Szyszko and director Tomaszewski – lost their positions for their actions related to the Forest. We would like to express our hope that the successor of Jan Szyszko – Henryk Kowalczyk, does not repeat the mistakes of his predecessor as far as the Białowieża Forest is concerned.

We expect him to withdraw the annex to the Plan of Forest Management of the Białowieża Forest district, and further cancel the Decision 51 signed by the director of State Forests, Konrad Tomaszewki. We would like to note that the possible signing by minister Kowalczyk of the annexes being in preparation to the Forest Management Plans for Forest Districts of Browsk and Hajnówka, will open up the door to again increase logging and again lead Poland before the Court.  Judgment in the case is to be passed in March.

Court of Justice of the European Union PRESS RELEASE No 13/18

more information – Camp for Forest:

Adam Bohdan – 532284313;

Jakub Rok – 608484245;

You can also support the accused Forest Defenders:


Activists found innocent by the court in Hajnówka

The first victory in court!

The court in Hajnówka passed a judgement today acquitting the activists who, on 8 June last year, blocked heavy equipment – a harvester and a forwarder – used for felling the Forest. It was decided that the defendants acted in a “state of need”. A few weeks ago, the very same Court in Hajnówka pronounced other activists, taking part in the same protest, guilty.

On 8 June 2017, a group of activists blocked two pieces of heavy equipment – a harvester and a forwarder which, in the days prior to the protest, were used to cut thousands of trees under protection of hundred-year-old stands in the Hajnówka State Forest District. Eight activists, men and women, Anna Błachno, Adam Bohdan, Aleksandra Markowska, Małgorzata Drozd, Michał Książek, Piotr Dankowski, Wioletta Smul, Zenon Kruczyński were acquitted for the act. Paradoxically, another judge from the same court in Hajnowka found the very same persons from the same protest guilty a few weeks before.

According to the argumentation presented by the judge, the people blocking the machines were acting in a state of high need, wanting to prevent the danger in which the Białowieża Forest was at. The defendants could not be seen as guilty of the acts they were charged with, as they stood in defence of the public good, at the cost of the work of the machine operators. In this case, the value of the good saved – the natural assets of the Białowieża Forest – was significantly higher than the value of the man-days of the machine operators. The judge compared the activities of the defendants to a situation of extinguishing a fire.

The judge considered, evaluated and commented on the individual actions and motivations of each of the protesters.

The court has presented a highly elaborate and impressive grounds of the judgement, quoting in abundance the various international obligations and conventions pertaining to nature protection which should also be followed by our country. It has also been noted that the present provisions do not guarantee sufficient public participation in forest management, which can lead to conflicts. An example of this is that it is impossible to legally question forest management plans.

The acquitted are very happy with the judgement.

I feel great joy and a great relief. This decision (of the court in Hajnówka!) lets us believe in the autonomy of at least some judges in our country. I hope that the other blockade cases will also end in acquittals. We have tried to prevent a barbarian destruction of a site which is a part of the World Heritage – said biologist and activist, Adam Bohdan.

I have also felt innocent and convinced about the cause of my actions. I also hope that justice will be done and that the foresters will be held liable for cutting down the Forest. The judgement of the court makes me only the more convinced that defending nature is the right thing to do – says forester, writer and activist, Michał Książek.

The activists from the Camp for the Forest have taken part in some 100 actions and blockades, for which they are now taken to court. There are dozens of criminal and civil suits filed by the State Forests for losses caused by blocking the illegal cutting of the Białowieża Forest.

Minister of environment called off from his post

Jan Szyszko has been called off from the position of Minister of Environment

Jan Szyszko will justly go down in history as the biggest pest destroying Polish nature, though his deeds have also been detrimentally tragic to people. He has managed to annihilate huge areas of the Białowieża Forest (thus instigating a conflict with European Union institutions), have trees in cities cut down, contribute to local depopulations of certain animal species (such as the wild boar), maintain unfavourable provisions in the hunting law which result in the possibility of fatal incidents during hunts, and systematically promote the “life-giving” – as he calls it – carbon dioxide instead of energy from renewable sources, leading to increasing numbers of respiratory diseases. He has also given up on subsidising nature-related and ecological initiatives, as he pumped millions into projects sponsored by father Tadeusz Rydzyk, a media mogul with influences in the world of Polish politics.

We are not able to fully assess the consequences of Szyszko’s ideas, as many of them are still to be put into force. The hydro-technological ones, as well as the whole dismantling of the system of environmental protection are like a ticking bomb. Jan Szyszko was also very successful in destroying the good image of Polish foresters. It is thanks to Szyszko that in terms of the treatment of World Heritage objects, Poland is now seen on equal footing to the Taliban. Fortunately, the European Commission, the European Court of Justice, or the UNESCO Secretariat have not fallen for his lies. We hope that he will be held liable for the huge destruction he has caused in the world of nature.

In an attempt to be objective, however, certain positive aspects of Jan Szyszko’s days in office should be mentioned. It was thanks to him that environmental and ecological social movements in this country have been revived, engaging thousands of people. Among these are: Camp for the Forest, over a dozen groups regularly obstructing organised hunts in the vicinity of the bigger cities, movements taking care of city greenery, suburban forests, and the remaining wild pieces of other Natural Forests, as well as air quality. All these undertakings would never have come into being – or at least not as vibrantly and strong – if it was not for Jan Szyszko. These people will not give up that easily. A disaster was needed for citizens to wake up and start caring for their conditions – both the living ones, as well as of the nature around them.

The deposition of Szyszko is a small justice in light of the huge devastation of the Białowieża Forest. Its wounds will take ages to heal. Proceedings are still pending before the European Court of Justice. It is possible that there will be penalties placed on Poland, for which we will all have to pay.

The new minister is Henryk Kowalczyk – a mathematician, local government official, in the administration of PM Mateusz Morawiecki from 2017. It is difficult for us to comment on the new minister, nor on how this choice will influence the situation of the Forest. However, we cannot simply imagine a minister for environment worse than Jan Szyszko. PM Morawiecki has publicly declared to proceed according to the judgment of the Court as far as the Forest is concerned.

That is why, it is with optimism that we are looking into the future.

March for the Forest

On the 30th of December we marched for the Forest – about 250 people from the region, as well as from other places in Poland and abroad. We broke the ban of access to the Forest and watched the destruction caused by mass logging. Thus, we could express our disagreement with the current situation in the Forest and with the ministry’s of environment policy. It was quite visible that the ban serves as a cover for further logging – this time conducted not by harvesting machines but by forest workers.

We were happy to be so numerous. Thank you for your support.

Logging goes on as before. We will march for the Forest on Dec. 30th.

As you already know, no harvesters are at work here anymore, yet, the teams of lumberjacks and other forest workers keep felling the trees. The logging is usually carried out in places with ban on access.

With the newly imposed ban on access to Hajnówka Forest District, with the law being broken and our heritage sold for planks, with local tourist industry suffering from loss of income, a march of civil disageement is going to take place in the Forest on the 30th of December. If you are in the area, join us! More info about the route coming soon.

Hajnówka Forest District closed for public access

On December 22., Hajnowka Forest District closed itself for public access. Not only was there no reasonable explanation of this decision, but also it was issued just before the Christmas holidays, which proved harmful for local tourist industry.

The person behind this decision is the head of this forest district, Grzegorz Bielecki – responsible for mass logging, violent actions against the activists and, at the same time, the main candidate for the post of the director of the Bialowieza National Park. The ban was issued just before Christmas holidays, when tourist come to Bialowieza and want to explore the Forest. This was much againts the interest of local tourist industry. After checking it out, it became clear that the area excluded from public access covers much of the area where logging had been already conducted for safety reasons. This fact seems to show how futile and senseless the safety cuttings have proved to be, if 200,000 felled trees did not improve safety in the Forest.

Activists keep patrolling the Forest. Like before, they encounter much hostility from forest guards. But they do not give up.

Also local inhabitants are going to protest againsts this decision. On the 30th of December a march of disagreement with the State Forests’ policy is going to take place in the Forest.

Please, watch a video about what breaking the ban can mean in practise – that is, two activists stopped on Narewkowska Road.

Extremely high logging in 2017

Last equally intensive logging took place in the Białowieża Forest 29 years ago, during communist times. Meanwhile, local forest districts keep working on new annexes to the Forest Management Plan.

The data obtained from the local forest districts and analysed by Wild Poland Foundation and Camp for the Forest show that this year – till the end of October – 165,800 m3 of timber were harvested in the Forest, which stands for c. 150,000 big trees. Timber extraction did not come to an end even after the Court’s decision according to which the logging was to be stopped immediately. Since the beginning of August only in two out of three forest districts – Browsk and Hajnówka – 27,100 m3 of timber were harvested.

We estimate that up to the present Białowieża Forest suffered a loss of c. 170,000 grown trees, which is 180,000 m3 of timber. The last similarly high timber extraction was noted in 1988, under the communist rule. Half of this year’s logging was conducted in natural, over-100-year-old forest stands, so in the protected areas of the Forest. Large part of logging was conducted in protected habitat 9170 Tilio carpinetum – linden-oak-hornbeam forest. This is also one of the main reasons of taking Poland to the European Court of Justice and of confirming that European law has been violated. It is the preservation of old-growth forests that forms the basis of protection of the most significant habitats and species in the Białowieża Forest.

Decision no. 51 from the 17th of February 2017, signed by the director of the State Forests, Konrad Tomaszewski, gives foresters the possibility of limitless logging on the 2/3 of the managed area of the Forest. Browsk and Hajnówka forest districts have, most probably, already met their timber harvesting limits foreseen for the period of 10 years, which is until 2021 (diagram below), and are busy preparing new annexes to the Forest Management Plan. It should be kept in mind that it was the very Annex to the Management Plan signed by minister Szyszko on the 26th of March 2016 that spurred the European Commission to initiate proceedings against Poland.

(Source: Wild Poland Foundation, Camp for the Forest on the basis of data from the local forest districts)

Despite the ongoing proceedings and the Court’s ban on any logging within valuable forest stands, during the last days activists from the Camp for the Forest documented transports of logs from the Forest and lumberjacks at work, which can result in financial penalties for Poland of at least 100,000 euro for each day of breaking the ban. Also today, during the Court’s session, the logging was being continued in Browsk forest district.

Today’s session of the European Court of Justice is most probably the last concerning this case. The Court is going to analyse all the materials and within a few months will pass the judgement. Certainly, minister Szyszko’s and the State Forests’ decicions – such as breaking the previous bans on logging and issuing new annexes – will have impact on the shape of the sentence.

Please, follow the links for detailed charts showing:

Annual wood removals in Forest Districts (FD) of Białowieża Forest, 2012-2017 [m3]

Logging in Białowieża Forest, 2017


Photo from the Forest by Jacek Kusz. Thanks!

Highest EU Court hears Bialowieza illegal logging case, probably for the last time

The hearing that took place today at the European Court of Justice should finally decide whether Polish environment minister Jan Szyszko broke the law when he allowed increased logging in Białowieża Forest. The Advocate General will issue his opinion on 20 February 2018, and we expect the CJEU’s final judgment shortly after that – possibly within weeks.

ClientEarth lawyer Agata Szafraniuk said: “This is the first and most probably the last hearing in the main case. Unless the Polish environment minister decides to defy the ban on logging imposed by the Court in November, it should be the end of the Bialowieza story in front of the Court of Justice.

“We do not believe that the minister will risk the Polish budget and force us, all Poles, to pay 100,000 euros a day in fines for breaching the interim order to stop illegal logging, plus millions of euros for not complying with the final judgement.”

The case was originally triggered by the environment minister’s approval of a threefold increase of logging in Białowieża Forest from March 2016, without assessment of the impact this would have on the unique nature of the forest. This assessment is required by EU law.

After several calls to reverse this decision were unsuccessful, ClientEarth, together with six other organisations, complained to the European Commission. The Commission opened legal proceedings shortly after, and has fast-tracked the case at every stage.

The European Commission’s lawyer said the case was very simple, but had been complicated by the Polish environment minister’s continual changing of story and submission of different evidence. She argued that the Polish authorities could not be sure when they took the decision that the logging would not damage Europe’s oldest forest, as no assessment was made. This assessment is required under EU law, and failure to do it is the basis of the legal case.

The article comes from Client Earth’s website. Thanks for letting us share it!


Photo of the endangered Pygmy Owl by Adam Wajrak

Poland faces €100,000-a-day fines over illegal logging in Bialowieza Forest

On the 21st of November 2017 the European Court of Justice ordered Poland to show it was acting lawfully in the ancient Bialowieza Forest. Poland has been given two weeks to stop illegal deforestation in the Unesco-protected site, otherwise our country can be fined with 100,000 euro per each day of illegal logging. The court was acting after Poland’s environment minister, Jan Szyszko, showed clear contempt for an earlier emergency ban on logging in the Forest. The financial penalty is seen as the best tool to ensure protection for this priceless piece of wilderness.

Although more than 180,000 cubic metres of timber were extracted from the Forests only this year  (four times more than it had been planned), although UNESCO and European Commission took their stand against the nature devastation, although a bulk of documentation had been gathered by the activists (photos, films, etc.), although foresters themselves start expressing their doubts about what has been going on in the Forest, minister Szyszko remains blind to facts. Once again he sais: no illegal logging has been ever taking place in the Bialowieza Forest. “We are doing everything right by law. We are using EU law. We are using Polish law, and we are doing nothing against decisions made by the European court of justice.”

Activists and all supporters of Bialowieza Forest protection call on the resort of environment to stop devastation of the Forest, to stop sales of timber from the valuable forest stands, to protect the Forest as a national park. We do not want to pay for arrogance of the people in rule. We want to preserve the forest for the future generations and for us, too.


photo: Beata Hyży- Czołpińska