ECJ orders emergency ban on logging in one of Europe’s oldest forests

Published by Niall Sargent on

July 28th, 2017

An immediate ban on logging in Poland’s ancient Białowieza Forest has been issued by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) due to fears that irreparable damage will be done to the forest.

The European Commission referred Poland to the Court earlier this month for increased logging in the country’s oldest forest, and called on the ECJ to “suspend the works immediately”.

In order to impose such emergency measures, the Court must be satisfied that it is necessary to prevent serious and irreparable damage. The ban will now be in effect until the ECJ makes a final decision on the case.

The Court’s ruling suspends a decision by Polish Environment Minister Jan Szyszko in March 2016 to mandate a major increase in harvesting in Poland’s oldest forest, which is also a Natura 2000 site.

The Polish government set out plans for a three-fold increase in logging operations in Białowieża, as well as allowing for logging in areas so far excluded from any intervention. Logging began last May.

The forest on the Poland-Belarus border is one of Europe’s last remaining primaeval forests, covering almost 150,000 hectares.

It is home to the largest population of European bison, as well as 58 other mammal species and more than 250 bird species.

According to UNESCO, the forest has “conservation significance” due to the scale of its old growth forests, which include extensive undisturbed areas offering “exceptional” opportunities for biodiversity conservation.

The order has been described as an “extraordinary legal tool” by ClientEarth, an NGO of legal experts.

Such emergency measures have only been taken three times before on nature conservation issues, according to ClientEarth lawyer, Agata Szafraniuk.

Mr Szyszko was involved in one such case over plans to build a road through Poland’s Rospuda Valley during his first term as Environment Minister almost a decade ago.

In that case, the Minister withdrew the plans. “We hope that this time the outcome will be similar,” said Ms Szafraniuk.

“So far there is no case in which an interim measure of the Court was not respected. If Polish authorities do not follow that decision, it will be a serious conflict with EU law,” she added.

Last month, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee urged the Polish government to immediately halt all logging and wood extraction in old-growth forests.

The Committee also warned Poland that Bialowieza may be added to its list of World Heritage Sites in Danger unless urgent action is taken to stop logging.

The Polish Ministry of the Environment told Polish media earlier today that it will not comment on the case at present.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London