1.         Białowieża Forest (Belarus,Poland) (N 33ter)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1979

Criteria  (ix)(x)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/33/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 0
For details, see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/33/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

N/A

Previous monitoring missions

1999; March 2004: UNESCO/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission; October 2008: World Heritage Centre / IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission 

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Threats identified at the time of the extension of the property in 2014:

Illustrative material  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/33/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2016

On 30 November 2015, the States Parties of Belarus and Poland submitted a joint report on the state of conservation of the property, which is available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/33/documents/ and provides the following information:

On 9 February 2016, the World Heritage Centre received a letter from the State Party of Poland which invited IUCN to undertake an Advisory mission to “discuss current protection principles” in the Polish part of the property and subsequently invited IUCN and the World Heritage Centre to participate in a conference entitled “Białowieża Forest: myths, facts and the future”. However, due to short notice, lack of clarity with regards to the objectives of the mission and absence of background information on key concerns, it was not possible to organize it in time.

On 23 March 2016, the State Party of Poland submitted to the World Heritage Centre the report of the above-mentioned Conference.

The World Heritage Centre also received a large number of third party submissions raising significant concerns with regards to the impacts from amendments to the Forest Management Plan for the Białowieża Forest District. In conformity with Paragraph 174 of the Operational Guidelines, clarifications on this matter were sought from the State Party of Poland which responded on 5 May 2016, providing the following information:

On 5 May 2016, the State Party of Poland also renewed its invitation for an Advisory mission to the property. At the time of finalization of this report, an IUCN Advisory mission was under preparation.

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN

The progress reported in the submitted report by the States Parties of Belarus and Poland in establishing a Steering Committee for the transboundary property, which will also be tasked with the development of an integrated Management Plan for the property, is noted.

However, the recently changed situation in the Polish part of the property raises significant concerns. The abovementioned amendments to the Forest Management Plan for the Białowieża Forest District, approved by the Ministry of Environment on 25 March 2016, indicate a threefold increase of wood extraction in the Białowieża Forest District to 188,000 m3 for the period 2012-2021. However, the amendments do not include any specification of where wood extraction would be allowed, including with regards to the boundaries of the property and the areas of old-growth forests, specifically recognized as part of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), although they foresee 1220 m3 of wood extraction in mature stands. Furthermore, the amendments do not specify what type of wood extraction would be allowed and for what purpose, nor do they mention the reasons for the increase. It should also be noted that a complaint (http://www.greenpeace.org/eu-unit/Global/eu-unit/reports-briefings/2016/Complaint%20to%20European%20Commission%20-Poland%20forest.pdf) was submitted by a number of civil society organizations to the European Commission concerning an alleged breach of the EU law by Poland due to the abovementioned changes to the Forest Management Plan.  The recently approved "Programme for the Białowieża Forest as a UNESCO Natural Heritage and a Natura 2000 site" which would allow active habitat restoration interventions in two thirds of each of the three Forest districts in Poland within Białowieża Forest also raises serious concerns given potentially significant disturbance of natural ecological processes.

The clarifications provided by the State Party of Poland with regards to the spread of bark beetle are noted. However, this information is focused on the potential impacts to the habitats recognized under the EU Habitats Directive and does not mention any potential impacts on the OUV of the property. No justification of how the proposed measures would address the spread of bark beetle has been provided. On the other hand, it is clear that a significant increase in wood extraction, including of species not affected by bark beetle, would have a negative impact on the OUV and integrity of the property, which is recognized for its undisturbed natural processes and its richness in dead wood, standing and on the ground, which supports high diversity of fungi and saproxylic invertebrates (which depend on dead wood habitats). It is notable that no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the proposed amendments to the Forest Management Plan has been undertaken. Therefore these amendments to enable wood extraction, in particular in the absence of an evaluation of potential impacts on the OUV of the entire transboundary property, clearly represent a potential danger to the property in line with Paragraph 180 of the Operational Guidelines. It is therefore recommended that the Committee request the State Party of Poland, in consultation with the State Party of Belarus, to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to the property to assess its current state of conservation and whether the property meets the criteria for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger. It is further recommended that the Committee request the State Party of Poland to undertake an assessment of potential impacts of the amendments to the Forest Management Plan on the OUV of the property and to submit the assessment to the World Heritage Centre for review by IUCN and that it urge the State Party to ensure that no wood extraction is permitted within the entire property that could negatively impact on its OUV. Any implementation of timber extraction within the property would provide a basis for immediate inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

It is further noted that the implications of bark beetle and of the proposed measures for the entire transboundary property have not been considered. In this regard, it should be recalled that the World Heritage Committee in its Decision 38 COM 8B.12 requested the States Parties of Belarus and Poland to expedite preparation and official adoption of the integrated Management Plan for the entire transboundary property addressing all key issues concerning its effective conservation and management, particularly those concerning forest and wetlands management. While the confirmation of the foreseen preparation of the plan is welcome, it is recommended that the Committee reiterate its request, as the preparation of such a plan needs to be undertaken as a matter of priority to ensure a coordinated approach to the management of the property and guarantee that no actions can be allowed within the property that could negatively impact on its OUV.

Decision Adopted: 40 COM 7B.92

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/16/40.COM/7B.Add,
  2. Recalling Decision 38 COM 8B.12, adopted at its 38th session (Doha, 2014),
  3. Notes with concern the recent amendments to the Forest Management Plan for the Białowieża Forest District in Poland which would provide for a threefold increase in fellings, including in mature stands, and the recently adopted "Programme for the Białowieża Forest as a UNESCO Natural Heritage and a Natura 2000 site", which would allow active habitat restoration interventions in two thirds of the area of each of the three Forest districts in Poland within the property which could result in disturbance of natural ecological processes;
  4. Welcomes the State Party’s invitation of an IUCN Advisory mission in June 2016, to provide recommendations regarding how the recent amendments to the Forest Management Plan relate to the requirements for protection of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value;
  5. Recalls that the Statement of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property emphasizes its undisturbed natural processes and the consequent richness in dead wood, standing and on the ground, which leads to a high diversity of fungi and saproxylic invertebrates;
  6. Requests the State Party of Poland to submit to the Committee an evaluation of potential impacts on the amendments to the Forest Management Plan on the OUV of the property, taking into account all forms of conservation applicable to the site and the positions and options of local communities and stakeholders, in the context of the sustainable development of the Białowieża Forest region;
  7. Takes note of the conclusions of the IUCN Advisory Mission and underlines the need for the State Party to consider the conclusions with all relevant stakeholders;
  8. Also requests the State Party of Poland to take any necessary measures to maintain the continuity and integrity of protected old-growth forest in Białowieża Forest and to ensure that no commercial timber extraction is permitted within the entirety of the Polish part of the property and considers that such commercial timber extraction would represent a potential danger to the property in accordance with Paragraph 180 of the Operational Guidelines;
  9. Notes that a transboundary Steering Committee for the property has been established which will be tasked with the preparation of a transboundary Management Plan for the property, and reiterates its request to the States Parties of Belarus and Poland to prepare such a plan as a matter of priority in order to ensure a coordinated approach to the management of the property and to guarantee that no actions can be allowed within the entire property that could negatively impact on its OUV;
  10. Further requests the States Parties to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2017, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 41st session in 2017.