The State Party of Belarus submitted a state of conservation report on 18 February 2008. From the report it is evident that the State Party considered that only the strictly protected 5,235 ha of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park were inscribed on the World Heritage List, not the 87,606 ha of the national park. The State Party notes that the territory surrounding the strictly protected 5,235 ha also has the protective status of a national park and its management regime is therefore strongly limited by national legislation, with no significant influence on the value and integrity on the strictly protected zone. The State Party further notes that a 10-year management plan for the national park is in preparation and will be finalised in 2008, and that an initiative will be launched in 2009 to improve the conservation and environmental education activities in the national park. In the recreational and economic zones of the national park, a new administrative building, natural museum and centre for environmental education will be built, existing wildlife enclosures will be brought up to international standards, and tourist routes and tracks will be supplemented with a viewing tower. The State Party also notes that the functional zoning of the national park is currently being revised and that the revision will result in a significant increase in the strictly protected zone where any human activity is forbidden. Assuming that only this zone forms the World Heritage property, the State Party was planning to explore options to enlarge the property in this process.
The State Party of Belarus also submitted a map on 12 February 2008 which did not comply with the boundaries of the property. The State Party understood the World Heritage property to include only the 5,235 ha strictly protected area and not the entire 87,606 ha of the national park which was inscribed. The State Party therefore proposed in a letter dated 31 March 2008 to hold consultations with experts from the World Heritage Centre and IUCN, in order to discuss the boundary issue, and the zoning of the national park, and the possibility to extend and/or re-nominate the property under additional criteria.
The State Party of Poland submitted a state of conservation report on 7 February 2008. On 1 February 2008, in response to a request from the Retrospective Inventory, it also submitted a map showing the exact boundaries of the Polish part of the World Heritage property. The State Party also notes that it plans to create a buffer zone for the World Heritage property in the extension process.
The State Party further reports on a number of developments that improve the integrity and management of the property and the surroundings forests. The national park and surrounding State Forest districts partner in an EU-funded LIFE project aiming to improve bison conservation and management. The national park is also a partner in a multinational EU-funded LIFE-Nature project aiming to develop monitoring principles and a conservation plan for the European pond terrapin and amphibian species listed in Annex II of the Habitats Directive of Natura 2000. The national park has also been implementing three projects in cooperation with the Polish Society for the Protection of Birds (PTOP): a small water retention project that has benefited target bird species; a project, implemented in cooperation with Belarusian partners, on habitat conservation for the Western capercaillie; and a project aiming to rebuild a weir on Narewka River to prevent contamination of the river with bottom sediments.
Both States Parties also report on transboundary cooperation including the bilateral cooperation agreement concluded on 15 November 2006 between the Białowieżaand Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Parks. The agreement notes as a priority for cooperation the conservation of the faunistic and floristic biodiversity of the forests and the use of the forests for educational and recreational purposes.
The State Party of Poland indicates, however, that there has been no or little progress in implementing other recommendations concerning the transboundary cooperation with Belarus and that Poland’s entry into the Schengen Zone may pose a new problem for progress in this area. Poland notes, however, that the 20-year conservation plan in preparation for Białowieża National Park will include a section, agreed with Belarus, on priority measures for the management of the transboundary World Heritage property. The State Party also notes that there are no fences which prevent free movement of wildlife in the Polish part of the property, and that the concept for gradual removal of the existing fence in the Belarusian part, which was developed within the framework of the joint “Forest of Hope” project, was to be discussed with all project partners in a public presentation in February 2008. A Polish research project conducts currently, in cooperation with Belarusian researchers, a viability analysis of the bison population and is expected to support the case for removing the existing fence.
IUCN notes that the renewal of the European Diploma of Protected Areas for both national parks was discussed in November 2007 as well as March 2008, and that it has been further postponed to the November 2008 meeting of the Standing Committee of the Bern Convention as earlier recommendations had not yet been adequately addressed. The European Diploma Group of Specialists recommended not to renew the European Diplomas until Belarus has established and implemented, before the end of 2008, a peer-reviewed 10-year management plan for the national park; and until Poland has established and implemented a peer-reviewed 10-year management plan for the national park by the end of 2009 and designated and fully protected all primeval forest stands and functional corridors linking the various reserves of the Białowieża Forest. The Group of Specialists also made a number of other recommendations relating to forestry policy and practices, ecosystem and species management, tourism management and transboundary cooperation. IUCN considers that adequately addressing these recommendations is also critical for improving the integrity of the World Heritage property.
IUCN encourages the States Parties of Poland and Belarus to continue their efforts to extend the national parks and/or strictly protected zones and to ban logging, including so called sanitary cuttings, in all reserve areas and especially in old-growth forest stands of Białowieża / Belovezhskaya Pushcha Forest as it appears to compromise the proposed extension of the World Heritage property. IUCN also urges the State Party of Belarus to accelerate progress with the gradual removal of the existing fence that prevents free cross-border movements of large mammals.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN fully support the Belarusian proposal to hold consultations at the property and recommends that a monitoring mission take place to the property during 2008. The mission should a) assess the state of conservation of the property and surrounding areas that are intended to be proposed as extensions to the property; b) resolve the boundary issue on the Belarusian side before the revision of the functional zoning of the national park is completed; c) review progress made with the management plans for the national parks and make recommendations on the consideration of World Heritage requirements in them; and d) advise the States Parties on the possibility to re-nominate the property under additional criteria with extended and consolidated boundaries and with appropriate buffer zones.