National Park “Belovezhskaya Pushcha”

Date of Submission: 31/01/2011
Criteria: (ix)(x)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of the Republic of Belarus to UNESSCO
State, Province or Region:
Grodno region, Brest region; Svislochskij, Pruzhanskij and Kamenetskij districts
Coordinates: N52 29 26 - N52 56 19 E23 35 26 - E24 22 19
Ref.: 5592
Export
Word File
Disclaimer

The Secretariat of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Heritage Centre do not represent or endorse the accuracy or reliability of any advice, opinion, statement or other information or documentation provided by the States Parties to the World Heritage Convention to the Secretariat of UNESCO or to the World Heritage Centre.

The publication of any such advice, opinion, statement or other information documentation on the World Heritage Centre’s website and/or on working documents also does not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Secretariat of UNESCO or of the World Heritage Centre concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its boundaries.

Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party

Description

The Site is already listed as transboundary World Heritage Site Belovezhskaya Pushcha / Bialowieza Forest. However, the management of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park believes that the description of the Site should be revised and reviewed by the World Heritage Committee. The proposed changes include:

Modification to the boundaries of the Belarusian Part of the Site

The mission of experts taking place from October 21 to 25, 2008 recommended to re-nominate the area planned for inclusion into the strict reserve (about 75 ths ha) and include areas that may fail to meet the currently existing stringent requirements for conservation areas but which nonetheless are important in terms of making the boundaries of the proposed Site more compact. The Mission also pointed out that the existing site fails to sufficiently reflect the biological and landscape diversity of the entire Belovezhskaya Pushcha natural complex, and consequently, fails to be fully representative of such territory, with its insignificant size (the overall area of the transboundary site is 92 ths ha) that does not suffice to ensure long-term sustainable operation of the Site, being a cause of regret. Therefore the most well preserved part of the natural forest that is subject to the most stringent conservation regulations due to its historic and natural value is proposed for inclusion into the Site. It is an area that covers the old-age forest that historically constitutes the core of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha and "Dikoye" complex, made up of lowland and transitory bogs, included into it in 1996. The aggregate area of the Belarusian section of the Site will total 75 958.00 ha.  For the existing and proposed boundaries of the Site please refer respectively to maps 1 and 2.

Addition New Criteria

The entire Site must be nominated based on new criteria that are adequate for the Site. The Site was nominated on the basis of the natural criterion iii (which is currently a part of criterion vii). We are confident that the Site meets criteria ix and х (for the "Statement of Outstanding Universal Value" please refer below).  The proposal is to nominate the Site on the basis of new criteria, since the environmental protection related criteria ix and х better fit the Site, being one of the first sites in Europe to be protected, even before the emergence of the national park concept. The Site is known worldwide due to its unique flora, fauna and continuous natural processes thoroughly studied by researchers from all over the world.  We believe that nomination on the basis of the new criteria will be more representative of the value of this World Heritage Site.

Description:

The Site is located on the border between the Republic of Poland and Republic of Belarus. The Belarusian section of Belovezhskaya Pushcha is located in the south-west of the country. The area is located from 145.0 to 202.4 m above the sea level. Almost all of the Site's rivers belong to the Baltic Sea basin (Narev, Lesnaya Pravaya, Narevka, Rudavka, Solomenka, Gvozna, Pererovnitsa, Nemerzhanka, Vishnya).  The Site also includes the "Dikoye" marshland complex, being the watershed of the Baltic and Black Seas. The species found within the Site include 1024 vascular plants (including 37 woody plants, 58 shrubs and 12 dwarf shrubs), over 3000 fungal species, 270 mosses and 292 lichens with numerous rare species that are incident to primeval forests. It numbers over 12000 invertebrate and 362 vertebrate species, including without limitation 31 fish species, 11 amphibian species, 7 reptile species, 254 bird species and 59 mammal species. The European bison is the largest mammal found in Belovezhskaya Pushcha and throughout Europe.  Long-term and dedicated work done by various scientists and Belovezhskaya Pushcha personnel helped save this species from extinction.

It is from the beauty of this place that numerous artists, poets and writers of the 19th and 20th century derived their inspiration. Forest management limitations helped prevent extinction of a huge variety of animals, plants and fungi, specifically those that are dependent upon availability of old and dead trees and rotting wood. It is one of the few places in Central Europe where environmental processes of forest ecosystem and community formation have for many centuries been taking place under natural conditions without any direct human interference.

Belovezhskaya Pushcha, being perfect hunting grounds with vast mixed leafed forests, was for many centuries subject to protection by the rulers of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Russian Empire.  The protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha is deemed to have started back in 1409 i.e. the year of the first ever record of the name "Belovezhya" describing the hunt of the Polish King Yagailo taking place on state-owned hunting grounds of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.  The first written records of the official protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha also date back to the 15th century. It was already back then that a specialized huntsman service responsible for royal hunt management was set up to ensure protection of the forest and major mammals, including the European bison.

In 1795 Belovezhskaya Pushcha became a part of the Russian Empire, and in 1888 it passed into ownership of the Russian imperial family. Following the First World War the Puscha was transferred to Poland and in 1921 4.6 ths ha of the central part of Belovezhskaya Pushcha was used to establish the "Rezerwat" forest district, being an area of preferential protection, which was subsequently reorganized into the Belowezha National Park. In 1939 Belovezhskaya Pushcha was merged in the Belorussian SSR, one of the Soviet Republics, with a 129 ths ha State Nature Reserve being set up there. By the end of the Second World War Belovezhskaya Pushcha was divided between Poland and the USSR. The State Nature Reserve "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" was restored on the Belorussian grounds. In 1957 it was reorganized into the State Hunting Reserve "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" and in 1991 into the "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" National Park. 2004 saw a considerable extension of the national park's area up to 153 ths ha due to inclusion of the adjacent territories thus ensuring better integrity of the natural complexes.

The foregoing chain of historical facts ensured efficient and integrated and almost uninterrupted environmental protection (biotic and abiotic, and natural processes) of Belovezhskaya Pushcha.  Back in 1992 UNESCO recognized the importance of environmental protection efforts and the unique nature thereof by placing the area of preferential protection of the Belarusian section of the "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" National Park with its older forests on the World Heritage List as an addition to the transboundary Site (Belovezhskaya Pushcha / Bialowieza Forest). In 1993 the "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" National Park was awarded the status of a biosphere nature reserve, and in 1997 it was awarded a Diploma of the European Council.

This World Heritage Site is currently known to be a place with continuous natural processes taking place for thousands of years, natural forest stands and a naturally evolving flora and fauna complex, including rare flora and fauna species. Particularly important are rare bird species incident to old-age forests, and invertebrates and fungi living on the dead wood.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

At the national level Belovezhskaya Pushcha is protected by law as a national park. This is the only site within the temperate climatic zone of the European continent with its area reaching several dozens thousand hectares of mixed coniferous broad-leaved primeval forests.  It became generally known due to its high levels of conservation of the natural forest structure, natural processes and phenomena, and flora, fauna and fungal species that are both common and rare for the European forests, and their habitats. The outstanding biodiversity in terms of genetics, species and ecosystems was confirmed by a considerable amount of scientific research done over more than 200 years. This is a place where rare species, the so-called "relicts of natural forests" were saved from extinction and where the natural processes have retained the form of ecosystems and populations of organisms living there. The data produced by the research done in Belovezhskaya Pushcha formed the basis of knowledge of the natural processes, and ecology of animals and plants.

Criterion (ix):

Belovezhskaya Pushcha is developing under conditions that have strictly limited human impact for thousands of years. The climatic conditions and biological processes were the major drivers contributing into development of ecosystems. The area being nominated was subject to preferential protection during the relevant historic period. Farming is limited in the areas adjacent to it and the aim of such limitations is to retain the succession of such processes. Numerous phenomena typical of a natural forest environment, as well as new taxons of organisms registered in the area are a proof of the fact that it is a perfect example representative of the ongoing major evolution and biological processes of evolution and development of European ecosystems, their phytocenoses and fungi. The National Park harbors the entire community of ungulates found in the country, big predators such as lynx, wolf and rare and common forest birds. It has stable populations of woodpeckers, out of which the most interesting are the white-backed and three-toed woodpeckers which are specific species typical of old-age natural forest stand with large amounts of dead wood. Most old-age trees found in the area are considerably bigger than those found in Europe. Forest ranges are typically made up of variously aged trees. Dominant fluctuation and regeneration processes ensure continuous interconnection of such components with the environment and make sure that biotic factors play an active part. The latter include falling of trees and emergence of vegetation, rooting by wild boar, immediate impact of herbivores such as deer, roe, moose and European bison upon the forest and connection between herbivores and predators. All such factors contribute into emergence of numerous niches, specifically those for cryptogams and invertebrates.

Criterion (x):

The Site hosts a whole range of diverse forest communities typical of such biogeographic zone in which the community of primary coniferous broad-leaved nemoral forests really stands aside (Tilio-Carpinetum - forest habitat listed in Annex I to the EU Habitats Directive).  Please note that all of the forest habitats of Belovezhskaya Pushcha that are subject to protection and belong to such type are primeval. What's more, each type of habitats has large amounts of dead wood that represents specific and unique microenvironments for numerous species most of which are endangered, on the brink of extinction or rare in the rest of Europe. Therefore deadwood is critical for in-situ habitation and conservation of a wide range of saproxylic and relict species. Both the species and their communities are of primary importance, especially in terms of nature research and environmental preservation. Despite the fact that the European biodiversity was studied relatively closely, new invertebrate species and previously unknown fungi are discovered almost every year.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The Site incorporates fragments of natural European plain forests located within the European mixed broadleaf-coniferous forest zone. It is a multispecies and multiple-aged forest with a complex spatial structure and a unique diversity of flora and fauna. There are multiple trees belonging to various species that stand aside due to their size. The area of the Site in its new boundaries will be about 75 000 ha (together with the Polish section proposed for extension it will exceed 100 000 ha) surrounded by a buffer zone with economic activities limitations being in effect in it. The size of the Site makes it certain that all stages of the natural forest development, from regeneration to natural death and forest stand decomposition will be present there.  The proposed size of the Site will help preserve the stability of ungulate populations, including without limitation that of the European bison, and monitor in time the changes of trophic properties of habitats. One can also monitor model examples of gradual changes of forest types consistent with changes in soil fertility and humidity.

As long as natural processes within the Site remain uncontrolled and not subject to human interference, there will be no threat to its aesthetic properties, such as:  old forest stand and fallen trees, those that are broken or uprooted, covered with cryptogamous and vascular plants or fungi.

The Site's ecosystems are highly diverse and include almost all forest communities found in Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Such diversity is underlain by occurrence of soils of various types and humidity within the Site, which makes it possible to maintain a huge diversity of forest flora and fauna, and a community of fungi that is capable of existing in this climatic zone.

The Site is subject to legal protection at the national level as a national park (Belarus and Poland) and at the international level as a Biosphere Reserve and a transboundary World Heritage Site. Protection at the national level as a national park ensures proper long-term conservation. The ban on economic activities within the area of strict protection that constitutes a part of the Site helps maintain the natural continuous process and a high inter- and intra-species diversity. There currently exists no treat to important habitats.

The so changed Belarusian part of the World Heritage Site will have a more compact structure. It will become more manageable, for its entire area belongs to the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park. It will be managed by the same management and on the same legal basis.

The natural and environmental properties of the Site in its new boundaries are similar to those incident to the current World Heritage Site and will contribute into maintenance of the natural processes that are critical in terms of integrity of the park's ecosystem.

Comparison with other similar properties

The European continent cannot offer any other examples of temperate mixed leaf forests that demonstrate such a high degree of conservation. All other European complexes of temperate forests have undergone dramatic changes in terms of their structure, species composition and biological diversity. The fact that most World Heritage forest Sites in temperate latitudes are located in mountainous areas makes Belovezhskaya Pushcha unique. Other known European well preserved forests belonging to other climatic zones include  Pirin National Park (Bulgaria), Plitvice Lakes National Park (Croatia), Garajonay National Park (Portugal), Durmitor National Park, Virgin Komi Forest (Russia), primeval broad-leafed beech forests (Ukraine, Slovakia), and mountainous forests of the Caucasus Reserve (Russia).  The Russian Far East has a number of locations with preserved mixed coniferous and broad-leafed forests whose forest species composition is different, though their properties are similar to those of Belovezhskaya Pushcha's forests (Sikhote-Alin, Ussuri and Kedrovaya Pad Nature Reserve).