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What can we learn from science about Białowieża

On 15 May, Malgorzata Blicharska (Uppsala University) presented the findings of the Białowieża Science Initiative in the Permanent Representation of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia to the European Union in Brussels. EFI researchers, together with other representatives from academia, policy, forestry, nature conservation agencies and media debated on how to use the lesson learnt from the Białowieża Forest for other areas in Europe facing similar challenges.

The Białowieża Forest is a large forest complex recognised worldwide for its biodiversity, but also for a long-time history of conflict between different groups, namely conservation and forest sector groups. The most recent (2015 – ongoing) controversy related to the Białowieża forest status and management refers to an outbreak of the European spruce bark beetle (Ips typographus). The ongoing conflict has engaged a substantial part of the Polish society and has been widely covered by international media. While the controversy draws on partially contradicting scientific arguments, researchers presenting diverse views on the management of Białowieża forest rarely meet for joint discussions, but rather support different media or decision makers. Open discussions between scientists representing different views on the management of the forest to elaborate on scientific consent or dissent points have been hampered by the political nature of the debate.  

To tackle this problem, the European Forest Institute organised the Białowieża Science Initiative (BSI) – a science-based systematic approach to conflicts around forests.

After a workshop in the Białowieża Forest in August 2018 and the following works, the multi-author evidence paper was presented in Brussels. The paper collects and discusses the points of scientific agreement and disagreement as well as knowledge gaps in relation to the situation in the Bialowieza Forest.  

In Brussels, the leading author of the paper, Malgorzata Blicharska from Uppsala University was saying: ‘I certainly hope that our paper can be an eye-opener for decision-makers who have to deal with environmental conflicts. The paper clearly illustrates the breadth of issues that need to be considered when seeking solutions’. After the introduction of the initiative by Georg Winkel and Agata Konczal and the paper presentation by Malgorzata Blicharska, the panel discussion took place moderated by Iniazio Martinez de Arano, Head of the EFI Mediterranean Facility. Two researchers and participants of BSI (Bart Muys from KU Leuven and Jacek Hilszczanski from Polish Forest Research Institute), representants of the European Network Integrate (Thomas Haußmann), forestry organisation (Piotr Borkowski, EUSTAFOR), and nature conservation (Chantal van Ham, IUCN, European Regional Office) try to scale-up from Bialowieza to answer the question ‘Quo Vadis forest conservation and management in Europe?’  

Even if the BSI and discussion did not provide a single answer to how to deal with environmental conflicts around the forest: “The Białowieża Science Initiative is probably the first, broad, scientific-based confrontation of opposite ideas on conservation of the forest. It will have an effect on the discussions about other areas in Europe having similar problems with the conservation of forest ecosystems” as expressed by Jacek Hilszczanski. 

Researchers from the European Forest Institute have not said yet the last word and they are still planning how to use and apply collected experience and knowledge. 

Following this initial experience, EFI through the Lookout Station developed the Sound Reporting Co-lab. This bootcamp offers scientific and technical support to 10 journalists who are exploring the power of sound in nature and develop a science-based bioacoustic story. After the bootcamp in Bialowieza, Poland, the Co-lab will continue to help the journalists develop and publish a sound and science based story.

The link to the video from the event in Brussels can be found here

The Białowieża Science Initiative is part of the INFORMAR project, managed by the European Forest Institute (EFI) Resilience Programme and supported and funded by the German Federal Ministry for Food and Agriculture (BMEL). The launching event is an official Partner Event of the EU Green Week.  

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