Nature conservation efforts receive recognition and conclude the inaugural edition of a groundbreaking project aimed at safeguarding species and habitats in State Forests. Activities spanning 118 Natura 2000 sites have effectively conserved and enhanced natural conditions across approximately 14,420 hectares. This integrated endeavour, centrally coordinated by the Centre for the Coordination of Environmental Projects (CKPŚ) on behalf of the Directorate General of State Forests, united the endeavours of 114 forest districts throughout Poland. With a final budget exceeding PLN 33 million, the project combines EU funding and the State Forests’ resources to implement diverse and innovative conservation measures.
Diverse Conservation Tasks in Natura 2000 Areas
The project focused on executing approved planning documents for Natura 2000 areas, primarily emphasizing the protection plans for the site. Conservation efforts spanned a wide array of habitats, encompassing forests (thermophilous oaks, oak-hornbeam forests, swamp forests, coniferous forests, hornbeam forests, riparian forests, and beech forests), meadows, grasslands, heathlands, peat bogs, as well as rare and unique habitats like rocky mountain pastures. A diverse range of species, including butterflies, bats, amphibians, birds (such as the capercaillie, eagle owl, lesser spotted eagle and corncrake), European pond turtle, and distinctive plants like open pasqueflower, Lipiennik Loesela, and common lady’s slipper, were also beneficiaries of the project’s activities.
Innovative Conservation Measures
The project showcased intriguing and uncommon initiatives that blended EU funding and the State Forests’ own resources. Notably, two forest districts implemented animal grazing programs, with the Oborniki Forestry Division introducing Polish Konik horses for grazing in thermophilous oak forests and the Miechów Forestry Division ‘employing’ goats and sheep for grazing in light oak patches. Additionally, the restoration of capercaillie in Bory Dolnośląskie emerged as a significant and extensive task that involved aviary breeding, supervision, feeding, and veterinary care. The project prioritized compatibility testing of reintroduced birds with the local population’s genotype. The Chełm Forest District contributed by protecting pond turtle nests, utilizing a protective net to safeguard them from predation during spring and subsequently relocating the young turtles to bodies of water in autumn. Notably, more than 2,000 pond turtles hatched during the project.
Achievements and Overcoming Challenges
The project successfully resolved the issue of an illegal landfill within a Natura 2000 area in the New Ramuki Forest District, which had persisted for approximately 50 years. With an allocation of over 1.7 million PLN, the forest inspectorate integrated landfill removal into the area’s protection plan, thereby reclaiming a fragment of the valuable oak-hornbeam forest. The Myszyniec Forest District witnessed a remarkable improvement in the preservation of the open pasqueflower, employing targeted measures such as soil bare-spotting during seed maturation, biomass removal, and clear-cutting to enhance light accessibility. As a result, the number of flowering plants increased significantly, and new individuals emerged across eight sites.
Conference and Future Prospects
To shed light on the often-unseen conservation efforts, a conference was held in Lublin on 5 June, marking the culmination of the project. Distinguished experts and naturalists, both from within and outside the State Forests, presented exemplary practices and project outcomes. Participants also visited the Chełm Forest District to witness project sites and observe the protected habitats of pond turtles and orchids. The project’s success has invigorated foresters, highlighting the effectiveness of conservation measures and dispelling the notion that they are merely written plans. Notably, the CKPŚ has received a substantial increase in applications for the next edition of the project, with forest inspectorates proposing activities twice the scale of the current project.
While determining the scope of the project’s continuation, core objectives will remain centred around protecting Natura 2000 areas. Additionally, potential new measures, such as constructing food bases to protect wild pollinators or expanding the project’s reach into nature reserves, are under consideration. New partners, including the Kostrzyca Forest Gene Bank and five national parks, have expressed interest in participating. The conservation of capercaillie and black grouse will be addressed comprehensively, with forest districts collaborating to ensure unified efforts towards their preservation, unlike the previous individual approaches.