Animals

Discover the Oldest Forest in Europe

Some locations, such as the oldest woodland in Europe, capture the imagination because of their mystique. You may start to picture this forest and how it fits into the European environment, whether you are familiar with it or were not aware that it ever existed.

Approximately 40% of Europe is still covered in woods, according to the European Environment Agency. It is impossible to overstate the significance of forests for global health because of their ability to act as carbon sinks and absorb emissions. We may learn more about environmental protection and how to preserve old-growth forests and the species that live in them by studying the history of the oldest forest in Europe.

Białowieża Forest Is the Oldest Forest in Europe

Pronounced bee-ah-wo-vee-EDGE-ah, Białowieża woodland is the oldest woodland in Europe. Once covering a sizable chunk of Europe, Białowieża Forest is a vast, old forest. The Polish settlement in the center of the forest is where it gets its name. This town, which translates as “White Tower” in Polish, was perhaps the first human settlement. The Grand Duke of Lithuania erected a hunting manor with that name probably around 1426.The forest is referred to as Belavezhskaya Puscha, or “White Tower” forest, in Belarus.

Where is Białowieża Forest Located on a Map?

Situated on the border between Belarus and Poland, Białowieża Forest spans an area of approximately 1,000 square miles. Nonetheless, the forest’s protected areas collectively encompass a far smaller area. For instance, Poland’s national park barely includes 41 square miles of forest protection. Belavezhskaya Pushcha National Park, a 684 square mile protected area on the Belarusian side, is a significantly larger size.

The Belarusian portion of the forest was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1992, after the Polish side was inscribed in 1979. In 2014, UNESCO increased the site’s overall size to 547.8 square miles.

What is the Ecosystem of Białowieża Forest?

The Biaowiea woodland is a superb example of the typical Central European mixed woodland landscape. It is located in the eastern portion of the Central European Lowland, which has a humid continental climate with warm summers. Wet meadows, river valleys, and other wetlands blend together within the forest landscape. The forest is covered in a variety of trees, including pedunculate oak, black alder, Norway spruce, Scots pine, and birch.

One of the most important locations for uncommon and varied mushrooms in Europe is still the oldest forest in the continent. There are an estimated 5,000 different kinds of fungi that may reside in Białowieża Forest, some of which are extremely endangered.

What is a Primeval Forest?

Primitive often refers to something that originates from or resembles the earliest periods of history. Consequently, any group of trees that has been mostly unaffected by human activities might be considered a primeval forest. The terms “virgin forest” and “old-growth forest,” which have the same meaning, are frequently used to describe prehistoric woods. Even while there are still old-growth woods in the world, many have been fast disappearing since the dawn of human civilization.

Any forest that contains several very old trees from long-lived species is usually referred to as old-growth. These species are frequently too old to have been harvested. Furthermore, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources provides some guidelines for identifying high-quality old-growth forests, stating that they should have intricate structures and woody waste. In fact, rare or unusual species may reside in old-growth forests, which are home to few invasive species.

With more than forty percent of its tree stands over eighty years old, the Białowieża forest is an outstanding example of an old-growth, primordial forest. The Białowieża National Park’s region under strictest protection has an average age of 130 years, according to Bialowieski Park Narodowy.

History of Białowieża Forest

Because Białowieża Forest was once a royal hunting reserve, it has remained unspoiled by most humans for an extended period of time. The United Nations and other contemporary organizations are not as old as the efforts to protect the integrity of the forest and the population of bison. Records show that the woodland passed into the hereditary possession of the Lithuanian grand dukes around 1385. In 1409, these Lithuanian aristocrats banned everybody but royalty from engaging in hunting, chopping trees, and other activities. This suggests, according to some, that the woodland has been protected for at least 600 years. Since there are few documented hunts by Middle Ages nobility, hunting itself had little effect on the integrity of Europe’s oldest forest.

The woodland may have suffered during periods of intense logging during World Wars I and II. Nevertheless, starting in 1921, Poland implemented more stringent safeguards for the portion of the forest that was designated as a national park. Certain areas of the forest that date back before the Middle Ages have changed due to additional effects of frequent human use and occupation. For example, as early as the 14th century, there are accounts of people entering forested areas to make hay, raise bees, and build dams.

Discover the Animals That Call Białowieża Forest Home

With about 900 of them wandering the forest, European bison are undoubtedly the most well-known inhabitants of Białowieża Forest. This is equivalent to roughly 25% of the global population. The largest free-roaming group of bison in the world can be found in the Białowieża Forest. Despite having a different size and body type than their American counterparts, European bison are nevertheless the biggest terrestrial mammal in Europe.

Over 250 different types of birds and at least 59 different mammal species live in the forest. Invertebrate species number over 12,000, reptile species seven, and amphibian species thirteen. In particular, this forested area is home to wolves, moose, red deer, wild boar, and lynx. Nonetheless, in Belarus during the 1980s and 1990s, wolves faced persecution.

Over time, there has been discussion on whether tarpans may still be found in the Białowieża Forest. Tarpans inhabited the woodland until 1780. The remaining wild tarpans were captured by the government by the 19th century, and the peasants in the area eventually received them. In the 1920s, a Polish professor made an attempt to create native horses that resembled the extinct tarpan. He inherited every Konik horse that had tarpan-like traits, primarily a dorsal stripe running the length of the back and a dun coat. As part of wild herds, many of these Konik horses still wander the forest.

Discover the Famous Oaks of Białowieża Forest

Europe’s oldest forest is home to many ancient oaks, some of which have names. Originating from a single sturdy trunk, these pedunculate oaks, or Quercus robur, are native to most of Europe and western Asia. Despite not growing as high as spruces or pines, they are the biggest trees in the forest. Many of these oaks are still in good health today, having grown for hundreds of years.

The Jagiełło Oak, one of the most well-known oaks, is no longer in existence. This well-known oak was destroyed by a storm in 1974, although scientists calculated that it had lived for between 450 and 500 years. Legends about Wladyslaw Jagiełło, who may have paused under the oak in 1426 during a disease that swept over that region of Europe, gave it its name.

What is the Future of Europe’s Oldest Forest?

The oldest forest in Europe is still in danger due to invading species, deforestation, and other human-caused issues. Despite the forest being protected by international organizations and national governments, there has been demand to allow logging in greater regions of Białowieża Forest.

The European Court of Justice halted logging in 2018 after finding that Poland had removed trees older than 100 years in violation of agreements with the European Union. Poland did, however, declare that it would start logging again in 2021. As such, the forest’s future is still uncertain, despite the efforts of numerous committed individuals to keep it that way for future generations.