Sebastian Bielak - Podróż po Alasce

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In the Bialowieza Primeval Forest there is a lot of small sylvan rivers and creeks (photo by Sebastian R. Bielak)
In the Bialowieza Primeval Forest there is a lot of small sylvan rivers and creeks (photo by S. Bielak)

The Bialowieza Primeval Forest

The Bialowieza Primeval Forest is a huge sylvan complex located in north-eastern Poland where it extends along the borderline shared with Belarus. With acreage of almost 600 square miles (1500 km2) contemporary primeval forest is a remnant of old and natural wood covering once huge areas in Middle-East Europe. About 40% of this acreage belongs to Poland and among others it contains the Bialowieza Primeval Forest National Park, which is one of the oldest national parks in Poland. Here live over 12 000 species of animals and this is one third of all species occurring in this country. Because of its excellent biodiversity the Bialowieza Primeval Forest, as the only area of protected wildlife in Poland, has been listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site. Until the beginning of 20th century main role in the progress of local forests played nature so the characteristic feature of local tree stands is complex, multispecies structure and high age differentiation of trees. For example, in the strict protection zone of the national park average age of trees is 130 years! The most common types of wood occurring in the Bialowieza Primeval Forest are deciduous oak-hornbeam forests and coniferous spruce forests while the most popular tree species are: Norway spruce, Scots pine, black alder and European oak.

European bison living in the Bialowieza Primeval Forest is the biggest wild mammal of Europe (photo by Sebastian R. Bielak)
European bison living in local forests is the biggest wild mammal of Europe (photo by Sebastian Bielak)

European bison rescued from extinction

The Bialowieza Primeval Forest is a refuge for many rare species of plants and animals among which some are relicts of very old forests. Symbolic species of animal, that is clearly associated with this part of Poland, is European bison. This is the biggest wild mammal of Europe because adult males can be seven feet (2 m) high and ten feet (3 m) long, while eating 90-130 pounds (40-60 kg) of food per day and weighing even 2000 pounds (900 kg). In spite of huge mass a bison can jump over an obstacle seven feet (2 m) high and run on a short distance with the speed of 25 miles per hour (40 km/h). From spring till autumn bisons live dispersed deeply inside forests. Adult females and calves spend this season living together in groups counting a dozen or several dozens of individuals. In the same time males roam through the woods usually alone or in small groups consisting of two or three bulls in the same age. When winter comes all bisons leave forests and merge into big herds counting at least several dozens of individuals. They spend this season on the border of woods and meadows, wandering in the neighborhood of feeding racks which are filled with hay by foresters or national park employees. One hundred years ago European bison almost became extinct but nowadays at least 700-800 individuals live in the Bialowieza Primeval Forest (500 animals in Poland and the rest in Belarus). This is the largest wild population of this species in the world.

Exposition of the Sylvan Narrow-Gauge Railway in north-eastern part of the Bialowieza Primeval Forest (photo by Sebastian R. Bielak)
Exposition of the Sylvan Narrow-Gauge Railway in the Bialowieza Primeval Forest (photo by S. Bielak)

Lake Siemianowka and the Narrow-Gauge Railway

At the turn of 80. and 90. of 20th century an earth dam was built on the Narew River in a spot located on fringes of the Bialowieza Primeval Forest. This way an artificial lake has been created with given name Lake Siemianowka. With acreage of twelve square miles (32 km2) and average depth of eight feet (2,5 m) this lake has occurred to be huge but shallow, generating maximal storage capacity on the level of 21 billion gallons (80 million m3). Soon, because of varied shoreline and vast acreage, Siemianowka Lake has become a very interesting recreational object and also one of the greatest refuges for migratory water and wading birds. Totally different kind of attraction available in the Bialowieza Primeval Forest is the Sylvan Narrow-Gauge Railway. Its history began during the First World War when Germans planned how to transport huge quantities of timber cut in local forests. Finally, they built over 220 miles (360 km) of railway trackways, necessary infrastructure and huge rolling stock which was in those days one of the biggest project of developing the narrow-gauge railways in Europe. After the Second World War, when Poland got back its independence, half of these railway trackways stayed in the borders of this country. Since that time the Sylvan Narrow-Gauge Railway has been used for economic purposes but at the end of 80., when this kind of transport occurred to be too expensive, the railway has been converted into a tourist attraction. Among all tourists visiting the Bialowieza Primeval Forest each year at least dozen of thousands of them take a ride on the Sylvan Narrow-Gauge Railway.