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4/2022: Dr.FOREST: Where science meets political problems

Blog by Dr. Bogdan Jaroszewicz

Białowieża Forest, at the border of Poland and Belarus, hosts one of the exploratory research sites used in the Dr.FOREST project. Since August 2021 the region has been hit by a humanitarian crisis caused by the Belarusian regime luring across the border to Poland thousands of people, mainly from the Middle East. In effect, at the beginning of September 2021, the Polish government-imposed restrictions on the entrance to the border zone along the Poland-Belarus border, which impacted also the accessibility of research plots for researchers from outside. In November 2021 the government issued a special act on the construction of a 5.5-meter-high wall along the border with Belarus. This act, under the justification of national security, repealed all ‘environmental’ laws.

Photo by M.Zimny

In effect, this border barrier is being constructed without transparency, environmental or social impact assessments, or formal consultations with experts or local inhabitants from affected border communities. The effectiveness of such infrastructure in stopping human migration is questionable, while many scientific papers reveal its devastating effect on wildlife. The construction is of particular concern in the Białowieża Forest, the best-preserved European lowland forest enlisted on UNESCO’s World Heritage List as a transboundary site governed by Poland and Belarus. The wall will cut the site into two isolated parts compromising its ecological integrity, thus, influencing many aspects of ecosystem functioning.

Photo by I.Smerczynski

The scientists can’t stop the construction itself, but we feel obliged to collect data allowing the assessment of the negative impact of the wall on the functioning of these unique forest ecosystems. Science-based advocacy and engagement of scientists in media may also force decision-makers to implement measures mitigating the negative impact of the wall on nature. It is also important to keep scientific evidence of changes in the functioning of nature, caused by the barrier, to feed other borderland societies by arguments against eventual new border fences, walls, barriers, and other borderline infrastructure. Such barriers, which are often combined with increased militarization, adversely affect not just nature but also borderland societies by decreasing income from nature-based tourism and influencing their mental well-being.

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash