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The Białowieża National Park
Białowieża Primeval Forest (Puszcza Białowieska) is the last natural lowland forest - a pearl among the woodlands of the Old Continent. It is a mainstay of genetic resources of plants, fungi and animals. Thanks to this natural genetic bank it will be possible to reconstruct the damaged European environment in the future. Therefore it deserves not only the status of European Heritage, but also the heritage of the whole mankind, equally significant as monuments of ancient Greece and Rome. The natural woodlands of Białowieża Primeval Forest (Puszcza Białowieska) have still kept their original features to a large extent, where the generations of living organisms have incessantly followed one another for thousands of years. They are characterised by multi-species and multilevel structure with rich biodiversity.

Numerous species of plants, fungi and animals can be found only in this place. Some of them are characteristic only for the wild parts of the forest. The most precious area of the Białowieża Primeval Forest (Puszcza Białowieska) is the Białowieża National Park. It dates back to the 29th of December 1921 and was founded thanks to the endeavours of foresters, scientists and naturalists. Its real treasure is the Special Protection Area (SPA) of the BNP (Białowieża National Park), where spontaneous natural processes have been taking place for thousands of years undisturbed by humans. Apart from special protection, authorities introduced also active and landscape protection of the primeval forest. It is also thanks to the park workers that the Kings of the Forest - the European bison's - have been saved from extinction. Their restitution in the primeval mainstay has been successful. At the moment the population of the free herd, spread on the whole territory of the Forest, numbers over 300 European bison's.

The high status of the Białowieża National Park has been emphasised by recognizing it as the World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, listing it on the World Heritage register and the recent awarding of the European Diploma.

After expansion in 1996, BNP meets the highest standards and requirements of numerous forms of environment protection. It is a challenge for many proponents of environmental protection to place the whole Białowieża Primeval Forest (Puszcza Białowieska) under the special form of protection.

BNP performs its statutory activities in close cooperation with other Forest farmsteads. The Forest Promotion Complex and the local governments declare that one of their main principles is the Sustainable Development, which is based on the protection of its values and resources. The inhabitants, who have always been sensitive to the Forest's condition, are aware that its future is closely interconnected with their own welfare.

The Special Protection Area
The Special Protection Area (SPA) is the oldest part of the Białowieża National Park. It dates back to 1921, when the "Reserve" forestry at the fork of Hwoźna and Narewka Rivers was created. SPA is located in the central part of the Białowieża Primeval Forest (Puszcza Białowieska) between Hwoźna and Narewka Rivers and neighbours with the Hwoźna Protection Zone, which covers the area added to the park in 1996. In the East it borders on Bielawiezskaja Primeval Forest National Park in Belarus. In the South-East of the Browska Road the SPA borders with the farmstead forests of Białowieża Forestry and in the South with Białowieża Glade. It covers the area of 4747.17 ha, which is about 45 percent of the Białowieża National Park area.

It is covered mainly by forests, but along the Hwoźna and Narewka Rivers also thickets of reed can be found. There are also boggy layers of marshy vegetation. Another characteristic of these forests is a wide range of soils. The areas with the poorest podzolic soil, which originated from sands, are covered by pine and spruce forests. These are the so called bory - coniferous forests. Thus, we can find spruce bory, mixed bory and swamp bory which grow on high peat bogs. Most of the SPA is covered with woods consisting of lindens, hornbeams and oaks, which are often called grądy - deciduous forests. There are alder and ash forests in the river valleys, whereas in the hollows, where water has no outlet, one can find swampy alder forests (called olsy).

The main idea of the SPA is protection of all environmental elements, i.e.: soil, waters, flora and fauna, as well as natural processes that are taking place in this complex of plants and animals, which a primeval forest certainly is. The SPA is made accessible for different kinds of scientific research, as long as they do not disturb the course of natural processes and rare animals or plants species.

On the area of the present BNP ancient traces of human activity can be found. These traces are tumuli from early Middle Ages, glades used as fields on which different corn and plants for feeding game were grown, as well as places of charcoal production. There is also an execution place from the times of the Second World War. There used to be hay-growing meadows which today are slowly becoming overgrown by forest. The SPA in the Białowieża National Park is unique since its tree formations have been growing without human interference. It is a forest which has never been cut down in its entire history and no human hand has planted any tree in it. One could say that, from an economical point of view, it is a bit "untidy": the trees are not growing in rows and there is plenty of rotten wood scattered on the ground. Yet this very untidiness is the source of its uniqueness and richness of life-forms present in this area. It is true that it misses some of the elements which we got used to in our everyday surroundings. The species characteristic for open space (e.g. ubiquitous sparrows or rooks) are missing. This lack is, however, fully compensated by elements typical for natural forests, i.e.: collared flycatchers or woodpeckers. A list of plant and animal species living in the SPA resembles the species composition in the forests that used to cover Europe ages ago and has been turned by our ancestors into arable areas or economic forests which are, in fact, wood factories. A symbolic "entrance" to the Special Protection Area is an old oaken gate. It was designed by an architect from Kraków, engineer H. Jasieński. First it was shocking because of its style, which was not known in this area, and the very fact that it was erected in this place. Today it has grown into the landscape so much that it is inherently associated with the Białowieża National Park. It has become the symbol of transition from the world of civilization to the untouched Nature.

In the SPA one has the rare opportunity to follow the whole life cycle of a tree: from a seedling to a rotten old tree with single yellow leaves. It is possible because the trees are not cut down but live their whole lives until biological death.

In particular, a big number of wind-broken, fallen and dying trees surprises many visitors who visit such a place for the first time. Trees die and start to decay. Big trunks and branches fall down to the ground. This phenomenon is, however, not disturbing from the biological point of view. In the SPA dead wood constitutes 10-15 percent of the whole wood mass; in some places one cannot find any dead tree, whereas some other areas can be full of them. It depends on the forest-stand development phase of a given area, as well as on the speed of the decay process. Rotten, dead trees are excellent places for millions of living organisms: from microscopic bacteria and fungi up to vertebrates - rodents (mice, bank voles, forest dormice) and birds (thrushes, wrens), which build their nests or find good places for shelter. Many of them can survive only in such an environment. This is the case with the hermit-beetle - a rare beetle, which is under species protection. The hermit-beetle is in danger of extinction, and so are other organisms that feed on rotten wood or are somehow connected with it. Another member of this group is the white-backed woodpecker, a bird which feeds mainly on dead trunks and branches. In areas with good light, different herbs, grass, sedge and fern constitute a thick turf; the highest grass blades often reaching up to the height of an adult man. This thick and high vegetation provides food to animals and constitutes a specific environment: a little, sunny world of insects, lizards and other stenothermal creatures - an oasis of warmth and light in the cold darkness of ancient forest. Herbs overgrow every piece of land that is good enough to put down the roots: they can be found on the ground, on dead trees lying on the bottom of the forest and on the bark of living trees, if only there is enough soil for the roots. Among the fallen trunks, under the old tree tops - the canopy of the forest - next to young trees there also grow bushes: nut-bearing hazel, medicinal alder buckthorn; rowan, euonymus, viburnum - decorated with beautiful autumn fruit, and in damp places - bird cherry and currants.

Hwoźna Protection Zone
Hwoźna Protection Zone (HPZ) was created on the basis of forest complexes taken over from the National Forests in 1996. All nature elements on the area are under active protection. Its surface amounts to 5158.21 ha (including 4728.39 ha of forest - the area connected with the park protection - 124.87 ha, and a non-forest area 304.95 ha). It is divided into the following protected areas: Cupryki - 1052.50 ha, Gruszki - 1310 ha, Masiewo - 1069.02 ha and Zamosze - 1296.02 ha. The name of the Zone comes from the picturesque Hwoźna River, which crosses the National Park and separates the Protection Zone from the Special Protection Area. Located in the centre of the forest, the Zone is surrounded by a thick complex of Białowieża Primeval Forest (Puszcza Białowieska) and only in the North borders with Masiewo Glade (Polana Masiewska) with a small, picturesque Masiewo village. The village has a typical ribbon system of building, with wooden architecture which is characteristic of this region.

The Zone area is mainly covered with forests which in many places have kept their natural character. It refers particularly to the forest areas in the ranges: Głuszec, Wilczy Szlak (Wolf Path) and Paliska, as well as some areas by the Hwoźna and Narewka Rivers. A part of the forest stand in the Zone was subject to the forest economy - that is why one can also find different tillages, young trees and pole wood areas - different growth phases of trees that have been planted by men. Because the Zone is under active protection, one can find instances of different activities connected with raising and protection of forest stand of artificial origin, non-forest ecosystems or the cultural heritage. The area of the Zone is made accessible both for walking and bicycle tourism. Over 20 km of walking and 14 km of bicycle routes lead through the most interesting places of this nook of the Białowieża Primeval Forest (Puszcza Białowieska). Such spots as tourist shelters, observation towers or viewpoints make the contact with nature fuller and easier. The company of a guide in the Zone is not obligatory. There are three main roads that lead to the Zone:
· from the Narewka direction - following the Narewkowska Road and then Moranska Road to the "Przed Kosym Mostem" Storehouse, where the car park and information board of the BNP is located,
· from the direction of Zamosze settlement (1 km from Masiewo village): parking place, tourist shelter and BNP information board. At the end of Zamosze settlement there is also a public bonfire place,
· from the direction of Masiewo I village (at the end of the local road): parking place, tourist shelter and BNP information board.

The Breeding Reserve
In the first half of the 19th century Białowieża Primeval Forest (Puszcza Białowieska) was the only mainstay of the lowland European bison. The number of its population until the First World War was about 350 - 1898 specimens and before the war there were 727 European bison's. The war that swept across the Primeval Forest (Puszcza) started the process of its fauna destruction. The first German army units entered the Primeval Forest (Puszcza) in 1915. After many years of being under human care, the European bison's had no fear of men, so they became the first victims. In March 1917 the German administration registered only 121 specimens. After the German army withdrew, groups of survivors as well as local poachers completed the act of destruction. In spring 1919 the last European bison in Białowieża Primeval Forest (Puszcza Białowieska) died. Only the European bison's in closed breeding farms, such as menageries and zoological gardens survived. At the end of 1924 there were 54 specimens, only 3 of them (two bulls and one cow) in Poland. They belonged to the private collection of the duke von Pless in Pszczyna. The first step of the European bison restitution in natural conditions was creating a menagerie in 1929. It was located on the way between Białowieża and Hajnówka. The newly built menagerie had an area of 22 ha and was divided into three pens: big one and two little ones. One of the pens was used for demonstration: tourists could watch the European bison's from a special stand. In 1932 the reserve was expanded by building an additional 37 ha pen for pure-blood European bison's. On the 19th September 1929 the German bull called Borusse, which had an admixture of Caucasus European bison blood, and a Danish European bison-bison called Kobold arrived in Białowieża. Next, the pure blood Biserta and a European bison -bison Faworyta arrived on the 10th of October 1929 and pure blood European bison Biscaya and European bison -bison Stolce arrived on the 10th of October 1930. All of them were female and came from Sweden. In 1931 also Hagena and Gatczyna were brought to Białowieża from Germany, yet they had no contribution to the restitution and soon died of old age. Also Bjorn and Bilma, a couple which had been brought from Sweden, had no contribution to the restitution. Bjorn died of wounds after a deadly duel against Borusse, whereas Bilma was too old to breed.

The reproduction of Białowieża (lowland) line of European bison's became possible only in 1936, when (on 17 April) a three-year-old bull called Plisch was brought from Pszczyna to Białowieża. Already next year, in 1937 Biscaya gave birth to the first calf begot by Plisch. It was the first calf from the lowland line that was born in Białowieża since the beginning of the restitution. Consistent breeding of the pure blood European bison's demanded removing all the European bison's with blood admixtures to Smardzewice (1936), where also American bison were kept.

During the Second World War there were16 European bison's in Białowieża: three of the Białowieża line and 13 of Białowieża-Caucasus line. All of them survived the war and at the end of 1944 there were 17 specimens in the reserve. Immediately after the liberation, the animals received intensive care and the reserve returned to its normal functions. In order to improve the conditions for the developing European bison breed, a new, bigger reserve was built in 1946. It had an area of 123 ha and bordered on the old one. Together, their area was 203.3 ha. Despite the low number of lowland European bison's (4 specimens) the decision was taken to remove the Białowieża-Caucasus line European bison's from Białowieża. In 1946-1949, 22 specimens of this line were taken out of Białowieża and the last one left on 25 September 1950.

Successful restitution of the European bison's after the Second World War made it possible to create a free breed. In the Polish part of Białowieża Primeval Forest (Puszcza Białowieska) first European bison's were released in 1952 and the first calf was born in freedom in 1957. In 1952-1966, 38 European bison's were released from the breeding reserves. In 1967 this process was stopped.

The present-day European bison demonstration reserve with the area of 27.9 ha was founded in 1937 and at the beginning was the place of forest tarpan restitution. Since the time when the tarpan restitution was stopped and the European bison farm was created the reserve has been a tourist place.

In 1951 a new reserve was built next to the demonstration one. It has an area of 43.12 ha and serves as the backup facilities for the display reserve. Its functioning was interrupted by a ten years' major overhaul, aimed at modernising the reserve and making it possible to increase the number of species of presented animals. The reserve was open to public again in 1988.

In the close to natural conditions of the reserve one can see European biso'sn, Polish tarpan ponies, elk, deer, roe-deer, wild boars, "żubroń" (a hybrid of European bison and farm cattle), and wolves. The demonstration reserve is a significant tourist attraction and also helps in the environmental education of schoolchildren who visit Białowieża.

The Palace Park
The Palace Park (47,77 ha) was created around the Emperor's Palace on the Palace Hill near Narewka River at the end of 19th century. It was designed by Walery Kronenberg, the professor of Szkoła Główna in Warsaw, and followed the English style, characterised by free composition of trees and shrubs with large glades. Two artificial ponds excavated in the Narewka Valley made the Park complete.

160 species of trees and shrubs of local and foreign origin grew in the Park at the beginning. They were brought from various climate zones, mainly from Asia and North America. About 90 species of trees and shrubs are found there today, and the whole complex is protected as a monument of park architecture.

The oldest monument of the Palace Park is the obelisk in memory of King August III Saxon's hunting on 27 September 1752. It is made of grey sandstone and placed on a dam between the two ponds. In the past there was a road called "the Royal Road", leading along the dam. On the obelisk there is Polish and German inscription. A passage of the Polish text says: "Here Their Royal Majesties August III, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, with the Queen and Royal Princes Xavier and Karl hunted European bison's on 27 September 1752. They killed: 42 European bison's, i.e. 11 great ones, the heaviest of which was 14 quintals 50 pounds, 7 smaller ones; 18 European bison cows; 6 calves; 13 elks, i.e. 6 great ones, the heaviest of which was 1 quintal 75 pounds, 5 females, 2 young ones; 2 roe-deer. In total: 57 animals. (...)"

Just before the hunting, the animals were gathered in a special enclosure called 'Augustowy Sad' (King August's Orchard) by the hunting service. The enclosure was built in today's Special Protection Area of BNP, at the springs of Ołówka River, which used to be called Jelanka at that time. Their Royal Majesties were standing on a platform, which had been constructed especially for that purpose. Informed with a sign, the battue people were driving out the animals right in front of the shots. An annalist mentioned that Queen Maria-Josefa d'Autriche killed 20 European bison's herself and was busy reading a French novel in the intervals between shooting.

During the First World War, in the summer of 1915, the obelisk was brought to Russia. It came back to Białowieża in 1938 - unfortunately cracked. Reparation was made before the Second World War.

North of the obelisk there is the oldest Białowieża building - the former hunting manor built for the Governor of Grodno in 1845. Emperor Alexander II stayed there when hunting in Białowieża in 1860. Later the building was turned into a kind of museum with a collection of Emperor's hunting trophies, photographs, memory book and various objects. Among them, there was a silver wine-cup, which served the Emperor for proposing toasts, and the spade he used for planting an oak in the hunting place.

Between the world wars the building was run by Foresters' Training Corps (Przysposobienie Wojskowe Leśników). It was used as a mess, which offered meals for tourists. After the war, it continued to be used as a tourist restaurant and a kindergarten. It was finally renovated in 1991-1994, thanks to the donation of Narodowy Fundusz Ochrony Środowiska i Gospodarki Wodnej (the National Fund for Environment Protection and Water Management). It turned out that there were no foundations and the walls were supported with several corner stones, a millstone among them. The building has been the seat of the BNP Natural Education Centre since 1996.

On the Palace Hill there is the Museum of Nature and Forestry, named after prof. J. Miklaszewski. Here one can see the only remains of the Palace - the gate made of red bricks, produced in Białowieża. At present the Emperor's Palace exhibition is located in the gate.

The Palace was constructed according to the Rochefort's project in 1889-1893. The driveway and the main entrance were designed at the northern side, where the entrance to the BNP administration office is located now. The palace was quite vast. There were 120 rooms and great wine cellars. The rooms were ornamented richly with panels and floors made of local wood. There were al fresco paintings on the ceilings, painted by, among others, Rafał Jasiński. There was also a room papered with postmarks. The original equipment was taken away to Russia in the summer of 1915.

The Palace was ornamented with two towers. The bigger one, built in the north-western wing, was decorated with an escutcheon, on which two coats of arms were presented: above the two-headed black eagle of the Romanov Emperors and below the European bison of the Grodno province; the two were separated with a belt of wolf heads. The Emperors' two-headed eagle was replaced with the Polish white eagle in the 20ties.

The main driveway was glazed and ornamented with creeping roses in the summertime. The nearby place with several oaks (today considered natural monuments) was used to display the trophies of the Emperors' and the Polish President's chase. The trophies used to be ornamented with oak and spruce branches and signal-men used to play their trumpet calls.

Not only the President of the Republic of Poland, Ignacy Mościcki, used to come to Białowieża and hunt there, but guests from other countries as well. Some of them were: Hermann Goering, the Italian foreign minister Count Ciano and his wife, Charles - the Royal Prince of Romania and Horthy - the Regent of Hungary. A museum exhibition and the State Forestry School had their seats in the Palace building as well. Unfortunately, the Palace was set on fire by retreating German forces and burnt down on 17 July 1944. Before the Palace was built, there had been a wooden manor at the same place. The manor was built in the times of King Władysław IV and largely extended in the Saxon period. According to its description, it is clear that the front of the manor was situated on the side of the Narewka River valley. There was a large hall and smaller sleeping rooms around for the king and his guests. That building burnt down during a skirmish between the French cavalry and Russian forces in 1812. In order to fight against the forces of the November Uprising, Russians located cannons on the hill - therefore it was sometimes called "Batarejka".

West from the preserved Palace gate, there is a former Cossack stable building, which could shelter 40 horses. The attic was used for storing hay. The stable was renovated in 70ties and now is used as a tourist hostel of the Polish Tourist Country-Lovers' Society (PTTK).

50 m westward from the stable a little wooden building was built for the Russian Emperor's palace administrator. The managing directors of the National Park used to live there after the First World War: Professor Józef Paczoski and J.J. Karpiński. The office of the Białowieża National Park was also located there in 1960-1970.

A red-brick building which can be seen nearby used to be called the 'Hofmarshal House'. It was built for the major-domo in 1904. The administration of Białowieża National Park had its seat there until 2002.

About 100 m northwards, close to the fence of the Palace Park there is the 'Hunting Lodge' with guest-rooms for BNP guests. A former 'Suite House' (Dom Świcki) for the Emperor's suite used to be located in the same place until it burnt down in January 1963, just before the planned visit of Władysław Gomułka in Białowieża. The circumstances of the fire have never been explained. At the time of the fire Gomułka was visiting the Belarussian part of the Forest, were he met Nikita Khrushchev. On the foundations of the burnt building a new one was built. A young pyramid-shaped pedunculate oak (Quercus robur) was planted by the United Nations Environmental Programme Secretary, Dr. Maurice Strong, in front of the 'Hunting Lodge" in 1974.

There are two more antique red brick buildings, situated close to the ponds, west of the Natural Education Centre seat: the 'Chauffeurs' House' (Dom Szoferów) and the 'Bath House' (Dom Łaźnia), built in the southern part of the Palace Park at the end of 19th century.

At the eastern border of the Palace Park, on the Narewka river side behind the bridge, a 19th century power station can be still found. It used to supply electric energy for the Emperor's Palace.

There is also a granite erratic block with a hardly legible date '1747' close to the alley in the north-eastern part of the Park. It is considered an inanimate nature monument and protected.

Hiking routes
'Wilczy szlak' (Wolf Path) - marked green, 11 km. The 'Wolf Path' starts in the suburbs of Zamosze BNP settlement, 1 km away from Masiewo I village (one can get there from Masiewo village following the red route). The green route goes through the whole Hwoźna Protection Zone, up to Kosy Most and further on, giving the possibility to see the most interesting places of HPZ. Following points of interest can be seen along the route: the Głuszec Range (Uroczysko Głuszec) with swamp coniferous forest (swamp bory), a little museum of forest narrow-gauge railway, an erratic block (a natural monument), the Wolf Path Range (Uroczysko Wilczy Szlak) with well-preserved habitat arrangement, which one is able to see while walking on a wooden foot-bridge, a giant oak and the meadows on the banks of Narewka river.

'Szlak Wokół Uroczyska Głuszec' (Route around the Głuszec Range) - marked red, 5.5 km. 'Route around the Głuszec Range' starts in Masiewo I village (at the bus stop) and goes around the Głuszec Range - the former refuge of wood grouse. There are following characteristic points along the route: Polana Masiewska (Masiewo Glade) with wooden buildings, Głuszec Range with swamp coniferous forest (swamp bory), Protestant cemetery of 19th century, remnants of charcoal kiln and a little museum of forest narrow-gauge railway, where the history of its utilisation in the Białowieża Forest is displayed.

'Carska Tropina' (Tsar Trace) - marked black, 4 km. The black route starts at the 'Przed Kosym Mostem' Storehouse and goes along the Narewka river valley, following an old road built in the Emperor's times. There are following characteristic points along the route: a view-tower (with a view over the Narewka valley, for watching birds and mammals of the Białowieża Forest), well-preserved forest plant communities (mostly grądy - deciduous forests and olsy - swampy alder forests, almost natural-grown, with a great number of old trees), and a view-point (with a view over the river bank meadows and the BNP Special Protection Area). There are two huts for tourists on this route (at the beginning and at the end). They have the characteristic traits of local wooden architecture.

Cycling routes. Cycling along the routes of the Protection Zone is an excellent way to learn about the natural beauty and most interesting places of the Narewka District. The routes start in Narewka, where one can rent a bicycle and go around the northern part of the Białowieża Forest (including a part of BNP), following several circles.
The green bicycle route is 12 km long and goes the same way as the green 'Wolf Path' hiking route. The black bicycle route is 2 km long and goes northwards from the Szypulowa storehouse, up to the borders of Browsk Forest Inspectorate. It crosses the Paliska Range - with well-preserved pine forests, pine and spruce forests and swamp woods (bory).

Author and more information
Author: Białowieski Park Narodowy, more information:

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