More Audible than Visible–Joint report from Poland

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Nature Exchange Programme

Poland 2012

 

 

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West Pomeranian Province

 

Isabel Morgan, Lorna Dow, Eric Rietveld, Sarah West, Angela Lloyd

1.0 Introduction (Isabel Morgan – RSPB)

The 2012 Nature Exchange program to Poland focused on the West Pomeranian Province, an area of Poland that, until 1945, was part of Germany. The group spent the week visiting different conservation areas in the province. During this time the group learnt about the management of the conservation areas as well as the difficulties, natural history and conflicts of each conservation area. Areas visited include the Society for the Coasts (EUCC-PL) Odra Delta Nature park, Wolinski National Park, Odra River Landscape Park, Swidwie Protected Area and Ujscie Warta National Park.

1.1 POLAND

An Overview

Poland is situated between those countries which traditionally make up East and West Europe, sharing borders with Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Baltic States and the Baltic Sea. It has as population of 39 million people and is split into 16 Provinces.

The country has experienced massive social and political changes in recent times. The most significant of these changes being the border changes in 1945 after WW2, the rejection of the communist values in 1989 and most recently Poland’s acceptance as a full EU member in 2004.

1.2 West Pomerania Province

The West Pomerania Province is situated in the Northwest corner of Poland sharing its borders with Germany in the west and the Baltic sea to the north. Until 1945 the region was part of Germany and was given to Poland during the post WW2 border changes. The region was almost deserted until 1950 when Poland adopted the Russian Kolkhoz system and 90% of the province was turned over to state farming producing meat and dairy products as well as traditional hay meadows. 1989 saw a massive political shift away from Communism and the end of the state farming system. The former Kolkhoz workers were not farmers and had not always been relocated to West Pomerania by choice had difficulties adapting to the new political and economic situation.

Today the West Pomerania Province consists of small villages, larger towns, cities, industrial harbours and agricultural land. 40-47% of the Province is part of the Natura 2000 network. A process has also begun that sees a reduction in top-down decision making giving more power to local communities.

 

 

1.3 Nature Conservation

The Polish state Government control and administrate nature conservation in Poland and there are different protection levels for the landscape. National Parks receive the highest level of protection in Poland. The 23 National parks cover a range of habitats including alpine mountains, woodland, coastal and wetlands. National parks are the responsibility of state government under the Minister of the Environment whom regulates the finances and administration of the National Parks. A level down from the National Parks is the Landscape Park, these are administrated on a local or provincial government level. The number of Landscape parks tends to fluctuate from merging or liquidation currently there are approximately 120 Landscape Parks covering 8% of the country. Following Landscape Parks are Areas of Protected Landscape (APL). APLs protect almost 22% of Poland and are also administered on a regional level.

In 2004 Poland adopted the EU Habitats and Birds directive creating 147 Special Protected Areas (SPA) and 847 Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). All of these are part to the Natura 2000 network. The Polish Nature Conservancy Law also came into effect in 2004 providing protection for flora and fauna. Areas protected under the Nature Conservancy Law have a lower level of protection than APLs and are still fully accessible to tourists and the public.

1.4 Politics, culture and conservation in West Pomerania

Poland’s complex social and political history has had profound impacts on nature conservation in the Country. Administration and Financing of Poland’s protected areas remains under the control of the state or regional government and there are few Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) operating in the conservation sector. The West Pomerania Province has the added complication of being close to the German border and the Odra River Landscape Park effectively straddles the international border.

Conservation areas in Poland face many similar difficulties as Scotland, ranging from the universal problem of funding the cost of the parks and protected areas, conflicts with local communities and poaching. Culturally the West Pomerania province has little if any traditions of using the natural environment as a resource outside farming and recreation. Residences of the province of often perceive conservation as another layer of restriction rather than seeing nature as a source of income by tapping into the tourism trade. The history of state control of nature conservation through National Parks, Landscape Parks and Areas of Protected Landscape has given rise to the belief that nature is the government’s responsibility and that it should stay that way.

The Society of the Coast (EUCC-Poland) is an NGO that owns the Odra Delta Natura Park, this is the only conservation area set that is not state control, thus officially it is not recognised by Polish law. The private Nature Park has been established in with the co-operation with the local community. EUCC has made education of all ages a significant part of its mission including outdoor-based education, photography and combing sport with conservation. It is felt that Polish children understand more about the wildlife and environment of other countries such as Africa, than they do about Poland’s wildlife. EUCC feel that slowly the tide is turning and communities are taking on a new respect for Poland’s wildlife. Local fishermen are now making a proportion of their living by taking tourists and educational trips out to see white-tail eagles on the Szczecin lagoon. EUCC have also provided funding to the local communities in order to aid the protection of wildlife for example a boat was brought from EUCC funding to better enable the Water Authority to meet their responsibilities for protecting the water bodies of the lagoon.

As the Odra Delta Nature park is privately owned it receives no state funding for the management. This has the inevitable consequences of reducing available funding for staff, equipment and machinery. Some of the management of the work, such as mowing of the reeds and hay meadows is carried out by contractors and international NGOs like the RSPB assist with the summer bird surveys. The culture of the West Pomerania means that the EUCC finds it difficult to recruit volunteers to assist with the management and free up staff time. However despite these difficulties the fact that the State Government does not need to be involved with the management of the park has reduced the bureaucracy and the time required to make decisions on management and the use of funds. This allows EUCC a level of freedom to act on management issues faster than State protected areas.

The Government control of conservation gives some level of security for conservation. However not all conservation areas appear to be equal and some places, such as the National Parks seem to receive better funding packages than APLs. Woliniski National Park boasts a museum, reintroduction programs, education programs and conference facilities as well as a full compliment of staff. By comparison Swidwie Reserve, an APL, struggles with 3 staff to run the reserve, provide education facilities and manage the habitats.

Conservation in West Pomerania Provinces faces additional problems due to the proximity of the international border with Germany. The Odra River marks the border between Poland and Germany. The Polish State Government protects 6,000ha of wetland and flood basin on the Polish side of the river as the Odra River Landscape Park. The German side is a National Park with much of the land belonging to private landowners. In order to provide adequate protection the two governments must work together. This was initially difficult due to the closed border between the countries and the historical conflicts. However nature is no providing a reason for the two countries to co-operate and work together. As a the management of a single piece of land owned by one body is easier and more effective than dealing with lots of individual landowners a scheme has been set up to enable the government to buy out the German landowner or move them to a different property, which is worth the same or a higher value that the original property. to allow better management of both sides of the river. This scheme is apparently being well received due to the favourable price that the government is willing to pay the landowners.

Nature conservation in Poland is reliant on the continual State funding and administration, with over 30% of the country being protected by the state. The Government administration however can mean slow and bureaucratic decision making and competition for funding. Birds such as the white-tail eagle are thriving now that they have full state protection and the acceptance of Poland as a full member of the EU has provided increased protection and access to funding for conservation projects. Through nature co-operation has been possible between historically enemy states. Poland’s politics and culture have undoubtedly had an effect on the way nature is managed and conservation is achieved. However nature is starting to affect the culture and politics of the country as well.

 

 

2.0 Society for The Coast (EUCC – Poland) Lorna Dow Orkney Assistant Warden, Mainland Reserves

The Society for the Coast was first established in 1996 as the European Union Coastal Conservation – Poland. It is an NGO which aims to implement active nature conservation in valuable wetlands, environmental education and promote co-operation with local communities.

In particular it aims to strengthen the importance of Baltic Sea coasts and facilitate good practice in the use of these areas whilst protecting them, integrating science and management. Part of this is to create platforms for co-operation between government, NGO’s, local communities, scientific organisations and individuals who are involved in conservation problems of the coastal zone.

The Society also actively conserves nature and is encouraging the creation of sustainable development at a local and regional scale. It also aims to participate in coastal conservation and management on an international level.

The Society has successfully bought around 1000ha of coastal meadows and wetlands around the Szczecin Lagoon in the province of West Pomerania, North West Poland. An area of nearly 800ha in the Czarnocin Basin, over 300ha at the Row Peninsula (near the city of Wolin), 35ha on the Bielawki Islands, 26ha on the Podgrodzie Peninsula and the 8ha Lyra Island.

2.1 Odra Delta Nature Park

The Odra Delta Nature Park is unusual in Poland as it wasn’t created by the government – but by the initiative of naturalists and enthusiasts from Poland and The Netherlands as a result of the joint project ‘Odra Delta Nature Park: Demonstrating Active Nature Management as a Path to Sustainable Development’. It was officially opened in 2005.

The Park is located within two Natura 2000 sites: Laki Skoszewskie and Zalew Szczecinski. It covers approximately 4000ha which is owned and managed in agreement by three main groups. The Society for the Coast, the Maritime Office in Szczecin and the Goleniow Forest department. It covers a variety of habitats: pine and mixed forestry, lagoon and coastal meadows and wetlands.

The Society recognised that due to the lack of management (removal of agriculture) in the area, the biodiversity had dropped and reinstated agricultural practices to start the regeneration process.

As part of the exchange the group was taken for a walk around the Nature Park on Sunday afternoon by our hosts Kazimierz Rabski and Dr Malgorzata Torbe and we got to see first hand how the Park is managed and the fantastic meadow and wetland habitats and wildlife they support.

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The meadows are now mown or cut in the late summer and they employ ‘natural mowers’ in the form of a 50 strong herd of Highland cattle and a herd of 150 Konik Ponies. The cattle and ponies are helping to create a mosaic sward, opening up areas, increasing floristic biodiversity and providing variable nesting habitats for birds.

Traditionally, these type of meadows would have been cut three times for hay during the season but now only one cut is made during August/September for the wildlife benefits.

Scottish Highland cattle are used in a number of European countries for conservation grazing as they are happy to eat rough pasture (they aren’t picky!) and are very hardy and built for all year outdoor living – stocky with a long coat. They seem to deal with the hot weather very well – shady sandy areas under trees are well utilised. They herd here originates from stock from the Netherlands.

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Konik ponies are a traditional Polish breed, developed to be hardy and self sufficient. They are increasingly being used in other countries for conservation grazing for this reason. At the Odra Delta Nature Park they employ a low intervention strategy, letting the ponies behave as naturally as possible only intervening to prevent suffering for an animal. There however has had to be compromise to comply with law – only one stallion is allowed in the herd, although ideally they would leave that to natural selection as well. The herd does have large meadow areas to roam and visitors are encouraged not to approach them, even though they are a reason many people visit. They eventually hope to increase the herd to 175 animals.

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Although we weren’t visiting Poland at a great time for seeing the key breeding bird species, within a short time we were impressed with the number of species we saw: willow tit, lesser spotted woodpecker, great egret, cuckoo, marsh harrier to name a few. We also spotted our first wild boar and evidence of the beavers which live on the Nature Park.

The Society has an area dedicated to education on the reserve with interpretation panels (originally placed at the Row Peninsula but some were stolen or damaged so were moved), artwork created by children and a wildlife garden. We were given the chance to see a slide show developed by Malgorzata for school children: ‘White-tailed eagle and his friends’ an introduction to the wildlife found here.

The Society has been encouraging local fishermen to develop the tourist potential in the white-tailed eagles, with trips out on to the Szczecin Lagoon. We got to experience this with an early morning boat ride and the amazing experience of seeing ten eagles (not forgetting the osprey), some very close up!

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3.0 Wolinski National Park and the Baltic Sea Coast (Sarah West RSPB Scotland Orkney Warden)

On our second day in Poland we visited the Wolinski National Park. The Wolinski National Park is unique as it covers a wide variety of habitats including forests, wetlands, islands and an inland lagoon, and also reaches one mile out to sea. It is one of two coastal parks in Poland and is a mid-sixed park covering 11,000 hectares. The National Park is situated very close to the city of Międzyzdroje, so there is some pressure to develop areas within the park itself and a road has recently been built which runs straight through the middle of the park, connecting this city with the rest of Poland. However, Wolinski National Park has been established for over fifty years, although only in its current form since 1996, and generates a great deal of tourism for the people of Międzyzdroje, attracting over 500,000 visitors a year, so they are happy to work alongside the park and do not want it to be developed further. To avoid too much damage to the habitat, more than 50km of tourist roads have been built through the park to guide visitors to a few main view points and attractions. The sandy beaches below the cliffs and the promenade at Międzyzdroje are both very popular locations, and the promenade provides an excellent point from which to view the sandy cliffs. There is a lot of interpretation throughout the park and especially around the viewpoints and beaches, where most of the visitors can be found.

Whilst at the National Park we visited the popular view point at Gosań at the top of the sandy cliffs which run along this stretch of the Baltic Sea coast. These sloping, sandy cliffs are more common than rocky cliffs here, and can reach up to about 95 metres high. However, there are many issues with erosion of these cliffs by both wind and wave action, but also due to rain runoff after large storms. In some years a few feet can be lost from the cliff edges, but recently only a few centimetres have been lost each year. This reduction in the level of erosion is due to changes in the wind direction, so that these cliffs no longer take the full force of the wind and wave action. We then visited the promenade in Międzyzdroje, so that we could see the full extent of these vegetated sandy cliffs, before making the trip to the viewpoint at Zielonka, along the Świny river delta, from where we were able to view the islands and wetlands which also form part of the National Park. The forested areas of the park are only managed through natural regeneration.

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The next day we visited several other sites along the Baltic coast so that we could compare and contrast the different management practices that are used in different areas. First, we visited the small town of Dziwnów along the Baltic Sea coast. This coastal town is very popular with tourists, and new roads, toilets, shops and other facilities have been built along the coast to encourage tourism. New paths and fences have also been installed along the top of the dunes by the Maritime Office, to prevent tourists from straying off of the path and damaging the natural environment. Coastal erosion is also a large problem here due to issues with wind and wave action eroding the beaches and sand dunes. Several forms of ‘natural protection’ are used at this site to prevent further erosion of the coastline, including the addition of extra sand to the beaches, seeding the sand dunes to stabilise them, fencing off the dunes so that visitors cannot access these areas, and the placement of wooden posts (groins) in the sea to lessen the effects of wave action. In addition to this, few structures are allowed to be built along the beach itself and there are very strict rules as to what can be built up to 1000 metres inland from these coastal areas, which affords them more protection than our Scottish coastlines. These bands of protection are known as the technical belt, which protects the coastline up to 200 metres inland, and the protection belt, which reaches up to 1000 metres inland and dictates what can be built in these areas. These actions help to save a large area of the coastline each year by preventing erosion.

Our last stop on our tour of sites along the Baltic Sea was Trzęsacz, an area that has been very badly eroded in the past, resulting in very steep sand dunes and cliffs along the coast. As seen at the other sites along the Baltic coastline, these sand cliffs suffer from wind and wave action, but the biggest issue here are the effects of rainwater runoff from storms. In one particularly bad storm in 1994, nearly 10 metres of the cliffs were lost due to a massive landslide, at which point it was decided that something had to be done to prevent this coastline from receding even more in future years. However, the methods used here are completely different to those used at the previous site. Instead of using natural defences such as seeding the sand dunes, the cliffs and dunes at Trzęsacz are protected by artificial structures including gabions and concrete walls. Large boulders and stones are placed all along the base of the cliffs and extra sand is added to the beaches to protect the cliffs from further erosion by wind and wave action. However, these forms of protection do not stop these cliffs from being eroded by the rain runoff after storms, and landslides still occur. In addition to this, a few years ago the people of the town paid for a small promenade to be built on the beach here, which is further adding to the problem of erosion at this site as it prevents the natural movement of sand further down the beach. There are several organisations and Universities in Poland that are investigating coastal processes and erosion along the Baltic Sea coastline in-depth, monitoring the changes in the Polish coastline and advising on ways to prevent further erosion in these important areas, so hopefully in the future some of these sites will be better protected.

 

 

4.0 Swidwie Reserve (Eric Rietveld)

clip_image011The first impression of Swidwie Reserve was that of forest and meadows. At the visitor centre we got a slideshow with a more complete picture. As in other places there were ample beautiful pictures on the walls to illustrate the magnificent and abundant wildlife in the area.

 

Swidwie started out as an ecological reserve, with a dedicated ecological station, where research largely focused on waders and other birds which are associated with water and reed-beds. The water birds are the reason that the site has a Ramsar designation (e.g. http://www.wetlands.org/reports/dbdirectory.cfm?site_id=387).

 

 

clip_image013After the ice age the area was mainly wetland (approximately 8000 years ago), which provided good facilities for settlement (since approximately 6000 years, although artefacts are found dating back as far as 10.000 BC). Some original and some duplicate artefacts are on display at the centre.

The habitat is mainly managed for birds, including some of the islands in the lake, of which one is artificial. The area around (the meadows) is drained into the lake to manage the water levels. The area is open all year, during daylight, and a tower and bird hide are available for visitors (up to 30.000 visits a year to the watchtower, see picture).

Apart from the Ramsar designation it is now also a Natura 2000 site and the area around the lake is a special protection zone for breeding birds. Originally the lake was 4000 ha but over time, with natural succession and changing water levels, it shrunk to 100 ha. The main lake is connected to smaller water bodies by some marsh areas and a network of small canals. Some of the wetland is managed by beavers, but wild boar also play a role in churning and poaching the mud in spring, which is good for orchids. The woodland consists largely of beech and is partly logged. In spring there are good displays of bluebell.

In short, the habitats include: Lake, reed islands, mud islands and meadow. Species include 164 breeding bird species (52 non breeding birds recorded) of which 13 declining, 45 species of mammal, 7 species of reptile (including 3 vipers), 14 amphibians and 345 recorded insect species (including 64 butterfly species), as well as 491 vascular plants and 149 fungi. There are also invasive species like American mink and terrapins.

4.0 Lower Odra Delta Landscape Park (Angela Lloyd- SAC)

The Lower Odra Delta Landscape Park is unique in the fact that it spans two countries and therefore, potentially, two very different habitat management objectives. This however is far from true, and the journey to the discovery of this provided us with not only one of the most exhilarating rides of our lives (aboard the Castor), but (more importantly) a fascinating insight into how two countries are working in harmony to afford protection to one of Europe’s largest fluvogenic peat bogs. The whole network of rivers is being improved after neglect, with distinct evidence of ecological succession along the waterways. There was a lack of management during the time that the river was the main border between (former East) Germany and Poland. Now only the 2 main rivers are allowed to be used by motorised boats. The Polish site is owned by the state, but the German part is still partly in private hands. Private agriculture has moved from intensive to extensive with funding, but there are nevertheless plans to buy it all up and integrate it into the park under one management.

Since 1994 the Odra Delta has been open to the public, with the German part being designated as a National Park (Unteres) and the Polish part as a Landscape Park. The management objectives ‘appear’ to be well joined up, with nature conservation at the heart. Two hundred families of beaver (Castor fiber) inhabit the 6,000ha site and lodges were certainly evident along our route:

Fig 1. Beaver (Castor fiber) lodge in the Lower Odra Delta

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In total more than 120 species of bird inhabit the delta, and amongst the more common were Grey heron (Ardea cinerea) Great Egret (Egretta alba) Common Crane (Grus grus) and White-tailed Sea Eagle (with three breeding pairs being successful in this area). Large red and white chimneys reminded us of the impact that humans are having on this landscape, however, we were reliably informed that this was a power station fuelled partly by biomass. It was very obvious with the abundance of common reed surrounding us that this would indeed provide a fantastic source of energy as well as a sustainable and weather resistant roofing material for local housing. With a speedboat full of eager conservation managers, our attention was drawn to the fact that this is one of the best sites for the Aquatic Warbler (Acrocephalus paludicola), which breeds in open, waterlogged sedge meadows, and has become increasingly rare as a result of drainage. Sadly there was no sight or sound of said warbler. A return visit in the springtime will certainly be in order.

Fishing was evident along the delta with locals casting their lines from the sluice gates. Our guides explained that the park has an agreement with the fishery cooperative to sell licences to individuals, and we could see that these activities provided recreation for people from both countries. This further demonstrated the levels of unity between the once war torn neighbours, and to outsiders such as ourselves it was a compelling journey of discovery, and a huge privilege to witness this first hand.

One of the most interesting channels that we were guided along was the ‘Apple Tree Channel’. There were indeed rosy red apples bordering the waterway, and some trees were reported to be in excess of 100 years in age.

Fig 2: The Apple Tree Channel

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Many of the trees had been destroyed by beaver, but those that remained provided us with an insight to the remnants of the agricultural days that had once shaped this land. We were told that this part of the delta could hold up to 25,000 Common Cranes during the summer months, however, like the Aquatic Warbler, they were sadly on vacation during the duration of our visit. Instead, our attention was drawn to beautiful aquatic snails, water lilies and yet more impressive beaver lodges. This delta was rich in biodiversity, it was vast, somewhere that could very easily be described as a wilderness to the untrained eye. It had been shaped by history and politics, and now drawn together by the European Union in one of the most successful examples of Integrated Catchment Management in the Northern Hemisphere.

Whilst invasive species were not immediately evident, our guides explained that a recent introduction of a Polish fish (iesioty) was threatening local, native stocks. This raised the question of the method of engagement and cooperation with anglers, as they are often the best source of information regarding annual fish stocks. It was obvious at this point in the discussion that this was a key part that was missing in this catchment. There was a definite need for the resources to educate the anglers and more importantly the next generation (and their offspring). The role of education officer that we take for granted on many reserves in the UK is sadly missing not only in the Odra Delta, but, on many of the NATURA 2000 sites that we visited during our stay. This was an area for development that the Department of Environment were keen to champion, and certainly had the backing of their colleagues at the Society for the Coast.

Our whistle stop tour to this delta filled us with awe at the sheer size of the waterways. The conservation planning that was taking place provided us with one of the best case studies of ‘soft’ management we had seen in the country. The decision that the Department of the Environment in Srodowiska had taken to purchase prime agricultural from German farmers highlighted the innovative approach that was being adopted in this region, and the evidence of its effectiveness spoke for itself in the species richness surrounding us. We talk so much about the need for Integrated Catchment Management in Scotland, and we were certainly able to contrast some of our more familiar river catchments with the Odra (although were totally blown away by the sheer scale of the landscape and its importance to European, migratory species). Yet again we had been overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and brilliance of this country. If I had not been before, I was now totally convinced this would not be my last trip to this part of the world!!

5.0 Park Narodowy Ujście Warty (Eric Rietveld)

clip_image019Our introduction to Park Narodowy Ujście Warty (Warta Mouth National Park) was that of a grey polder landscape at early dawn that was more audible than visible. We could hear the distant sounds of geese and, the reason for being there at that hour, cranes. Standing on one of the dikes, which signified the polder landscape, we counted up to 1200 cranes in the coming hours. While the relatively small flocks of cranes flew over, unaware of the fact that they were being recorded, the many shades of grey were filled in by even more shades of green and brown. In between counting we admired the abundance of great egrets, more familiar greylag geese and the occasional raptor (buzzard, red kite, marsh harrier and white tailed eagles). Later we were told that there are over 270 bird species recorded (of which 64 are listed in the Birds Directive), with 170 species breeding here. There are also 11 species of amphibian, 3 species of reptile, 39 species of mammal (including 115 beaver families), 35 species of fish and over 500 species of vascular plants recorded. Invasive species include the American mink and raccoon (for more information see: http://www.europe-aliens.org/default.do). Both species eat bird’s eggs and chicks. Not much information was available about invasive plants.

After counting we moved back to our pension for yet another hearty breakfast. Our second encounter with the park was more formal and educational. The education officer provided us with a plethora of information, supported by a slide show whilst sitting between the most amazing photographs of the local wildlife.

The National Park is currently the youngest in the whole of Poland and was founded in 2001, although it has been a reserve since 1977. At the time of writing there are 23 National Parks of which Ujście Warty is ‘only’ of average size with its 8074 hectares. National parks in Poland need state approval and are founded under the responsibility of the ministry of environment. It has a range of designations, of which Ramsar (since 1984) and Natura 2000 (since 2004) are the most familiar.

While Odra Delta Nature Park is partly funded and in other ways supported by organisations from the Netherlands, the Dutch connection is present here also, in the form of polder (see textbox). So much so that the settlers (settlements from 1767 to 1782) were called Olenders, from the word Hollanders which means the Dutch. The park is divided in three major parts, the two flood areas south of the river Warta (Slońsk and Chyrzyno) and the polder to the north of the river. While the semi natural flood land was dry during the visit, there was evidence on the walls of buildings that water levels rise by as much as four meters in spring. The polder to the north of the Warta is regulated by dikes and various pumps. This kind of management is no longer used for agricultural purposes, but largely to create good bird habitat. One of the reasons for the Natura 2000 designations is after all the abundance of, often regionally or internationally, rare birds, related to the EU Birds Directive (would be a SPA, Special Protection Area, in the UK). clip_image020

In the North Polder grazing as well as autumn mowing is used as a management tool to create short grass. Since mowing only takes place in autumn the quality of the hay is low (first and second grass crops are much more nutrient rich but are usually harvested during the breeding season). Much of the hay is sold to the local energy plant, which is partly converted to use bio-fuel. Land is leased out to local farmers to graze their cattle extensively. Since last year any revenue the park makes is allowed to stay in the park.

clip_image022A small patch of woodland, about 1% of the whole area, is located in the North Polder. There is an educational track here. Education is high on the agenda. The education officer (1 of the 25 full time staff) also showed us round the sensory garden.

This garden has high interpretation value for children. There is a track where different textures can be felt by walking over blindfolded (including pinecones), a small garden where different plants provide a range of sensations (touch, smell), a butterfly garden and some puzzles and other activities.

The park has ample features for visitors, including 4 watchtowers and the impressive watchtower that is part of the centre, a viewing platform (which will be submerged during the spring flood), 3 hides, view points, 12 parking areas, 6 education points and dedicated tracks, trails and paths. Events as well as some parties are also part of the agenda. This sort of use comes with familiar problems like littering, dog fouling and vandalism, even while access is only allowed on tracks and roads between sunrise and sunset. Before independence of the USSR the area was still in agricultural use (kolkhoz system). After this agricultural use stopped no management took place and natural succession started to change the landscape. Since the park started managing especially for waders (Birds Directive, Ramsar) succession was stopped and reversed. In order to enhance the water management for flood defence, bird (marsh and water) habitat, invasive species management and extensive agriculture a project has been started with LIFE funding. This project, clip_image024which will run from January 2011 to December 2014, includes a study of the water levels, in order to manage them more effectively, especially in the light of changes as the result of climate change.

More information can be found on: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/life/project/Projects/index.cfm?fuseaction=search.dspPage&n_proj_id=3868

More general tourist, background, historical and biological information can be found on: http://www.pnujsciewarty.gov.pl/118,general-information-about-the-park.html

We would like to thank Kazimierz rabski, Malgorzata Torbe, Libby Urquhart and all the other people who have provided us with a wealth of information and impressions and an unforgettable time in Poland, West Pomeranian Province.

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