Visitor Management in the West Pomaranian region of Poland

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Poland Study Tour 2019

by Matt Dale

I work as a ranger at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park where my job can be best described as ‘helping visitors enjoy the National Park in a safe and responsible way’. This can be done through sharing of information, education and also enforcement through patrolling. My main patrol area is Loch Lomond so I was very keen to visit similar wetland environments in Poland and see how land managers do things there.

It was also a great opportunity to meet a bunch of new people and there were seven of us in total. Although we’re all involved in conservation we have quite different roles including wildlife surveying, wardening, comms and PR, project management and in my case rangering.

We learnt a crazy amount on this tour but I have tried to focus mainly on visitor management and the human interaction with nature whilst also trying to give a bit of background and natural history information about each of the places we visited to give things a bit of context.

We all met up in the heat and claustrophobia of Edinburgh Airport to board a flight to Poznan where we would meet our guide for the week, Kazimierz who would take us on a long drive to the remote village of Namyslin. It was to be an extremely hot week but thankfully not claustrophobic as we’d be visiting the wild lands of West Pomerania and some of the finest natural habitats imaginable.

Day One: Ujscie Warty (Mouth of the Warta River) National Park

The day started with a tasty breakfast of great variety including different kinds of cold meat some cheese and fruit. We all had a good feed as we were not sure of the types and quantities of food that awaited us but as it turned out we would be far from disappointed.

Kazimierz warned us of the forecast for very hot weather so the next step was to apply a generous helping of sun cream and insect repellent for the impending mosquito attacks! There were already a few of them buzzing round outside the hotel so the wetland reserves would surely have a greater number?

Yep, on arrival at the National Park we found many of the bloodthirsty critters waiting for us so we quickly made our way inside for an introductory presentation from Kazimierz. Dr Kazimierz Rabski has been involved in conservation work in Poland for many years and proved to be a great source of information for us during the trip as well as taking us to some of the best eateries.

We quickly learnt that Poland has a great variety and richness of natural habitats spread quite evenly across the country with an abundance of wetland areas in the North West. The main land designations for nature conservation are National Parks, Landscape Parks, Protected Landscapes and Nature Reserves. Many of these areas lie within Natura 2000 designations which total 144 SPA’s (Special Protection Areas) and 835 SAC’s (Special Areas of Conservation). SPA’s are created specifically to protect rare birds and their habitats and most of Poland’s SPA’s can be found in the North West of the country.

Next we met two rangers who took us on a boat tour of some of the Warty river system. The area is a complex system of rivers and drainage channels that have been re-routed and created by humans over many years. Wetlands are the one habitat most heavily damaged by humans in Poland and a lot of work has gone into reversing some of the damage by using machines and sluice gates to help create more natural habitats for the wildlife. This work has in effect replicated the work Beavers would do to help create habitat diversity. C:\Users\Matt\AppData\Local\Packages\Microsoft.MicrosoftEdge_8wekyb3d8bbwe\TempState\Downloads\IMG_3109 (1).JPG

The rangers explained that due to abnormally dry conditions and low water levels the breeding birds hadn’t been doing so well because the feeding wasn’t as good as usual and the predators had been able to get at them more easily. I was still amazed at the number and variety of birds I saw in a very short space of time, many species I had never seen before including numerous White Tailed Eagles and the very impressive Black Terns hunting over the lily pads.

My work at Loch Lomond largely involves managing visitor impacts on the wetland area so I was keen to learn about the human interaction within the Warty National Park. I learnt that the area has been heavily influenced by humans over many years with early settlers finding the wetlands a vital source of food, transportation and protection from enemies. The grasslands provide excellent grazing for cattle that in turn prevent the encroachment of scrub species like willow that could quickly become established and dry out the bog. Allowing farmers to graze the Park is not only favourable for the management of the wetland but also helps support this rural economy.

A negative human influence is the introduction through fur farms of the invasive Mink and Racoon. Over time these species have escaped from the farms and adapted very successfully to their surroundings, heavily predating the bird populations. Efforts have been made to control these invasive species but the rangers indicated that due to a lack of resources the Park are unable to control them as well as they feel necessary.

I found the interpretative information provided to us by Park staff was of a very high quality and much of it was in English including a very informative and inspiring film about the birdlife of the Warty Park. A combined map and leaflet contained all of the relevant information needed to enjoy a good day out in the park detailing the provision of nature trails, roadways, parking and a variety of bird hides and viewing towers for bird watchers. Large parts of the Park are out of bounds but the towers really open up the landscape to vistors with good optical equipment. Recreational boating is not permitted on the Warty system but there are high numbers of fisherman that seek access to the river banks. Park staff estimate that most of the 50 to 80,000 visitors a year are people using the designated fishing permit areas.

I asked the rangers if they encounter many problems regarding public access and the main issue for them is people fishing in the wrong areas or without permits. This has an impact on their other duties as they often have to drop everything to go and deal with these visitor pressures.

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Commercial Pine woodland with high nature value covering much of the region.

Day 2: Landscape Parks of the Pomorskie Region

Insko Landscape Park

Katarina and Igor work for the local authority as part of a team of ten staff caring for the Landscape Parks of the region and spent the next two days showing us around their patch. The local authority provide only 15% of the total funding for the areas conservation so staff have to apply for the rest which comes from Europe. We were provided with a tourist map of the area showing the boundaries of the park and its Natura 2000 designated areas. I found the map clear and easy to use with just the right amount of information. Roads, car parks and a good provision of walking and cyling trails are clearly marked and identified in the key which is in Polish, German and English.

Our first stop was the small and attractive lakeside town of Insko which despite it’s idylic setting and famous film festival has struggled to attract tourists and benefit from this source of income. The team have done a lot of work in recent years to improve visitor facilities whilst protecting the special qualities of the Insko Landscape Park. The first step in this process was to conduct a public consultation where local groups could suggest improvements to the area.

We continued our shoreline walk past very impressive statues of ancient wildlife and interpretation describing the natural history of the area then eventually arrived at the centre peice of the new developments, a very substantial observation tower complete with stairs and a lift. The tower was a popular suggestion from the local consultation and provides an impressive centre peice with great views of the area. Because funding is so limited the local authority has agreements set up with local groups like the community council for example for the maintenance of facilities and emptying of bins. This help gives the community a bit of ownership of the area and input into the ongoing wellbeing of it.

I was very impressed with the balance here between nature conservation and the promotion of tourism for the education of visitors and economic benefit of Insko. Protection of the habitats is obviously top priority with strict rules displayed at the entrance to the park and very tight regulation regarding access to the lake. Forbidden activities include drinking, barbecues, fires, smoking, dog walking (not even on a lead) littering and motorbiking. There were very few signs of any negative visitor impacts other than the odd bit of litter here and there.

Katarina seemed very positive for the future and described how local people really love the wildlife of the area especially the impressive White Tailed Eagles and are beginning to see the benefit of such species for wildlife tourism. I was starting to get the impression that the Polish communities really have a great respect for the natural world around them and the rules put in place to protect it.

Szczecinski Landscape Park

After about an hours drive west of Insko we arrived at the outskirts of the city of Szczecinski to have a look at its landscape park. As we approached the park it became apparent that the area is hillyer and more forested than the Insko Park which is lower lying with more bogs and lakes. A number of minor roads pass through the forest allowing visitors access to many roadside picnick and barbecue facilities where there’s also interpretation detailing the access rules and some history of the area. We stopped at one of these sites where we were provided with another map and we had a discussion about the area.

The area has beeen shaped majorly over time by human activity with Cistercean monks being very active during medieaval times when they introduced new technologies and livestock. They began the careful management of the forest which includes large amounts of native beech woodland. The local authority work closely with the forestry department in the sensitive and sustainable management of the woodland. The park is a great exampleof how a forest can be managed not just for nature but also to benefit the local timber industry and recreational needs.

The really amazing thing about this park is how the forest butts right up against heavily populated urban areas of the city. I can’t think of anywhere in Scotland where this is the case. One second you’re in thick beach forest with Natura SPA protection and the next you’re straight into a busy urban area.

This close proximity to a major population means a high demand for recreational infrastructure in the form of walking and biking trails of which there are a great many especially in areas close to the city limits. There are many miles of these trails and they are colour graded depending on their level of difficulty. I asked if they experienced many problems with visitors to the forest but there was little evidence of any save the odd bit of litter. The local authority sometimes receive concerned calls from locals when tree felling is underway so have to reasure them that the work is part of a sustainable management agreement.

Day 3

Czajcza Lake

After a short drive from our accommodation in Namyslin we arrived at a small man-made lake by the shores of the Odra River. The lake was specifically created to encourage nesting wetland birds to the area and has been carefully managed for this purpose. Several floating platforms provide nest sites for up to 200 Little Terns and numerous other wetland bird species. The reserve has been created by local conservationists with the assistance of European funding and is managed jointly by the local authority and community council.

I found the visitor facilities to be simple but effective. There’s no visitor centre but the information boards present interesting material in three languages including English and a simple wooden shelter provided us with shade from the hot sun. There are plans to develop the visitor infrastructure over time with the installation of bird hides. This is the most important site in Poland for breeding terns so I found it quite strange that we were the only people here enjoying the spectacle.

Talking with our guides gave us a bit of insight into the promotion of tourism in the region and they felt that it was something that could be improved upon across Poland as a whole. We were not yet into the main tourist season but the region felt very quiet especially considering the amazing weather. It could just be that people were staying indoors because it was incredibly hot reaching mid 30’s each day we were there. I actually loved the quiet wild feel and couldn’t help comparing it to central Scotland and the Highlands which can become extremely overcrowded in certain areas, we also saw very little of the road congestion and overcrowding of some places back home.

It seems that the main way conservation organisations in Poland reach out to their visitors is through the provision of maps. The local authority recently launched an initiative where you would get a free map in your local newspaper enabling residents of the region to collect the whole series. This proved very popular and the authority were inundated with requests from people who had maybe missed out on a map and needed a copy. I guess this is a pretty good way of promoting nature tourism to a local population and after all who doesn’t love a good map?

Moryn

This town had a very similar feel to Insko with it’s idylic chilled out lakeside setting and we took a short walk around a bay past sandy beaches which were surprisingly empty considering the time of year and hot weather. I couldn’t help comparing it to Loch Lomond and imagining how busy it would be there in similar conditions and the challenges me and my colleagues would face in dealing with the huge influx of visitors. We passed reed beds full of bird song and small pontoons installed for accessing the water by canoe and pedalo. Access to the water is strictly regulated here so it would not be possible to just turn up and launch a private craft of any type. A very small number of canoes and pedalos are available for hire and a local business has recently been granted a license to operate two electric tour boats.

At the height of summer most visitors to the landscape parks are coming to beaches like these which can get quite busy so there’s a desire to promote other areas for recreation to reduce overcrowding.

We learned that in recent years a lot of Poles like to spend their spare time shopping as more items become available following their membership of the EU but there are signs that people may be starting to develop more of an interest for the outdoors. Cycling is definitely becoming more popular and the landscape characteristics certainly encourage this. The region could be best described as gently undulating with a plethora of quiet country roads, forest tracks and waymarked cycling routes. Being a keen mountain biker I was always on the lookout for more technical trails which there didn’t seem to be many of but there’s certainly great potential in the area for further development of cycling which as we’ve seen in Scotland can hugely benefit the sustainablity of rural communities for the cash injection it brings.

Gozdowice

Things now got more remote as our scenic drive continued along meandering country roads through seemingly endless forests and low undulating hills of glacial deposits, until we arrived at an eirie hilltop looking out across the Odra River. This is the site of one of the most bloody and brutal battles of the Second World War where Russian Forces eventually succeeded in pushing the German army back across the Odra River in their race towards Berlin.

The region of West Pomorania had for many years been part of Germany but after the war everything east of the Odra became Polish soil. Any remaining German citizens were forced to move west across the border and the region was re-populated with people from other parts of Poland, many of whom were forceably relocated town by town to their new homes. Our guides explained to us how this region is still developing its identity and economy following these huge changes all those years ago.

From our vantage point we could see that the German side of the border is more intensively managed with straight hedges, farmland and windfarms whilst the Polish, Cedynski Park side of the Odra has more natural wetland areas and woodland. I felt that this would be a really nice place to visit as a tourist with it’s fine views, forests, nature reserves and traditional food.

One of the highlights of the tour was definitely the food and we were treated to a meal of Polish dumplings in the tiny village of Stare Lysogorki. Despite the restaurants widespread reputation and popularity it didn’t feel overly developed or modernised. Like other places we had visited it almost felt like you were in someones house and we were served by the elderly proprietor who cooked dumplings the traditional way over an open fire out the back. I couldn’t help feel that a similar village in the highlands would be marred in some way by at least a little bit of tartan tat here and there.

After visiting a couple of small reserves with more good views across the river we arrived at the site of an old military bridge which has been closed for many years. Soon this bridge will carry a long distance cycle path across the Odra River into Germany and beyond. It will link up many miles of different cycle routes including an epic route that comes all the way up through Western Poland from the Czech Republic. The project is especially exciting because there are plans to install observation points on the bridge looking out across the extensive wetlands which are home to many special birds species including the European Eagle owl. This part of Poland is visited frequently by German citizens due to the cheap merchandise so this bridge has huge potential for both cycling and wildlife tourism.

Day 4 The City of Szczecin

I was really excited to be visiting this city as we had been told earlier in the week that it’s often possible to see White Tailed Eagles from the city centre. It’s an industrial city in the North West but has a Natura 2000 designated coastal lagoon island complex right on its doorstep which we would soon be navigating through by boat. Our first stop would be the Landscape Park Headquarters where we would meet again with Igor and Katarina for refreshments and a presentation. Once again we were to be blown away by Polish hospitality as we were served high quality coffee and different kinds of traditional Polish cakes.

The city feels quite busy and compact and it was only a short walk through the centre to the riverside. Much of the city was destroyed in the Second World War but many buildings were restored and some old ones survived too so it’s quite picturesque. The riverside area was a very nice place to be with preparations for the local ‘festival of the sea’ well under way. Market stalls were being set up and ancient ‘tall ship’ sailing craft were gathering. We stopped at one of the many riverside restaurants for pizza before embarking on a boat tour around some of the islands.

This part of the study tour was particularly interesting to me as it was an area similar to where I work at Loch Lomond. It’s a huge wetland of high nature value close to a large human population so I was keen to learn as much about it as possible and learn how visitor management works in the area. The river seemed very busy with quite a few tour boats, private pleasure craft, commercial and military ships coming and going and a large replica pirate ship appeared to be one of the more popular craft offering tours of the area.

Our tour boat was to be far smaller and looked a bit like an oversized pedalo but was actually very practical for the area we were visiting. It was another extremely hot day so the potential to get out on the water and find a bit of a breeze was very appealing. We set off along the river in a northerly direction passing heavily industrialised docks with ships loading and unloading materials. We started to see White Tailed Eagles almost immediately circling high overhead on thermals and then we saw one really close up perched in a tree with its tongue hanging out. They do this when it’s really hot to try and stay cool. We also saw beaver activity right here at the entrance to the city where they had constructed a large dam across a small channel between islands.

Igor accompanied us on this trip so I took the opportunity to ask him some questions about the management of the waterways particularly in regards to pleasure craft. Recreational boating has become far more poplar since the end of Soviet rule as people have more freedom to launch boats into the water now and possibly a bit more disposable income as the area benefits from EU membership. Most pleasure craft appeared to be motor cruisers but jet skiing is becoming more popular and we also saw a caravan on a small boat which was quite an interesting set up.

At Loch Lomond all motorised craft must register with the National Park, display registration plates and adhere to byelaws which the ranger service enforce. Here on the Odra there is no such process or ranger service carrying out enforcement or education. There is a speed limit on the river and enforcement falls to the police, border guard and harbour master. There were no obvious signs of conflict between river users but we were told that there are sometimes problems with speeding, especially with the jet skis. The islands are made up of sand, mud and clay so are vulnerable to erosion from large waves so it’s important for the conservation of the area for craft to keep their speed down.

There are 27 islands in this coastal lagoon, the biggest one being 800 hectares and we were soon navigating our way along a small channel between some of them. The main habitat on the islands is Riparian Woodland and visitors are not permitted to land on and explore the fragile habitats which are home to nesting White Tailed Eagles and many other species sensitive to human disturbance. It was interesting to hear that very little is known about these islands and their wildlife and they don’t even have a management plan for them yet. When Poland joined the EU many of the Natura sites were hurriedly designated to meet the deadline so there is still work to be done with management and alterations to boundary locations.

In one of the channels we stopped off at a small wooden platform installed by the local authority for use by the boating public. These platforms have a pontoon, a chemical toilet and picnic benches complete with barbecue plate and allow visitors to enjoy the island setting in a responsible way without causing damage to the environment. The hundreds of noisy frogs lurking in amongst the lily pads didn’t seem to be upset by our presence in the least. These platforms are quite a new addition to the area and the authority plan to build seven of them in total. C:\Users\Matt\AppData\Local\Packages\Microsoft.MicrosoftEdge_8wekyb3d8bbwe\TempState\Downloads\IMG_3199 (1).JPG

Approaching one of the new visitor platforms.

There was little evidence of any major conflicts between users of the waterway and nature conservation. We were told that the litter problem used to be worse but with education things have improved a lot. As with most places we visited during the week there seemed to be a healthy respect given to the environment by those seeking relaxation in it.

Day 5 Odra Delta Nature Park

Today was quite special as Kasimierz was guiding us around the Odra Delta Nature Park which he was instrumental in the creating in 2005. The park lies on the eastern shore of the Odra delta and we approached along country roads through pine forests growing on a 6,000 year old sand dune system. This really gave us an idea of the extent of sand deposition in the area over the years as we were around 20km from the coast.

Although the park is Natura 2000 designated it is neither a Landscape Park or a National Park so doesn’t have access to government money meaning applications for European funding have to be made. The park is 4,000 hectares in size, 2,600 hectares is water, 400 forestry and the rest is post glacial peat bog. The area was part of a state managed farm after the war but such management became unprofitable and eventually obsolete with the end of Soviet rule.

We were met by a local guide and began a long walk through the park. The visitor facilities here are quite basic with just a few signs offering access advice and information. The park is grazed by herds of semi wild horses and cattle and signage warned the motorist about potential damage to vehicles by the curious animals. There are also signs with information about the management of the park and wildlife in the area. There were no toilets and no bins and we didn’t see any litter.

A track runs the length of the park and is a great place to observe the wildlife in the surrounding wetland. I had never seen a yellow wagtail before I came to Poland but here they were everywhere along with many other passerine species. In the springtime the area is extremely important breeding ground for wetland birds and rarities such as Ruff can be seen in this very undisturbed pristine habitat. The wetland is also an important feeding zone for birds passing through during Spring and Autumn migration The surrounding forests are home to a pack of at least twelve wolves that venture out onto the wetland to hunt mainly boar and beaver and deer. The horses and cattle prove way to big for the wolves and also have the benefit of safety in numbers.

I feel that this reserve is a great example of a healthy relationship between people and nature. Local graziers can generate income from the cattle and horses which are of a species and grazing style that helps create diversity to the grassland habitat and improve it for wildlife. The local community is very much involved in the management of the park with regular patrols and maintenance taking place and everyone getting together to round up and inspect the animals each year. I felt like we were observing an ancient way of life and land management that’s sustainable for local communities and the environment.

The potential for education and visitor experience here is massive and there are plans to try and get funding for at least one observation tower and better shelters and signage. I think it would be a great place to bring groups of students to see how sustainable management of a habitat can help the environment. The park is a great example of a peat bog that traps excess carbon from the atmosphere and promotes native wildlife to acheive a better balance in nature and also encourages tourism. The local village here was deserted for a long time so a well managed increase in visitor numbers could really help the local economy improve. An interesting cultural story could also be told about how people used to live and work the land and during our walk we were taken through the ruins of an old village that had been thriving before the war.

Bird watching is a massive hobby worldwide so if parks like this could become part of some kind of ‘birders trail’ it could be great for education and rural economy over a larger area. The park also has a long distance cycle way running along its western edge so this environmentally friendly health giving mode of transport could be promoted as the main method of access to the area. We walked a good length of the cycle path and didn’t see any signage aimed at educating cyclists about the area or any kind of benches or picnic sites to encourage them to stop and take in their surroundings. C:\Users\Matt\AppData\Local\Packages\Microsoft.MicrosoftEdge_8wekyb3d8bbwe\TempState\Downloads\IMG_3225 (1).JPG

Walking the cycle path through the Nature Park.

Day 6

This was quite a varied day with visits to a variety of different sites of both cultural and natural importance. Our first visit of the day was to a reconstructed Viking village by the Odra river and there were quite a few visitors there considering it was not peak tourist season. We learnt how the area was an extremely large and important Viking settlement and the reconstruction resembles just a tiny fraction of what would have been here originally. This was further evidence of the historical importance of the Odra River as a source of food, trade, transportation and governance over an area.

Next we visited a newly established salt marsh reserve where land managers were working closely with locals to care for the area in a sensitive and sustainable way. The reeds growing in the area are of exceptional quality for thatching work and a local farmer is allowed to harvest some on a rotation that provides him with income and creates favourable diversity within the habitat for wildlife. Another local farmer grazes the reserve with cattle which help scarify the soil for greater biodiversity.

There aren’t really any visitor facilities at this site apart from the usual signage about Natura 2000 rules and regulations. Like with other reserves there are hopes that money can be found to install better facilities and an observation tower. There have been some problems with people visiting and camping and some vandalism so better signage and education may help with this issue.

For our lunch stop we visited a popular tourist viewpoint looking out across the Odra Delta towards the Baltic Sea. Again the food was very good and I sampled the local Whitefish which had a lovely fresh and delicate flavour. Earlier in the week I had tried Zander fish which had a much stronger muddier flavour but was also very nice. This small tourist spot ticked all the boxes really and I picked up a couple of souvenir fridge magnets at one of the small kiosks. I liked how the facilities and set up here were low key and tasteful as spots like this can easily become over developed and crowded.

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The viewpoint and cafe at Grodzisko W Lubinie with Odra Delta and Baltic Sea in the background

As we moved further north along the coast past some popular beaches we started to see a much greater concentration of tourists. The sandy beaches of the Baltic coastline are very beautiful and a big pull for tourists especially those from Germany looking for a cheaper holiday. It’s estimated that 1.5 million tourists visit the beaches in this small area each year. Everything is generally cheaper in Poland than in Germany so there are many visitors along the border here.

Large numbers of visitors can cause erosion problems within the fragile sand dune habitats so fences have been erected to deter people from trampling the vegetation. One of the most successful methods of deterring people from the dunes has been the installation of signage warning about the dangers of ticks with a large picture of the insects apparently doing the job!

We finally arrived at our accommodation for the evening which was fairly basic but very comfortable and probably a bit cooler than other places we had stayed. These small crumbling chalets in the coastal town of Wolinsky looked like they had been there for a very long time. Maybe they had been part of some kind of Soviet variation on Butlins?

An evening stroll around Wolinsky revealed that Polish seaside resorts are very much like British ones complete with amusement arcades and all kinds random outlets selling pretty much everything you can think of. There’s also quite a variety of restaurants and kiosks selling traditional Polish sweets and cakes and a long pier where German foot passengers were catching a ferry home at the end of their day trip.

Day 7: Wolinsky National Park and Journey Home

This National Park on the outskirts of Wolinsky was created in 1960 and is 4,600 hectares in size. It’s a coastal National Park and is comprised almost exclusively of wetland and woodland habitats including 22 coastal islands. It’s Poland’s first coastal park and is focussed on not just the protection and enhancement of it’s ecosystems but also the education of locals and tourists.

There are lots of opportunities for visitor enjoyment here with over 51km of way marked tourist trails catering for walkers and cyclists. There are 3 coastal viewpoints an impressive natural history museum and even a bison viewing area. The European Bison are used for the grazing of grassland and are very popular with tourists. There’s also a massive European Eagle Owl reintroduction project which attracts great interest from the visitors and rangers conduct night time ‘owl listening walks’.

The park has a dedicated education team which primarily focuses on school groups both within and without the area. The idea is to try and inspire people at an early age to safeguard the future of the park and wider nature conservation. Rangers run a range of activities including camp fire events, camp crafts and an owl viewing session which alone attracted over 600 visitors last year. Although a lot of outreach education is done in the schools the aim is also to create an outdoor classroom with these events. ‘Pop up’ events often take place on the beaches where tourists can visit the ranger tent and learn about nature and responsible enjoyment of it.

There are as many as 1.5 million visitors each year which is very high for a Polish National Park. 80% of all visits take place from June to August which directly correlates with the busy months on the beaches and within the town of Wolinsky. This park is very comparable to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs in the number of visitors and the types of issues faced in managing such an influx of seasonal foot fall.

One of the main problems is trampling and erosion caused to dunes and other fragile sandy soils by people straying from paths and tracks. Off-road motor biking and quad biking have also been known to cause significant damage if done in the wrong place. Small fires and barbecues are permitted in designated areas but there have been problems with people having them in sensitive areas and posing a huge danger to the woodlands especially at times of high fire risk. Because there are so many visitors there are regular occurrences of dogs running free and worrying the wildlife. Like in almost every other place we visited dogs must be on a lead here and it’s one of the strict Natura 2000 rules. There’s also a growing popularity for motorised water sports in the lagoon giving rise to more incidences of speeding and reckless navigation.

The park’s main aim is to reintroduce the natural forests and protect the wetland habitats so the irresponsible behaviour of many visitors is seen as a big threat to this. Ranger patrols are on hand to deal with visitor issues and always take the approach of educating first but they do have powers to issues fines and report people to the courts if necessary. Sometimes assistance is required from the police and border guards but this is not often.

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Looking North out to the Baltic Sea.

After our visit to the Wolinsky National Park we had a final meal before Kazimierz drove us to the airport in Poznan where we took the opportunity to spend our spare cash on a variety of duty free items.

Summary of the tour

I really enjoyed the week and leant so much not just about Nature Conservation in Poland but also about their culture. It was great to experience all of these things with a really nice chilled out bunch of like minded individuals who I also learnt a lot from. Our guides were all absolutely excellent and couldn’t do enough to help us learn about and enjoy their country. One of the things I appreciated the most was the opportunity to sample a lot of the delicious local food not just have hotel food which can sometimes be the case on a tour.

I found myself making a lot of comparisons between nature conservation in Poland and Scotland and how things could be done better in both locations. I spent much of the tour being massively impressed at the variety of biodiversity and wondering how we could have the same. West Pomerania is a region where species like White Tailed Eagle, Beaver, Wolves and many others are not just surviving but are really common as are the habitats on which they depend. This was amazing to see but it should really be the norm everywhere especially if we’re to tackle the major environmental issues facing us. It is no coincidence that this region is one of nine locations across Europe designated for ‘rewilding’, none of those locations is within the UK, we don’t even come close.

What I like about Nature Conservation in Poland is that there is a huge priority for the protection of wildlife and habitats. The Natura designated areas are massive and bring with them a high level of protection and rules on what people can and can’t do. I also got the impression that there’s a culture of respecting such rules and I didn’t see much evidence of negative impacts on the environment by the visitor despite asking about it quite a few times. Out with the Natura areas people have similar land access freedoms to those we have in Scotland which on the whole seem to be exercised responsibly.

In Scotland we have far fewer Natura protected areas and a long term culture and right to roam. The visitor can go pretty much anywhere within reason which creates amazing opportunity for recreation and learning but can also give rise to great conflict with nature. In my opinion Poland has a better balance when it comes to the protection of sensitive areas. They have large highly protected Natura 2000 zones and plenty of other less heavily protected wild places for people to explore. I think if we had done a better job historically of caring for our habitats and wildlife we would have a similar situation with much larger areas in need of protection due to their biodiversity. Maybe in the future we will have National Parks full of natural forests, wolves, wildcats and all the other wildlife we’d like to see return?

I felt that in Poland they almost have too much nature than they can deal with! Some of the Natura 2000 sites were hurriedly designated when Poland joined Europe and don’t even have management plans in place for them yet. Land Managers were aware of their importance and had to meet the deadline for designating the areas. It was obvious that the Poles are as passionate about nature and wild places as we are and that there’s a vast wealth of enthusiasm there that can be tapped in to. Everywhere we went land managers wanted to do more with visitors to enhance nature conservation but felt restricted by a lack of funding.

In Scotland we have some very long running conservation organisations like RSPB and the National Trust who have been honing conservation and public interaction methods for a great many years, utilizing volunteer work forces and offering a variety of learning opportunities to visitors. Land managers in Poland feel that they are still going through a period of adaptation following major political change and are looking at various ways of approaching conservation and involving people more. For example some of our guides were very interested to hear how we use volunteers a lot in our work as this is a concept fairly alien to them.

I think the future for nature conservation and public interaction in Poland is certainly extremely bright. There are lots of plans to enhance visitor infrastructure and I’m sure conservationists will continue to prioritise the protection of the special places people come to enjoy.

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