Learning & Thoughts – Poland 2017

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Learning & thoughts from an ARCH developed study tour to Poland hosted by Society for the Coast (EUCC), 24th to 31st July 2017

Report Authors

Kate Fuller, IFLI Community Engagement Officer, RSPB

Paula Baker, Site Manager Loch Lomond, RSPB

Fiona Stewart, Natural Heritage Planning Officer, Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park

Catherine Owen Pam, Assistant Warden Insh Marshes, RSPB

Deborah Spray, Operations Officer, SNH

Timothy Lill, Assistant Warden Orkney Reserves, RSPB

Claire Masson, Operations Officer, SNH

David Andrews, Warden Isle of Coll, RSPB



During July 2017 eight staff members from natural heritage organisations in Scotland participated in a one week study tour focusing on the final 150km of the Odra valley and floodplain in West Pomerania, Poland. This was funded by the Erasmus+ European Union programme and organised by ARCH. The host organisation was EUCC (European Union for Coastal Conservation) Poland.

This report aims to highlight some of the practises and projects studied during the tour. It will also note the contrasts between the situations we observed in West Pomerania and those we work with within Scotland. The history of this part of Poland, little known about beforehand by most of the group, plays a large part in the explanation of the current set up and a visit to a branch of the National Museum in Szczecin – The Dialogue Centre “Upheavals” proved very informative and is recommended.

Historical Context for Nature Conservation in West Pomerania

Paula Baker, Cat Owen-Pam, Fiona Stewart

The history and culture of Poland is of great significance when considering not only nature conservation in Poland, but also how the population perceives their valuable natural assets. Our study visit concentrated on the region of West Pomerania. This area was not part of Poland until after World War II, at which point 90% of the region was a waste ground, destroyed by bombing and border disputes. Post WWII, the remaining German inhabitants of this area were forcibly removed and the area was populated by other displaced refugees from Europe. The resulting population which gradually settled here after the war originated from various parts of Poland and minorities and exiles from countries such as Belarus, Lithuania and Greece.

The importance of this cannot be emphasised strongly enough, and, as professionals in the field, it is easy to see stark differences in how our relationships with the land have developed and how our attitude may differ in terms of visiting wild areas. In the UK, much of our connection to the natural world links back to the Victorian obsession with collection and recording of wildlife specimens, we think of the land that surrounds us as belonging to us and strongly believe we have the right to access the countryside, and do so for pleasure. In Poland, the connection to the land was broken for a significant period of time and in those areas that were protected for nature, many still view this with post-communist emotion i.e. that these areas are not permitted for activity. The collection and appreciation of nature has taken place much more recently, as demonstrated in the Wolinski National Park museum.

Figure 1: Displays at the Wolinski National Park visitor centre

It is also easy to see how one might have absolutely no desire to protect or visit an area that you have been forcibly moved to and made to manage, often with no previous experience of land management. An example of this in Poland is the practice of “kolkhoz”, which was “a form of collective farm practice enforced under the adoption of a communist regime in Poland. Kolkhozes existed along with state farms, and were intended to be a socialist, collective and voluntary practice, with operation control maintained by the state. When the practice of “kolkhoz” ended, much of the land was abandoned, as none who worked it had the historical connection or desire to maintain a practice which had been enforced by the state. Where farmers in Scotland are proud to own farms that have been in the family for many generations, and feel connected to the wildlife and wider countryside, in Poland the post-communist desire has been for development, progress, freedom and consumerism. As a result of this people tend to visit the cities and towns to shop as recreation rather than visiting the Landscape Parks and volunteers to help with conservation are thin on the ground. This abandonment of land has lead to some remarkable landscapes, filled with wildflowers, woodlands and wetland, but with a great deal fewer people who either desire to access it or to protect it. However, as was often demonstrated to us during our brief stay, the passion, commitment and knowledge of those few who are tasked with protecting the flora and fauna of Poland is hard to rival, and many in-roads are now being made towards encouraging visitors into protected areas as well as promoting the work of the bodies.

The history of Poland – from the beginning of WW II

1939 – Germany invades Poland signalling the beginning of World War II. The Soviet Union invades Poland from the east. Poland is forcibly divided between them. Polish citizens are treated brutality and Nazi Germany persecutes the Jewish population.

1945 – The Soviet Union drive out the German army from Poland. World War II is over; in a post war agreement Poland’s border is moved. Poland loses ground in the east to the Soviet Union and gains ground in the west from Germany.

Map showing how the Polish border has changed.


1947 – Soviet run elections inspire Poland to become a communist state.

 1970 – Rising public unrest over demands for greater freedom results in food price riots in Gdansk. Hundreds are killed as the protests are suppressed.

1970’s – Financial borrowing from western countries encourages relative economic prosperity and social calm in Poland.

 1980’s – Polish debt begins to rise, food supplies run short and the public queue for food, an anti-communist movement mounts. The public unrest is typified by the disturbances at shipyards in Szczecin and Gdansk which lead to the creation of the Solidarity trade union. Martial law in imposed from 1981 – 83.

1989 – Inspired by talks between Solidarity, the Communists and the Catholic Church communism falls in Poland. Elections see the first non-communist prime minister since 1949.

1999 – Poland joins NATO

2004 – Poland joins the EU



Visitor Experience & Tourism in the National Parks & Landscape Parks of West Pomerania, Poland

Kate Fuller & Paula Baker

An Overview of National Parks & Landscape Parks in Poland

The formation of National Parks in Poland can be seen as starting in 1921 with the establishment of a ‘Forest Reserve Inspectorate’ in Bialowieza on today’s Eastern border with Belarus. But the first National Parks were not established by the state until 1932 with the creation of Pieniny National Park in Southern Poland and Bialowieza National Park in the East. These decisions by the National Council for Nature Conservation follow in a long-lasting tradition of Polish rulers protecting species and habitats, or, perhaps a long-understood acknowledgement that the natural world and its resources have multiple values. Historically, beaver were protected as their tails were used as a method of payment; yew conserved as the wood was used for archery in the 13th and 14th centuries; and bison and aurochs protected to benefit hunting estates, as can be seen with deer in the UK. In 1949, following World War Two, the 1930’s laws governing nature conservation were revised to encompass nature reserves and species protection. During the 1970s and 1980’s under communism, Landscape Parks and areas of landscape conservation were developed. These newly defined areas were designed to give locations where people could relax.

Since Poland’s accession to the European Union in 2004, national regulations have been updated to meet the Habitats Directive and Birds Directive and protected sites have been designated in line with Natura 2000 principles, “to provide an EU network of nature conservation sites for the 21st century and beyond”. Figures for SPA and SAC coverage of Poland were provided during the Nature Exchange as 15.6% and 11% of the country (table 1). Within the UK, the most recently published documents state that at 30 June 2017, 27.4 million hectares of land and sea are protected through national and international protected areas, and through wider landscape designations. This is through 658 designated SAC’s, SCI’s or cSACs and 271 SPA’s.

Number Approx Area Covered As a % of Poland
Special Protection Areas (SPA) 145 55,000km2 15.6%
Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) 848 38,000km2 11%

Today Poland has designated twenty three National Parks, covering around 3,167.48km2 which are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Environment. Nine are in mountainous areas such as the Carpathian mountains; ten are lowland parks such as woodlands, wetlands and peatlands; two highland parks; two coastal parks, one of which includes the largest dune area in the EU. National Parks benefit from the highest level of protection, with no development allowed. Polish law excludes the main mission of National Parks but explains that they should undertake nature conservation activities, adopt a conservation plan and provide educational aspects. Each National Park is managed by the State and most areas within the parks also belong to the State, quite a different scenario to National Parks in a UK context. Management of National Parks is state funded. During our Nature Exchange trip were were fortunate to visit two quite different National Parks within the West Pomeranian region : Wolinski National Park and Warta Mouth National Park.

Public access to National Parks and the experience of nature and conservation that visitors have in these areas differs from site to site. As reported widely during our trip, and also to prospective visitors via the official Polish Tourism website, “The main task of a National Park is to study and preserve the unity of natural systems of the protected area as well as to restore the disturbed or extinct elements of its native environment. The Park should be open to visitors but nature conservation is its main objective and has priority over all other activities.” Whilst the public do not have access to all lands and watercourses within National Parks, they do have rights in areas zoned for ‘activity’ – something which may not be widely understood within some sectors of society who remember a previous time when access was far more restricted.

Another tier of nature protection within Poland is that of Landscape Parks. These sites are created at a provincial level by the local voivodeship through consultation with relevant commune/municipality (gmina). As with National Parks, their definition is outlined in the 2004 Act on Protection of Nature, and this document sets out their core purpose to conserve and popularize natural, historical, cultural and scenic values in conditions of balanced development. There are 122 Landscape Parks within Poland covering an area of 24,820ha, or approximately 8% of the country. Land within these areas has mixed ownership, and Parks or groupings of Parks have small staff teams. During our Nature Exchange trip we met with Dorota Janicka, the Director of West Pomerania Region Landscape Parks and she alongside her colleagues Igor Szakowski and Karolina Bloom provided very insightful visits to three Landscape Parks within their administration. Many areas within Landscape Parks are privately owned, a key difference to National Parks where land is state owned. Activity within Landscape Parks is often focused on large projects, whether visitor or conservation focused, as this can bring in external funding for staff, land management and infrastructure.

In summary, Poland’s West Pomeranian region provides an example of the interplay between landscape, nature and ecological conservation and protection practises within the country. It holds two National Parks, six Landscape Parks, 118 Nature Reserves, 2,900 Natural Monuments and 1,361 protected ecological areas. Under Natura 2000, 21 sites are designated as SPA’s and 64 as SAC’s. The EUCC hosted Nature Exchange provided an opportunity to experience both National and Landscape Parks in this border region with Germany, an area that can be considered both as one of the wildest in Poland and as one with complex and turbulent layers of cultural history brought about by border politics, war and forced movement of peoples. An appreciation of more recent histories provides context for today’s land use and links, where they remain, to this land.

NGO’s & Visitor Experience

Non-Governmental Organisation leadership of environmental conservation projects and visitor engagement in the natural world are commonplace within Scotland and the wider UK, however this is somewhat different within Poland, perhaps for 20th century political reasons. After World War Two, the communist regime exercised strict controls over the state and many voluntary organisations that existed previously were dissolved, with property confiscated and nationalised. Any volunteer type organisations that remained were required to support the objectives of the state.

Non-Governmental Organisation leadership of environmental conservation projects and visitor engagement in the natural world are commonplace within Scotland and the wider UK, however this is somewhat different within Poland, perhaps for 20th century political reasons. After World War Two, the communist regime exercised strict controls over the state and many voluntary organisations that existed previously were dissolved, with property confiscated and nationalised. Any volunteer type organisations that remained were required to support the objectives of the state.

During our Nature Exchange trip, our EUCC host estimated that at present around five NGO’s within Poland owned land and practised nature conservation. He suggested there were around 800 registered organisations in Poland that had a focus on ecology and conservation, with the majority focusing on campaigning and educational activities. A 2006 Convention on Biological Diversity report outlined the importance of NGO’s for developing ecological awareness within Polish Society. Whilst I am unaware whether we had direct contact with members or projects of any of the following whilst in Western Pomerania, the following organisations were stated by the CBD as having great significance: “Liga Ochrony Przyrody (the League for Nature Conservation) is the biggest and the oldest of them, acting for more than eighty years….the Polish Ecological Club (PKE), the Polish Society for the Protection of Birds (OTOP), the Polish Society for the Protection of Birds (PTOP), the Polish Society of Wildlife Friends Pro Natura, the Workshop for all Beings, the Polish Society for Nature Protection Salamandra (Salamander), the National Foundation for Environmental Protection, the Club of Naturalists, the Society for Nature Wilk (Wolf), the Wildlife Society Bocian (Stork)…”

A number of sites we visited during the Nature Exchange had benefited from focused activity led by NGO’s which had taken practical conservation and visitor engagement or education hand-in-hand. Society for the Coast (EUCC) was a prime example, where wetland conservation practise was complemented by visitor facilities at the Odra Delta Nature Park in Stepnica gminy. The site entrance provided a suite of interpretation panels allowing the unaccompanied visitor to gain deeper understanding of the species and management of the Park, and a viewing structure enabled an elevated view over the site. A guidebook, very similar to those found at many UK large nature reserves with popular visitor facilities, provides more in-depth reading and enables the visitor to continue their experience at home.

Actions undertaken to benefit the natural value of protected areas and enhance visitor experience were seen on a guided visit to a series of pools close to the River Odra. These pools were created when local small industry carried out gravel extraction and are adjacent to currently operational areas. Here activity is led by Fundacja Zielonej Doliny Odra y Warty NGO (Green Ribbon of Odra and Warta Rivers). Following an initial interest in common tern in the area, the NGO sought EU funding and created a series of artificial islands or tern rafts. The NGO have shared their activity and the bird life with local schools through photography visits and setting up webcams so those unable to visit the site can experience and view the terns remotely. During our visit, we were lucky (!) enough to see an Oystercatcher, something of a rarity in this part of Poland. An interpretation board by the track that leads you to the site, and a leaflet explaining activities of the project again enhance visitor experience at at site which is un-manned, maintained by volunteers and on the edge of a small farming community.

During our visit, we were lucky (!) enough to see an Oystercatcher, something of a rarity in this part of Poland

As with examples in Scotland, continued volunteer interest depends on the local situation, and here the volunteers remain engaged. This appears to be an example of sustained interest and involvement. In the future, the group would like to enlarge the project to develop pools elsewhere. As this is currently the only place in Warta Mouth Landscape Park where Common tern has successfully bred, the next stage in the project could well be of ecological value. However as with Scottish NGO’s funding is a challenge and this NGO does not have a stable financial situation, meaning their long-term future is unknown. However there is a likelihood of future increased visitor footfall as the Landscape Park team have plans and funding to build a 20m high viewing tower by the Odra and develop the surrounding tracks into a signposted cycleway. This would be close to the gravel pit site and would enhance the existing visitor experience with seating, varied views and a cafe.

The third example of NGO involvement showcases volunteer input to conserving the scenic value of the Westpomerania Region Landscape Parks. Within Cedynski Landscape Park a bird viewing site has been established on a hilltop with elevated views over the Odra Valley. Here, an NGO manage the site and the local community are active with upkeep of the visitor infrastructure such as building new steps along the path. The grassland site that the viewing shelter sits atop had previously been grazed by sheep, and the diversity of wildflowers in addition to the fantastic views of a variety of bird life and the landscape as a whole provide a range of reasons to visit. Here, the site is signed from the main road and on cycle trails marked on maps produced by the Westpomerania Region Landscape Parks.

The NGO’s visited in Westpomerania were carrying out out work that complemented the state and regional government activity of National and Landscape Parks. With funding being acknowledged by all sides as a challenge, and a remit to build visitor understanding alongside habitat and species conservation, there may be future scope for new NGO and Park collaborations to achieve common aims. Whilst there will undoubtedly be challenges as NGO and state have differing outlooks, priorities and resources, the work that we saw showed the multiple benefits that working in this way can achieve.

Case Study: Wolinski National Park

Wolinski National Park is one of two National Parks within Westpomerania and the first on the Polish coast. It covers around 11,000ha and incorporates over 22 islands, the largest of which is Wolin Island at the mouth of the River Odra. Established on 3rd March 1960, the park was enlarged on 3rd January 1996 and is spread over three municipalities or gminy. The Park is a Natura 2000 site and due to the range of ecosystems and micro-climates found within it, has a diverse landscape. Approximately 43.8% of the Park is water, 42.5% is forest, and 14.7% is wetland. The Park also includes an area of the Baltic Sea as its boundary stretches one mile out from the active Moraine cliffs found on the coast.

Within the Park around 900 species of flora have been recorded, 293 species of bird are regularly observed, 43 species of mammal and 35 species of fish. 29 habitats found here are listed on Annex 2 of the Habitats Directive. It is on winter migration routes for waders and migratory fish can also be found within the waters of the Park. Taken as a whole, the Park clearly has an important value for species and habitats conservation.

Our visit to the Park was hosted by the National Park Director, from the Park headquarters in Miedzyzdroje. The town is bounded by sand dunes and the National Park and features everything you would expect from a coastal tourist destination – restaurants, shops, hotels and a pier. With Miedzyzdroje’s beach being a popular destination, the tourist pressures resulting in the adjacent sections of the National Park are clear, and not unique to a Polish context. Each year around 600m of dunes are required to be intensively protected by Park staff during the bird breeding season.

Before World War Two Miedzyzdroje was the most important coastal area for tourists, and retains popularity today with around 1 Million visitors per annum, 80% of which visit between May and September. Developments to infrastructure have taken place over the past 15 years yet there are calls to improve the links between this section of the coast with the rest of Poland. A new road was proposed, but this would destroy part of Wolinski National Park, so an upgrade to the current road seems more likely at the time of writing.

Miedzyzdroje provides a gateway for visitors to the National Park so those wishing to find out more about the wildlife of the area, or who are driven away from the beach on a wet day are likely to visit the small pay-for-entry natural history museum. Whilst quite old fashioned by UK standards, the museum presents a range of taxidermy dioramas illustrating birds and mammals found in the Park and their various interactions. For many visitors who have not been drawn to the area because of its wildlife this is likely to be their closest encounter with many of the species on display. Other displays showcase archaeological finds and geology is represented too.

With labels in Polish, the museum caters for a home audience, but the international visitor can enjoy, marvel, be amused or dismayed, depending on their outlook, at the exhibits. A small shop provides a retail opportunity with a range of postcards, bookmarks, cups, wooden animals and badges to take home. This type of promotion was not widely seen on this Nature Exchange, highlighting the limited tourism development, and that very many visitors are likely to be local residents or those visiting family.

One of the features of the Park is its active Moraine cliffs on the Baltic Sea, close to Miedzyzdroje. Visitors who arrive by car are directed to a viewpoint overlooking the cliffs along a short path through Beech woodland. Once at the path end seating, shelter and signs explaining fish, trees and other features of the National Park are available and no doubt inform a range of visitors of the importance of the landscape they are visiting. On a sunny day this is likely a pleasant and popular spot to stop a while and provides a short diversion from the bustle of the nearby town.

The National Park is considering developing a cycle path that would visit the cliffs. Whilst it would ease active travel, keeping cyclists off the busy main road, it is not thought that this infrastructure would hugely increase visitor numbers. Hire bikes were available in Miedzyzdroje and the cliffs could be accessed in well under an hour. Cycle route creation was mentioned throughout the Nature Exchange – at Wolinski National Park, by the Landscape Park staff, and by a local Mayor whom we met at a village celebration that included a guided cycle. It appears that cycleway provision is behind that in Scotland and the UK, and with the realisation of planned developments in this area would bring a new audience to the Westpomerania region and its protected areas.

A short drive away from the coast to Lubin brings you to a pay-for-entry viewpoint with cafe and in-situ archaeological finds of a 12-13th century Christian temple at ‘Grodzisko Lubinie’. On private land, this appeared to offer a more welcoming experience for the visitor than that on the Moraine cliff. The view over the islands of the lagoon showcased the scale of the water within the Wolinski National Park and the quantity of birdlife it hosts including the 200 pairs of White-tailed eagle. A topical and popular sight for us as visitors from Scotland where these birds have been re-introduced to mixed opinion.

Discussions here turned to 10,000 strong population of Cormrant in the winter, fishing permits and that visitors are not asked to pay for entry to the wider Wolinski National Park, so the Park does not see the financial benefits that mass tourism can bring. Earlier in the day it had been stated that 40% of the Park budget comes directly from the government and 60% from elsewhere including forestry, education and tourism. This link between tourism and financial benefit is one that was highlighted elsewhere as the Nature Exchange progressed – provision of visitor infrastructure requires funding, this is challenging to source, but increasing visitors to an area can increase local spending and their understanding of what is special about a landscape. With Polish National Park’s zoned for activity and conservation, they have adopted a way to manage some of the footfall and disturbance challenges that tourism can bring by directing it to somewhat sacrificial or key education areas whilst retaining the most valued sites for species and habitat conservation out of public access.

Case study: The Society for the Coast (EUCC)

In Poland, there are over 800 charitable organisations that, within their charters, have an element of focus on culture and nature. However, most of the organisations are focussed on small actions, such as short term, fundable projects or education. Much of the access to the National Parks and Landscape Parks, as well as to the land managed by smaller charities, is taken by professionals and for scientific purpose. Some of the small NGO’s in Poland manage areas of land that they own; others manage areas within the Landscape and National parks.

One such organisation is the EUCC (Society for the Coast), managed by our host, Kasimierz Rabski. Established in 1996, the EUCC has three main objectives:

1. Active nature conservation

2. Raising the profile of the coastal zone for all

3. Connecting scientists and practitioners

The EUCC purchased the ‘post-kolkohz’ land in sections from the state as it was sold, and all of the area is covered by Natura 2000 legislation, although this was not well translated into Polish law which has caused many issues in itself.

In 2005, the Lower Oder Valley National Park was established, and the 1000ha owned by the EUCC was incorporated into this, alongside 2600ha owned by the state and the remaining owned by the National Forestry Reserve.

During our visit, we spent some time in one of the wetland areas that falls under the EUCC’s protection. Visitor access here is very low-key and focussed on education and the connection of professionals.

An education centre has been set up in an old farm shed, and is used by school children for them to learn about wildlife. This is surrounded by informative, interpretation panels about the site, the wildlife and the habitats that are found there.

Viewing towers have been built on site, although are in need of some renovation to make them available to the general public. An obvious walking route is found around the bunded area, although this is not signposted in anyway, but provides a decent length of walk for anyone who may stumble upon the area.

Currently, the main focus of visitor access seems to be for education and for professionals. The almost completed development of an education building with accommodation will certainly boost the capability for the site to be used as a demonstration area to show what can be achieved in practice for those wishing to carry out similar projects.

The EUCC also take part in an environmental education exchange project (Nature & Photography) involving children from Poland and the Netherlands. Each year the project brings together 10 children from Poland and 10 from Holland (aged 13-18). They spend one week together in Poland in spring and one week in Holland in autumn. They are given a subject each day and they all take photographs using traditional cameras, with prizes each day. So far more than 300 children have participated.

The biggest barrier to development of facilities for any project is funding. There is no ongoing income stream from members, as might be accessed by the RSPB and there is no state funding for private organisations. The EUCC has to apply for separate grants from Interreg and similar to complete any projects on site, in competition with the rest of Europe.

 Case study: Landscape parks in West Pomerania and visitor experience

In Poland, the ‘Landscape Parks’ model seems to match more closely to the National Parks found in the UK, in that most of the land is owned privately and the ‘Landscape Park’ acts as an umbrella organisation that works with private landowners and organisations to make the best of the landscape.

However, unlike our National Parks, which in general, will have a large number of staff, and may even act as the planning authority in some instances, the Landscape Parks in Poland are run with a very small team and most projects are individually funded, with no ongoing budget for ‘maintenance’. However, the scale and ambition of the projects that were shown to us during our stay was quite spectacular.

In Western Pomerania there are 6 Landscape Parks, all managed by the small team. These cover one of the greenest areas in Poland and each park is characterised by its differing landscape. The Cedynski Landscape Park is the main focus for visitor access and experience for the team and much of our visit focused here. It has both rich cultural history and wildlife interest to capture the imagination of visitors to the area.

There are many types of tourism access that takes place within the Park including nature watching, canoeing, walking, horse riding and cycling. Many of the future plans that we were shown for the area linked with the desire to create stronger links to European cycle networks.

Once again, education features heavily as an objective, linking back to the disconnection that young people have to the landscape around them. Crane week has become a popular event, with cooperation between Germany and Poland to provide a unique visitor experience, as hundreds of cranes come in to roost in Poland.

One of the recent aims of the team has been to inform people visiting the area that they are in the Landscape Park. This has been achieved through the installation of multiple information panels at various visitor hotspots.

The team were kind enough to guide us around some of the areas where projects have already been delivered, and where future, large scale visitor experience projects are planned and have received funding.



The first of these was an observation tower on the German/Polish border.

A spectacle in itself, the tower gives breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape, over looking the River Odra and looking across to Germany. There are plans to create 5 other similar viewing towers elsewhere in the Park.

The upcoming projects that the team shared with us sound unlike anything that has been carried out in the UK, and, if done well, will provide a spectacular experience for visitors to the Park.

The first of these is the creation of a large tower, for which funding has already been granted and is due to be completed in 2020. The design represents of piece of glacier, to link the visitor experience to the glacial valley it is built upon. The tower will be 20m tall and will include both a conference centre and facilities for visiting tourists. Although the project will be managed by the Landscape Park team, the structure itself will be owned and managed by the local authority.

The connecting road to the structure will be rebuilt and, like with many of the visions for the area, the structure will be linked to the cycle network. There is a desire to provide a ferry crossing for transporting people to and from Poland/Germany.

The second project involves the conversion of an old railway bridge, previously used for transporting goods and/or troops through the country via Poland’s now mostly abandoned railway network, but which connects Germany and Poland and overlooks some breathtaking habitats.

Of course, wildlife will prosper wherever there are opportunities, and one of the challenges with this project is the relocation of nesting eagle owls, which use one of the old abutments. As part of the project, artificial nestboxes will be created and no doubt interpretation will follow in the future. On the German side, the old railway tracks have been taken up and a cycle track has been created, once again providing a good place to link Germany and Poland. Again, a viewing tower will feature in this project as a point of interest for passing cyclists.

During our trip, another key difference emerged in our approaches to visitor experience. In the UK, most of our focus for visitor experience is the provision of paths and access and getting close up views of wildlife. In Poland, the little we saw very much focused on attaining views. Every project we saw or that is planned included a viewing tower or structure and there seemed to be some reluctance to allow public access via sign-posted paths. Within the two thermophillic areas we visited, without a guide you could easily get lost, and where a path was created, there was great reluctance from the landowner, and even a request to build sections of boardwalk on dry land, which appeared perplexing to an outsider. Although unfounded, a conclusion could be drawn that visitor experience of protected areas is still at arms length. The post-communist mindset of people is that wandering through protected areas is not permitted, nor suitable, but that viewing it from a distance is a reasonable alternative.

However, with every successful project that the Park team applies for and undertakes, the confidence from the local authority and mayor’s office grows. One can only hope that this allows the team to grow and more to be made of the remarkable landscapes, habitats and wildlife found in this area.

To summarise, although the visitor experience witnessed during our study trip seems some way behind that which has been established in the UK, and indeed the attitude of the Polish people towards the countryside may be very mixed, the ambitions of those working in the various teams and the projects planned are extremely progressive and exciting and will no doubt work to change the minds of those who have yet to be convinced. As a fledging EU nation, Poland has the capacity and ambition to be world leading in terms of its quality of wildlife habitats and the ability for visitors to experience them.


Conservation Management on Polish Wetlands

Tim Lill and Deborah Spray

Wetlands in the Odra catchment:

Our overwhelming impression from our visit to Poland was of the scale, diversity, and naturalness of the wetlands that we visited and of the connectivity of the protected wetlands through the Odra catchment. The series of protected sites along the Warta and Odra rivers includes two National Parks, six Landscape Parks and the Odra Delta Nature Park – and these are overlain by a network of Natura 2000 sites including 21 bird sites and 64 habitat sites. For example, The Wolinski National Park (NP) covers 11,000 ha and 22 islands, the Warta Mouth NP 8000 ha, Cedynia Landscape Park (LP) extends to 31,000 ha, the Lower Odra LP is some 6000 ha, the River Warta LP is 20,000 ha and the Odra Delta Nature Park covers 4000 ha. The mosaic of wetland and floodplain habitats includes extensive areas of marshes, swamps, reed beds, floodplain meadows, pastures, oxbow lakes, islands, macrophyte communities and wet woodlands. The wetlands support rare aquatic plants such as floating fern and fringed water lily and a diverse range of birds, including 300 breeding pairs of white-tailed sea eagles, mammals, insects, and amphibians. Some of these sites also include a range of other habitats e.g. woodland, heathland and xerothermic grassland, but the range and extent of wetland habitat associated with the Warta and Odra rivers is vast.

By contrast, there are few large designated floodplain wetlands in Scotland, where bogs form the majority of our extensive wetland habitat. In Scotland there are 18 sites where flood plain fen is one of the notified features. In general these are small sites, generally of less than 100ha, often surrounded by drained agricultural land and usually excluded from natural flooding regimes. One of the few remaining large flood plain wetlands is the Insh Marshes, where the designated feature extends to approximately 1,160 ha.


Some of the wetlands that we visited have previously been subject to attempts to drain the land and control the water levels. For example, the Lower Odra Valley Landscape Park includes an extensive area of polder land between the two channels of the Odra River.

In the 18th century this area was drained, with the installation of a series of dykes, drainage ditches and sluices, to allow more intensive production methods. At that time four hay crops were taken off the drained polder land each year. Some of these drainage ditches, sluices and oxbows lakes are still visible but all of the land in the Landscape Park is now allowed to operate under a natural flooding regime. The western channel of the Odra forms the boundary between Poland and Germany and there is a marked contrast between the land on either side.

The National Park on the German side of the river is bordered by a flood bank, which is also used as a long distance cycle path, and the land on this side appears to be more intensively managed. By contrast the land within the Lower Odra Valley Landscape Park is allowed to flood naturally, with no active management (no grazing or cutting) and this has led to the development of extensive areas of diverse wetland habitat.

Similarly, historically, attempts were made to reclaim land within what is now the Warta Mouth National Park for agriculture, through clearing wet woodland, straightening the river course and draining the wetlands. This whole area is now allowed to flood naturally, with water levels varying by as much as four metres through the year.

Much of the centre of the Park is effectively a lake through the winter and this is reflected by a wintering population of 3,600 whooper swans and large goose flocks. As the extent and diversity of the wetlands are so great, the NP allows succession to willow carr in some areas, as this is good for overall biodiversity and provides breeding habitat for the white-tailed sea eagles. Water levels are monitored but not controlled. The active conservation management includes grazing, control of invasive non-native species and periodic vegetation clearance e.g. clearing water lily to keep channels open and scrub clearance. As an indication of the scale, one recent project involved clearing 300ha of scrub.

If the approach in Poland is in some contrast to that in Scotland, that is largely a result of the difference in the scale and naturalness of wetlands in each country. In Poland the protected wetland areas are large in scale and there is a connected ribbon of them along the full length of the Warta and Odra rivers. The scale of the sites and the fact that they nearly all operate under natural flooding regimes means that new areas of wetland habitat are being created by natural processes and natural succession between different wetland communities is allowed to proceed. Agricultural practices are not intensive and do not involve large inputs of fertiliser.

In Scotland many of our lowland wetlands are small and are isolated from natural flooding processes. As a result new areas of wetland habitat are not being created and the focus has therefore largely been on maintaining existing wetland habitats through active management to interrupt succession to wet woodland. Given the location of our lowland wetlands and farming practices, diffuse pollution from agricultural inputs is much more of a problem in Scotland, with raised nutrient levels contributing to an increase in community change and an expansion of dominant species.

Ideally, it would be preferable to move towards more natural flooding regimes in Scottish wetlands and there have been a number of initiatives across the UK to restore rivers and their connected wetlands. In Scotland current river restoration projects include the Eddleston and the Alewater and the RSPB have plans to restore the natural flood regime on Insh Marshes.,

In Poland there are more than 20 directives associated with water management and 15 Acts relating to water in Polish Law so the picture is very complicated. The new Water Polska Act covers water control and catchment management and the introduction of a new administrative authority. This effectively takes some controls away from the National Parks. Under the new Act, the agency built a new dyke around the water edge and installed 2 pumps. As a result the land within the Odra Delta Nature Park has become significantly drier. This work was done against the advice of the Society for the Cast, who manage the area, but they could not prevent the work going ahead, despite the fact some of the area is covered by a Natura site. They are currently trying to reverse this change.

Grazing management:

It quickly became apparent as we travelled around the region that in comparison to Scotland there is very little permanent fencing both on sites for nature conservation but also in the wider countryside. Often livestock were put out with only a single strand of electric tape to keep them confined. As a result conservation grazing is done on a much larger scale then many of us were used to. In terms of management this has a number of benefits and is a reflection of the much larger more natural ecosystems that we came across in Poland. One of the key differences is that because of the size of an area and how dynamic Polish wetlands are able to be, livestock are able to utilise a wider range of habitats with access to drier areas when water levels rise. This contrast sharply with Scotland, where many wetlands are isolated and fenced off from surrounding drier land, convincing graziers to put livestock on such wetlands can often be very difficult and providing adjacent drier land not always possible. A number of examples of these differences were highlighted on our visit.

One of our first stops was to the Odra Delta Nature Park an area managed by the Society for the Coast. The park totals 4000ha however 600ha of the Nature Park is grazed by large herds of Highland Cattle and Konik horses. Currently there are a total of 150 cattle and 150 Konik horses that have access all year round, and function almost entirely as a wild herd of animals which also makes them, we were told, very difficult to catch. This is currently higher than their target of 50 cattle and 150 Konik horses, to reduce the overall stocking density to around 0.5livestock units per ha. Adding to the grazing pressure at the site are also wild deer populations although their exact contribution to the grazing pressure was not known. Perhaps the biggest contrast too many of our own sites in Scotland is that the livestock have access to the whole area all year round. The animals are hardy and generally do not require additional management over winter, although in particularly hard winters hay bales are provided and ice in the ditches is broken, however this is not usually necessary. The majority of cattle in Scotland are removed from protected sites around October, often to prevent damage through poaching during the winter months. However as the livestock at the Park have such large area to roam over there seemed to be very little risk of causing any localised damage and any areas which were more heavily poached were seen as a positive contribution to the diversity of the park.


On our visit we learned about the grazing of the islands at Wolinski National Park, this is achieved through cooperation with local farmers to provide seasonal grazing on 480ha of the network of islands. Each year the cattle are ferried out to the islands on a boat termed the cow cruiser to graze from June to October, the actual start date for grazing depends on if the islands hold breeding birds that year. Grazing on these islands has a number of unique management challenges and often the stock have to be moved quickly as water levels rise. We were told that in some years over a hundred cattle have been seen swimming between islands.

On our final day we visited Park Narodowy Ujście Warty a vast relatively intact natural floodplain of around 8000ha! We saw what was to us very large herds of livestock both cattle and horses on the wet meadows of the park. The park aim for a stocking density of between 0.5 and 1 livestock unit per ha. This is a similar density to that of the Odra Delta Nature Park and comparable but perhaps higher than the grazing on Scottish wetlands. Each year the Park aim to graze after the bird breeding season however because the flooding of the wetland is entirely natural some years this is not possible as it remains too wet for the entirety of the year. The extent of the grazing will also vary each year due with some areas accessible in some years but not others.

The approach to conservation grazing on the areas we visited was fascinating and the larger scale extensive grazing on these sites is in sharp contrast to the heavily fenced grazing units very prevalent across Scotland. Unfortunately as mentioned so many of Scotland’s wetlands are very fragmented and surrounded by heavily improved agriculture that achieving a similar type of management is very difficult.


The biggest contrast in the type of livestock used in Poland was that there are no sheep! There is no recent tradition of grazing with sheep in the Polish Lowlands; although centuries ago monks in the area we visited kept sheep for wool we were told there is very little demand for lamb in Poland. This does have negative implications for one of the sites we visited in the Cedynski Landscape Park. One of the rare habitats within the park was an area of dry grassland characterised by vegetation that thrives in dry, hot conditions such as feather grass. This type of grassland requires grazing by low numbers of sheep. The areas was grazed with sheep for a few years through an EU life funding project, however finding local farmers who were willing to manage the sheep was very difficult and they had issues with sheep escaping. The lack of sheep is also reflected in the fencing infrastructure mentioned earlier with very little fencing suitable for keeping sheep in place. They hope to have another go at grazing with sheep in the future through another project.

We were quite surprised to learn that many of these wetlands are grazed by commercial breeds of cattle such as the Limousin. In Scotland the presumption is often to use traditional livestock breeds on wetland sites, as they are often lighter and better able to deal with the wet conditions. Both the Wolinski National park and Park Narodowy Ujście Warty utilised large numbers of Limousin cattle for their conservation grazing. This breed of cattle is very common in Scotland and it can be quite difficult to convince landowners to use such large cattle on our wetlands. The Odra Delta Nature Park did use Highland Cattle a more traditional hardy breed that is a large contributor to the livestock having the capacity to graze the site all year round. Conservation grazing in Poland also widely utilised horses in particular the Polish Konik horse. Konik horses are increasingly used within Scotland for conservation grazing as they are a particularly hardy breed able to cope with difficult conditions.


Mowing Regimes:

Mowing was another key management tool for many of the areas we visited. At the Odra Delta Nature Park mowing takes place once per year between August and October after any birds have finished breeding. Historically through periodic flooding through the season this area was able to support four cuts a year, with the first cut as early as March. This was without the use of organic or inorganic fertilisers. Now that the area is managed extensively , with nature conservation as the primary objective the current mowing regime is similar to many conservation sites in Scotland, with mowing delayed until after the breeding season.

Funding Mechanisms:

In the Odra Delta Nature Park, the Society for the Coast own and manage the cattle and horses that are used to graze the site. The Wolinski National Park and Warta Mouth National Park are both grazed through cooperation with local farmers who provide the necessary stock. In both cases, the grazing management is supported through EU- funded Agri-Environment Schemes.

This is similar to the situation in Scotland where the primary funding mechanism for conservation management is the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS). This scheme includes annual payments for the management of wetlands and bogs and one-off payments for capital works that will improve their condition. (Under this Scheme 50% of the funding comes from the EU and 50% from Scottish Government)

For designated sites, in cases where a landowner isn’t eligible for AECS or non-standards management is required, SNH can offer Management Agreements – but the presumption is that funding is via AECS wherever possible.

Discussions on how these schemes operate in Poland and Scotland revealed similar problems and frustrations. These primarily related to the lack of flexibility in their operation e.g. with regard to cutting and grazing dates due to the monitoring and compliance requirements of the schemes. This presents problems when the key to wetland management is the ability to adapt the timing, stocking rates and cutting dates in response to conditions on site (reflecting variations in water levels on site both between year and within years). This is particularly relevant on the Polish wetlands that we visited as they all have a natural flooding regime.

Management of other habitats and programmes to control Invasive Non-Native Species have been funded through EU Life projects. This led to much discussion about the future funding for similar projects in Scotland following Brexit.



National Parks Legislation and Protection

Fiona Stewart

Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park (LLTNP) became a National Park in 2002 as a result of the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000. This Act sets out the responsibilities that the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park has which involves contributing to the four main aims of National Parks:-

  • To conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area;
  • To promote sustainable use of the natural resource of the area;
  • To promote understanding and enjoyment (including enjoyment in the form of recreation) of the special qualities of the area by the public and,
  • To promote sustainable economic development and social development of the area’s communities.

If there is any conflict with the aims then the first aim carries more weight. As LLTNP is also a planning authority the National Park staff and Planning and Access committee for the NP work with a range of partners and stakeholders during the development process ie deciding on planning applications within the Park. The Local Development Plan and Partnership Plan is an integral part of working together in partnership for sustainable development of the National Park. Cairngorm National Park on the other hand are not a planning authority but will call in planning applications which could affect the National Park (as opposed to dealing with all planning applications in the National Park) and they also will have a Local Development Plan.

This differs drastically from the National Parks (NP’s) in Western Pomerania that we visited in Poland as they do not interact in the planning system. Indeed the NP’s are state owned and do not suffer the potential conflict against development and conservation that NP’s in Scotland and in fact Britain will often have to deal with. Access into these areas is not encouraged so activities such as wave erosion caused by boat users, vegetation removal to allow access and recreation or trees being cut down by Park users to build fires does not occur on a significant scale. However the state owns these areas and will dictate what occurs and how much money is spent on site. Staff are few and conservation work is carried out on a shoestring. They do not have the budgets that we have in Scotland and suffer from a lack of funding bodies to apply to.

Complimenting the National Parks are Landscape Parks. These are effectively similar to our regional parks and they vary in ownership as opposed to the National Parks which are completely state owned. Odra Delta Nature Park for example has the following ownership.

  • 786.38(ha) belongs to the Society for The Coast as coastal meadows, wetlands,
  • 419.38 belongs to the National Forestry in Goleniow as mixed and pine forest,
  • 2,673.16 belongs to the Maritime Office in Szczecin as waters of Lagoon,
  • 118.92 belongs to other owners such as channels, roads, private lands.

People are encouraged to visit the Landscape Parks. Numbers are in the low thousands as opposed to millions which visit the Scottish National Parks.

Wildlife list from study visit (compiled by Paula Baker):


  • White-tailed eagle
  • Buzzard
  • Red kite
  • Black kite
  • Kestrel
  • Lesser spotted eagle
  • Osprey
  • Marsh harrier
  • Chaffinch
  • Goldfinch
  • Serin
  • Greenfinch
  • Blue tit
  • Blackbird
  • Nightingale
  • Yellow wagtail
  • Pied wagtail
  • Stonechat
  • Whinchat
  • Robin
  • Chiffchaff
  • Cuckoo
  • Yellowhammer
  • House sparrow
  • Tree sparrow
  • Reed bunting
  • Oystercatcher
  • Redshank
  • Greenshank
  • Lapwing
  • Common sandpiper
  • Green sandpiper
  • Black redstart
  • Wood sandpiper
  • Egyptian goose
  • Greylag goose
  • Black tern
  • Black-headed gull
  • Cormorant
  • Mallard
  • Tufted duck
  • Goldeneye
  • Herring gull
  • White stork
  • Black stork
  • Great crested grebe
  • Red necked grebe
  • Pochard
  • Great white egret
  • Treecreeper
  • Spotted flycatcher
  • Common crane
  • Common tern
  • Whiskered tern
  • Coot
  • Moorhen
  • Mute swan
  • Ferruginous duck
  • Gadwall
  • Great spotted woodpecker
  • Green woodpecker
  • Savvi’s warbler
  • Goosander
  • Hawfinch
  • Garganey
  • Penduline tit
  • Swallow
  • Swift
  • House martin
  • Sand martin
  • Starling
  • Feral pigeon
  • Wood pigeon
  • Collared dove
  • Meadow pipit
  • Golden oriole
  • Kingfisher
  • Jay
  • Magpie
  • Hooded crow
  • Carrion crow
  • Raven
  • Reed warbler
  • Willow warbler
  • Nuthatch
  • Hoopoe
  • Red-backed shrike
  • Great grey shrike
  • Sedge warbler
  • Yellow legged gull
  • Great black backed gull
  • Linnet
  • Dunnock
  • Jackdaw
  • Teal

Butterflies and moths:

  • Peacock
  • Red admiral
  • Green-veined white
  • Large white
  • Small copper
  • Comma
  • Small tortoiseshell
  • Knapweed fritillary
  • Silver-washed fritillary
  • Brimstone
  • Marbled white
  • Swallowtail
  • Ringlet
  • Meadow brown
  • Cinnabar
  • Adonis blue
  • Common blue


  • Roe deer
  • Wild boar
  • Beaver


Sand lizardPlants:

  • Viper’s Bugloss
  • Sea campion
  • Sea pinks
  • Soapwort
  • Musk mallow
  • Evening primrose
  • Heartsease
  • Ragged Robin
  • Allium spp
  • Mullein
  • Purple loosestrife
  • Mugwort
  • St John’s wort
  • Common toadflax
  • Common poppy
  • Hare grass
  • Tree of heaven
  • Yarrow
  • Flowering rush
  • Amphibious bistort
  • Pinks
  • Mistletoe
  • Horse-shoe vetch
  • Spiked speedwell
  • Sickle medick
  • Purple gromwell
  • Orange balsam
  • Lady’s bedstraw
  • Common milkwort
  • Common mouse-ear
  • Yarrow
  • Pondweed
  • Arrowroot
  • Dandelion
  • German inula
  • Ling

From top left, clockwise: Adonis blue butterflies, comma butterfly, knapweed fritillary, white stork and sand lizard


Acknowledgement with thanks to Erasmus+ who were the funding agency for this visit, as well as ARCH, the project promoters and EUCC Poland, the host partners

Many thanks must go to all those local practitioners who added value to our visit.

Of particular note are Dr Kazimierz Rabski, Society for the Coast, our generous and knowledgeable host and Karolina Bloom, Igor Szakowski and Dorota Janika, Westpomerania Region Landscape Parks, who gave up their valuable work and personal time to give us a greater insight into the region.



















Formatting and editorial – David Andrews & Claire Masson

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