If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen. – Henry David Thoreau
Approximately two hundred and fifty kilometers away from Warsaw, the Polish Capital city on the northeastern border lies the historic and evergreen forest of Bialowieza. Straddling both Belarus and Poland, the forest houses a wide variety of plants and animal species including the wild European Bison. Accorded the reserved rights as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve, the protected reserve represents the last visage of an ancient forest that once stretched across Europe.
Although the forest covers approximately 60,000 hectares, the National Park only houses 6,000 hectares of the wood. During some months, visitors might be disappointed at not sighting the wild Bison, boar, or wolves in their natural habitat. However, the colorful collage of flora growth and bird species compensates for this disappointment. Visitors are sure to encounter the mighty Oak trees in the Park with some aged almost 500 years and above!
For visitors and enthusiast alike, the forest truly depicts the concept of the circle of life, showing the unhindered balance accommodating different elements in their natural habitat. Dead tree trunks lying on their sides act as the home for insects and fungus (in some cases mushroom) as they slowly decay the fallen tree.
Depending on the month of visit, the Park exhibits various faces depending on the season of stay. For bird watchers, spring represents the best time to catch the multiple species of birds returning to the forest after having sought refuge from the winter months with more the 250 species visible during this period.
During the spring, visitors can conveniently see nine of Europe’s eleven species of woodpecker including the rare Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Species such as the Three-Toed Woodpecker, White-Backed Woodpecker and Pygmy-Owl (smallest European owl) are visible all year round. Winter months, specifically the month of January through February, represents the best period to view the wild European Bison and Wolves in the natural habitat and guides offer Bison Safari tours during these months.
As beautiful as the forest story sounds, current struggles between the Polish government and the European Commission threatened to disturb the pristine nature of the Park. The Polish government claims that a large number of dead trees in the forest led to the outbreak of bark beetles which continues to kill the Norwegian Spruce tree, an economic tree. Although both parties have simmered down following an EU Court of Justice ruling the continued destructive effect of the bark beetles means a possibility of revisiting the court judgment.
Intending visitors can book a tour guide at the PTTK office in Bialowieza which lies at the southern entrance to the Palace Park. Near the Palace Park is a wide range of hotel accommodation depending on a budget of visitors to the Park. The Park represents excellent value for money for families and individuals seeking a weekend getaway from the bustle of the city life.