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Poland - Country Profile

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Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

Poland’s biodiversity is one of the richest in Europe, determined by favorable natural conditions – a central geographic location in the continent without natural barriers to the East and West, a transitional climate influenced by oceanic and continental air masses, diverse land relief and hydrography and variable soil substratum. Moreover, economic and social development in Poland has been strongly affected by historical disturbances (including partition). Poland was therefore characterized by uneven industrialization and urbanization, traditional extensive agriculture and vast historically sustainable forests preserved over relatively large areas. With the move to a free-market economy in 1989, threats to biological diversity were aggravated, however Poland’s accession to the EU in 2004, along with the alignment of its legislation and policy to that of the EU’s, contributed to an increase in activities related to biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. This has led to nature conservation in Poland that is regionally diverse. The Białowieża Forest in the northeast region of the country, called the "Green Lungs of Poland", is the best preserved natural forest in Europe, notably containing certain species in relatively large numbers that are endangered or extinct in other parts of Europe. However, there are regions (e.g. industrialized and urbanized Upper Silesia) where degradation of nature and impoverishment of species composition precede levels that exist in other parts of Europe.

The total number of species in Poland is estimated to be 63,000 species, with approximately 28,000 plant species and 35,000 animal species, including 700 vertebrate species. Due to the lack of natural geographical barriers and the continuity of habitats in latitudinal layout, flora and fauna in the lowland area of the country are poor in endemic species (these occur mainly in mountain areas that are territorially connected with the mountain ranges of the Carpathians and the Sudetes). Declining trends are recorded for 1,648 plant species, and it is estimated that 124 plant species have gone extinct or retreated over the last 200 years. So far, 2,769 animal species have been ranked among endangered species, including 2,618 species of invertebrates and 151 vertebrates. As a result of anthropogenic pressure, 16 vertebrate species have disappeared or gone extinct in Polish territory, and 60% of vertebrates have vanished within the last 40 years. However, certain species such as ant species (Formica polyctena, Formica pratensis and Formica rufa), listed as endangered by the majority of Western European countries, are ranked in a lower threat category in Poland. This also pertains to certain butterfly species (Euphydryas maturna and Eriogaster catax) that are recognized worldwide as critically endangered. Similarly, among vertebrates, there are species in Poland that are in better condition than in other parts of their range. An example of this is the otter (Lutra lutra) which is regarded as endangered in all of Europe but is almost reinvading all of Polish territory.

In the last two decades, Poland has made the greatest progress in air protection, advancing from a sulphur-polluted and dusted country to a relatively pure country with only local aero sanitary problems arising predominantly from municipal or mobile sources. Also impressive is the area of land under protection in Poland, with different forms of nature protection covering over 32% of its total territory and the Natura 2000 network (established in accordance with relevant EU directives) covering 19.5% of the country. All together, there are more than 10,380 protected areas in Poland. The Bialowieski National Park is listed on the World Heritage List, 9 areas are World Biosphere Reserves, and 13 wetland reserves are listed under the Ramsar Convention. Forest ecosystems are the most precious and abundant component of these areas under protection, constituting almost half (43.5%) of this total area.

In the foreseeable future, Poland will not be among countries at risk of deforestation. In the past few years, the use of wood resources has been below the biological recovery levels, with wood resources gradually increasing as a result. Forest associations from the class Vaccinio-Piceetea (coniferous and mixed coniferous forests) cover most of the forest area in the country and are significant in terms of economic activity. Agriculture in Poland is also very important and has great potential despite less favourable climatic and soil conditions compared to most European countries. In 2013, 18.77 million ha of land was used as farmland, amounting to 49% of the total area of the country. When compared to other European countries, Polish agriculture and rural area development are of great social and economic significance, although the contribution of agriculture to the GDP is substantially low (3.6%). Polish agriculture has preserved its traditional model, with many small farms still using a semi-intensive, multi-directional, mixed (crop and livestock) farming system, however intensive production systems are developing rapidly, and include specialized crop production, large scale poultry production and high-performing dairy and pig farms. Additionally, fish cultures are very important, with the fisheries concentrated around the Baltic region and inland waters. Cod is the most valuable species in terms of economic activity for the fishermen. However, due to overfishing in most fishing grounds, no increase in cod quotas or improvement in the biomass of the species can be expected in the years to come. The introduction of small catch limits has caused some fishermen to shift to fishing flounder, tourism activities and sea angling.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

In Poland, the main threat to biodiversity is anthropocentric, but with indirect threats such as habitat transformation and habitat loss causing more pressure on biodiversity than direct threats. Very rare habitats, such as salt marshes, and their biodiversity, are under pressure from being overgrown by plants of rush association or eliminated by economic development, while most endangered are those species living in small, often relic populations near large cities and industrial sites. Pollution in the form of gas and dust pose a considerable threat to gymnosperms, having damaged large stretches of coniferous forests in the Sudeten Mountains in the 1980s. This atmospheric pollution is also a factor in moss disappearance, along with chemical pollution, changes in hydrographic conditions, destruction of small-scale habitats and excessive tourism. Hillside deforestation of valleys and the common practice of transporting logs down the river using the riverbeds have compromised the flora of mountainous rivers. Changes in water conditions (i.e. drainage and embankment regulation of riverbanks) have caused significant habitat changes, transforming poplar-willow riparian forests to other forest habitats. Large land reclamations in swamps have also caused the gradual disappearance of alder habitats. As a result of dehydration, raised and transition mires are disappearing on a large scale. A serious problem in Poland is the expansion of new alien species that pose a threat to native species.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

An updated version of the NBSAP was adopted in 2007, with an action plan for the 2007-2013 period. Aside from an overarching goal to preserve biodiversity in conjunction with Poland’s socio-economic needs and 8 strategic goals, the updated NBSAP also includes 77 operational objectives spread out between the country’s different sectors.

Government approval on a third NBSAP (2014-2020) is expected in 2014. It is aligned with the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity (2011-2020) and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets, and forms a part of Poland’s Sustainable Development Policy.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

The most significant progress has been in air protection in Poland. Emissions of the main pollutants have been in decline. Particulate matter emission has been successfully reduced by about three-quarters, due to commercial power engineering that decreased the burden by more than eightfold between 1990 and 2008. Following a voluntary agreement, Poland reduced SO2 emission to half of the limit granted by the Second Sulphur Protocol by developing and implementing domestic technologies and techniques and purchasing licenses for complimentary solutions. Additionally, as a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, Poland has already reduced total greenhouse emissions by 28.9% (compared to 1990 levels), thus meeting the 6% target for the first period (2008-2012). Activities aimed at atmospheric improvement have significantly accelerated since 2007, as a result of subsequent launches of Operational Programmes on Innovative Economy, Infrastructure and Environment, which provide support for investors carrying out air-protection-related projects (focusing mostly on improving the innovativeness of businesses). The total amount of European funding for the projects is about 900 million Euros.

Actions taken for species conservation include full species protection for all marine mammals in the Baltic Sea, and the restitution of some particularly endangered plant and animal species in Poland (e.g. peregrine falcon, European bison, Atlantic sturgeon, water chestnut, European silver fir). Other species and livestock breeds that have been restituted include the European yew, the native Carpathian goat and the old type of Polish mountain sheep, while the reintroduction of species like the Eurasian lynx, European ground squirrel, European tree frog and Edible dormouse has been carried out in various regions. A successful preemptive transfer of Cochlearietum polonicae specimens saved the existence of both the species and the community.

Better practices for managing the country’s resources have been developed. The State Forests National Forest Holding (PGL LP) is a business entity managing 78% of forests in Poland; Good Forest Management Certificates have been awarded to most forests under its management. The certificate is a guarantee to customers that the wood they purchase is manufactured in an environmentally-friendly way and in accordance with up-to-date requirements of sustainable development. Following the introduction of a free-market economy, environmentally-friendly water management practices were gradually introduced in the early 1990s. Further improvements in the quality of water management, through the adoption of a Water Management Strategy in 2005, involved a switch from an administrative approach to a river basin approach with hydrographic borders.

In regard to agriculture, farmers in Poland are demonstrating significant interest in agro-environmental schemes, reflected by an increase in applications filed for participation in agro-environmental programmes, legal regulations implemented in respect of organic farming, broadening of access to information at numerous agricultural consultancy centres and a consistently increasing number of organic farms in Poland. In the 2004-2007 period, the number of organic farms increased about twelvefold while the number of ecological processing plants increased fifteenfold. Compensation for financial losses incurred as a result of conversion to other production models is provided to farmers. Similarly, under the Rural Development Programme (RDP) (2007-2013), a measure was introduced to preserve the traditional knowledge of farmers and ensure their participation in activities related to food quality systems, with fixed costs for their participation refunded. An increasing number of groups of farmers/producers is being granted exclusive production rights to various products (e.g. oscypek cheese, various types of honey), illustrating that the rights of local and indigenous communities to benefit from their traditional knowledge are being protected. Additionally, the Association of Farmers’ Wives is involved in promoting cultural traditions related to biological diversity. Agri-environmental measures within the Rural Development Programme (2004-2006 and 2007-2013) have had a substantial impact and enhanced conservation of biodiversity in agro-ecosystems as well as contributed to the maintenance and enhancement of genetic resources for food and agriculture through in situ conservation of local livestock breeds and plant varieties. Poland is a particular example of a country in central and eastern Europe where small holdings are contributing to the preservation of valuable local varieties of rare plant species, and traditional backyard orchards to the preservation of old varieties of fruit trees. These activities are supported by agri-environmental programs. A genetics database is available to assist re-introduction of plant species in rural areas, with collections safeguarded in gene banks operating under a national program for the protection of plants. The agri-environmental program incorporates nine agri-environmental packages, including sets of assignments, which go beyond obligatory basic requirements and do not overlap with other instruments of the Common Agricultural Policy.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

Various legislative acts have been adopted in Poland for the conservation of biodiversity. These include the Acts on Nature Conservation, Water Law, Environmental Protection Law, Genetically Modified Organisms, Plant and Animal Protection, Farmland and Forestland, Forests, Hunting Law, Inland Fisheries, and on Sea Areas. This legislation includes transposing various EU Acts, especially directives, but also introducing enforcement measures for the effective implementation of regulations, decisions and strategies (notably the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020). The most valuable environmental qualities of Polish mountains are also legally protected under the regulation for the sustainable development of mountains and mountainous areas. Pursuant to the National Forest Policy and the Act for the Protection of Farmland and Forestland, forest sustainability and multi-functionality are being maintained by increasing forest resources in the country, improving their condition and ensuring their protection, as well as by implementing changes in the mode of forest management (i.e. moving from a raw material-oriented model to a pro-ecological and economically sustainable, multifunctional forest management model). Moreover, the Strategy for the Sustainable Development of Rural Areas, Agriculture and Fisheries (2012-2020) (notably Goal 5 on environmental protection and climate adaptation on rural areas), adopted by the Council of Ministers in November 2012, will substantially contribute to environmental protection, conservation of biological diversity and adaptation to climate change in the rural areas. Other strategic documents being implemented include, inter alia, the Strategy for Energy Security and Environment to 2020 and the Rural Development Plan (2014-2020).

For many years, the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management, the Voivodship Funds for Environmental Protection and Water Management, the EcoFund Foundation and others have played and continue to play a very important role in the implementation process. Actively operating since 1992, EcoFund's income has been primarily provided by Polish debt-for-environment swaps with the United States, France, Switzerland, Italy and Norway. Moreover, significant financial opportunities are made available as result of Poland’s membership in the EU (e.g. access to a number of funds, including the European Regional Development Fund, European Social Fund, European Fisheries Fund, European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, LIFE+ Financial Instrument for the Environment).

Significant progress has been made in enhancing the role of environmental impact assessments and limiting negative pressures on protected areas during planned economic undertakings. Recognizing the need to increase the efficiency of the EIA system, especially in regard to biological diversity protection issues, and to align EIA requirements with those of the EU, Poland adopted the Act on Sharing Information on the Environment and its Protection, Involvement of Society in Nature Conservation, and on Environmental Impact Assessment, in 2008. Through this Act, a new compact system for supervising EIA procedures was created, comprised of a General Directorate for Environmental Protection and regional directorates for environmental protection, responsible for environmental impact issues and protection of the Natura 2000 network. The Act’s provisions significantly strengthened the role of public consultations in EIA procedures and introduced the requirement for repeated assessments in undertakings that could considerably impact on the environment.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

Supervision over implementation of the National Strategy is entrusted to the Steering Committee, consisting of the representatives of all stakeholders. Additionally, the effectiveness of the implementation of the NBSAP will be subjected to periodic assessments and cyclical meetings with the participation of stakeholders.

The monitoring of the status of species and habitat biodiversity is carried out by the State Environmental Monitoring System (with the 2006-2008 period being most notable). Research conducted by science centres is also an important source of information about the state of biodiversity. Current research findings as well as results from monitoring are made available on the website of the Chief Inspectorate for Environmental Protection. A database on Alien Species in Poland has also been under development since 1999 at the Polish Academy of Sciences Institute for Nature Conservation.

Numerous educational programmes and campaigns are undertaken in the area of biological diversity. At the central level, in 2011, the Ministry of the Environment launched research on the ecological awareness and environmental behavior of Polish citizens as part of a long-term project. The Ministry of Environment has also carried out a campaign on biodiversity and ecosystem services.

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  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme