Belovezha has been protected for 610 years
The ancient forests of these places are firstly mentioned in the Ipatiev manuscripts in 983. But the results of archaeological excavations evidences that people came here in the Stone Age. The conservation area gained the attention of kings and nobles. So the tradition of protecting and preserving the riches of Belovezhskaya Pushcha dates back more than six centuries.
“In 1409 the Polish king Vladislav II Jagiello approved the first document on the protection of the Belovehza Forest and introduced a ban on bison hunting for everyone except the king and his brother, the Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytautas. The forest passed from one owner to another and the regime of its protection became more severe, then less strict, but almost always it remained under special protection. The forest was always rich in game and this attracted high-ranking hunters. This fact contributed to the preservation of the forest” says Lyudmila Grechanik, head of the Nature Museum of the National Park "Belovezhskaya Pushcha".
After the partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Belovezhskaya Pushcha became a part of the Russian Empire. Despite the fact that Catherine II had never been here, she participated in the life of the reserve. She leased land to her entourage, allowed hunting (except for bison). The so-called "Catherine road"(the first solid road) was built in the forest.
In 1802, Belovezhskaya Pushcha became a part of the Grodno province. The forest remained a place of royal hunting for a long period. One of the most magnificent hunting trips with hundreds of trophies was organized in October 1860 on the initiative of Alexander II. Alexander III and Nicholas II were here more than once.
The World War l caused great damage to Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Sawmills were built for wood processing and kilometres of narrow-gauge railway were laid, millions of cubic meters of timber were exported to Germany, bison and deer were almost completely exterminated. However, with the end of the war, caring people resumed their activities to protect the forest and its inhabitants.
“The World War ll didn’t cause much damage to the forest. No animals were shot here, the forest was not destroyed. It was explained by the fact that on the initiative of Hermann Goering (Hitler's closest ally) it was decided to create here an exemplary hunting sector for the most titled individual of the Reich. But the people suffered. In order to avoid the appearance of partisan detachments in this territory, the Nazis evicted the local population and the villages were destroyed” says Lyudmila Grechanik.
After the liberation in 1944 the work of the reserve was resumed. Many scientists and specialists in environmental protection restored the riches of Belovezhskaya Pushcha and the bison population.
In 1992, by the decision of UNESCO, Belovezhskaya Pushcha was included in the UNESCO List of the World Heritage. The forest was the first object on the territory of the former USSR to be awarded such a high status. A year later the forest was granted the status of a biosphere reserve. And in 1997 the National Park "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" was awarded a diploma of the European Council for outstanding achievements in the field of nature protection. Today, the State Environmental Institution "National Park "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" is under the jurisdiction of the Office of the President of the Republic of Belarus.
Belovezhskaya Pushcha is a very famous territory. But the staff emphasize that first of all it is a national park. It means that it is a park for the nation and a park for the people. People who are in love with their work keep the relic forest for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren and for the whole humanity.
The secret of the name
There are several hypothesis of the origin of the name. The main one is related to the word "white", which means clean and "entire". There are many localities in the forest surrounding area that have this adjective in their names: Belaya, Podbela, Belsk-Podlasky. The second version is related to the militant Yotvingian tribes that lived in these woods. They were also called the "white Yotvingians ". They were the first people to settle here. The name could also be based on the fact that the owners of these lands during the Grand Duchy of Lithuania decorated their coats of arms with white ligature.
Svisloch district – northern gates of the forest
Svisloch district is called the northern gate of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. People use a lot of epithets talking about the forest: the Sarmatian forest, the oldest nature reserve in Europe, the pearl of native nature, a green miracle. The most delicate strings of the human soul respond to the beauty of the nature reserve, and the imagination willingly draws pictures of the distant past. Belovezhskaya Pushcha is a relict primeval forest that was here in prehistoric times. Thanks to the reverent attitude to this object by the State we have the opportunity to see what this territory was like more than 10 thousand years ago.
Information road signs are warning of entry into protected area. To get here, you need to take care of the pass in advance. Romanovtsy, Kolonaya, Dobrovolya, Tikhovolya are paved roads that run through protected villages and lead to a checkpoint, where a real adventure begins.
There is no monotony in the forest. You can't take your eyes off the tall silent hornbeams, cheerful birch groves, gloomy spruce forests, giant oaks, many of which are 600 years old. On some sections of the road, nature has built green alleys with overhanging branches-garlands. In the northern part of Belovezhskaya Pushcha high-growth pine forests are especially common. Some trees reach a height of 40 meters. Such unique specimens will no longer be found in any other forest in Europe. Many species of trees growing in such a special place are listed in the Red Book of Belarus.
Mosses and lichens spread out like a soft emerald carpet at the foot of the giants. The real decoration of the virgin forest is flowering plants. Valentina Kravchuk is a researcher of the National Park "Belovezhskaya Pushcha". She says that 69 species of plants that can be found in the Belovezha Forest are listed in the Red Book. About 40 of them live on the territory of the national park in Grodno region. For example, on the lands of the Svisloch forestry, the lady’s-slipper orchid feels comfortable. Bright spots on the monochrome green landscape are yellow flowers of the European globeflower, pink-purple gladioli, and blue Siberian irises. These plants are the pearls of the Belovezha forest.
Wild Swamp and Jozefina's world Record
The forest will give tourists another gift. It is the opportunity to hear the voice of the reserve. And it sounds like millions of bird sounds.
“More than 250 bird species have been recorded in Belovezhskaya Pushcha, 65 of them are listed in the Red Book. This diversity attracts tourists and amateur ornithologists from around the world. Especially popular are multi-day ornithological tours, which are organized in the National Park. During the excursions, you can see owls, rare species of woodpeckers, birds of prey” says Ruslan Kuzmitsky, a researcher of the National Park" Belovezhskaya Pushcha".
Many birds have chosen Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Among them are yellow-headed kinglets (Belarusian hummingbird) weighing only 6 grams, mighty white – tailed eagle with a wingspan of 2.5 meters, warbler (the rarest songbird in Europe), black stork and the most numerous of the local guests – finches.
If you are lucky, you can see the red-book great spotted eagle Jozefina. It is a local attraction. By the way, this bird was a symbol of 2019 in Belarus. Today, eight pairs of great spotted eagle live in the forest. Ornithologists monitor Jozefina with satellite transmitters. Last year, the bird made them wonder – during a flight to Greece, it set a world record. It covered more than 1,600 kilometres in less than four days. Birds usually need much more time for such a flight.
A rare bird has built a nest in the Wild swamp, which extends almost immediately beyond the village of Novy Dvor in Svisloch district. By the way, the swamp is the same age as the Egyptian pyramids. Its age is more than six thousand years. And in terms of regalia, it even bypasses the Belovezhskaya Pushcha. It has one more title. It is included in the list of wetlands protected by the Ramsar Convention and has the status of a wetland of international importance.
“The efforts of the staff of the National Park, colleagues from the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus and our authoritative assistants from other environmental organizations are aimed at preserving and increasing the entire biological diversity of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. It is noticeable that the animals in the forest feel comfortable. For example, the warbler, which also lives in the area of the Wild swamp, has consistently maintained its population. We often register new species. This year we have a European stonechat. The task of ornithologists, scientists of national parks is to observe the behaviour of animals, monitor the general state of populations, and contribute to their conservation” adds Ruslan Kuzmitsky.
By the way, there are no random people among the employees of the National Park "Belovezhskaya Pushcha". Each of them is rooting for the common cause, making a significant contribution to the conservation of the forest animal and plant diversity. Here is another reason to be proud of the park's employees. They were the first in the country to take concrete actions to protect wetland birds and preserve the integrity of migration corridors in the territory of Belovezhskaya Pushcha and its protected area. Thousands of birds that stop here during migrations are absolute safe. The established moratorium contributes that more and more birds remain for nesting in this region.
v Belovezha Forest became a part of Grodno province in 1802.
v On the eve of the 600th anniversary celebration of the protected area establishment in 2009, the national park got its own sign-emblem and flag – a light rectangular panel, the sides of which are framed by halves of spruce. In the central part, against the oak tree with a luxurious crown there are two native inhabitants of the forest that are holding a shield - a bison and a deer.
v Almost 40 percent of the area of Belovezhskaya Pushcha is located in the Grodno region.
v The highest point of the national park "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" is a mountain of 242.5 meters height. It is located near the village of Porozovo, Svisloch district.
v More than 130 bison live in the forest area near the village of Porozovo and town of Novy Dvor.
v The dead trees of Belovezhskaya Pushcha are homes for western barbastelle (a species of European bat listed in the International Red Book). They prefer to "settle" on old and dead trees. They hide under the lagging bark on the trunks of dead spruce trees.
v The fastest big spotted eagle, Jozefina, lives in the Wild swamp in Svisloch district. It covered a distance of 1600 kilometres in three and a half days.
v The best relax and rest is available in one of the most beautiful places of the National Park. Tourist hotel complex "Zharkovschina" is situated in Svisloch district.
v One of the most popular places among Belarusian and foreign tourists is the residence of Father Frost. It is situated in Belovezhskaya Pushcha.
Bison. The King of the forest.
A trip to Belovezha Forest is always connected with an impatient anticipation of meeting a wild animal. First of all, the eyes look out for a glimpse of the mighty silhouette of the King of the forest. It is Belovezha bison which is listed in the International Red Book.
- Belovezhskaya Pushcha has the status of the main gene pool holder of the Belarusian bison population. There are more than 570 bison on the Belarusian side of the forest. This is the largest population on the territory of the country, and Belarus ranks second in the world in terms of the number of free – living bison. The leading researcher of the National Park "Belovezhskaya Pushcha", Candidate of Biological Sciences Alexey Bunevich knows everything about the most famous inhabitant of the forest.
Today, the number of bison is growing steadily. On the territory of the Svisloch district, for example, animals can often be seen at the forest edges in the early morning or at sunset. They like the forest lands near the village of Porozovo and the town of Novy Dvor. Today more than 130 giant animals live there.
It wasn’t always like that. The bison almost disappeared from the face of the earth because of man’s interference. The last free-living bison was killed in 1919. Only 52 bison have been preserved in the zoological gardens and zoos of Western Europe, most of which were once removed from Belovezha Forest. Therefore, the restoration of the forest giants was started in the forest.
– The first five bison purchased in Poland were brought to the Belarusian part of the forest in 1946. In 1958, when there were 18 of them, the bison were released. The population grew, and in the early 70s bison were settled in the northern territories of the forest in Grodno region, - says Alexey Bunevich.
Today, bison live on the lands of the agricultural cooperative "Ozery" of Grodno region. New micro populations are formed in Dyatlov region. Belarusian giants have taken root in Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Latvia.
Specificities of national hunt
Oleg Shchitov, the chief hunter of the national park, joins the conversation about the rules of hunting in the national park.
“Bison hunting is strictly regulated. Violators are punished. You can hunt under certain requirements. It would be more correct to say not hunting, but the removal of those individuals that are subject to culling. This is the only species of red book animal that is given a binary status. Hunters who will hunt bison of the reserve gene pool can get the trophies. This list includes mostly old, lame and sick individuals” says Oleg Shchitov.
In each micro population, there are individuals that are subject to regulation. It allows developing healthy individuals. The transfer of bison to the reserve is carried out by a commission that includes representatives of the Ministry of Nature and Environmental Protection, the Ministry of Forestry, the State Inspectorate for the Protection of Animal and Plant Life, veterinarians and bison owners. "Reserve" animals are allowed to be withdrawn for the purpose of regulating and distributing the number. They are not useful for the micro population; they cannot participate in creation and maintaining a strong gene pool.
You can hunt only accompanied by a huntsman. You must have a licence and a hunting permit. Most often this opportunity is used by tourist hunters from France, Germany, Bulgaria, Austria, Finland and Russia.
“It is almost impossible for a poacher to get to the territory of the forest. The security service of the national park works around the clock. We have informants who promptly report everything that raises suspicion” says Oleg Shchitov
Today illegal hunters are severely punished by the law. The perpetrators pay considerable fines and compensate for the caused damage. The most serious "offenses" are punishable by imprisonment.
More than 10 thousand species of various animal groups live on the territory of the forest. Among them are 12 species of mammals listed in the International Red Book and the Red Book of Belarus.
Deer can easily be seen here even during the day. Deer and elk live in Belovezhskaya Pushcha. A pack of wolves settled in Svisloch district near the swamp Wild. About 30 of these predatory animals now live in the forest on the territory of Grodno region.
"Meeting" with Tyszkiewicz, spring water and Perun's favourite oak.
Tourist hotel complex "Zharkovschina" in Svisloch district is one of the most beautiful places in the National Park. It’s a paradise vacation for tourists who are keen on photography, cycling or hiking. Regular guests are Russians, Lithuanians, Estonians, and Israelis. Almost a quarter of the guests are hunters. After the introduction of a visa-free regime on the territory of Svisloch district the visits of foreign travellers became more frequent. For the convenience of those who travel through the forest and cross the border on foot or by bike, there is a simplified checkpoint "Pererov".
A lot of interesting tourist routes to suit all tastes have been developed for the guests. There are short walking routes that allow you to enjoy nature, cycling through protected areas or evening driving in the park with the opportunity to see wild animals in their natural environment.
“New routes are added to the already known ones, and the old ones are refined and improved. Tourists return with beautiful photos of giant trees: oaks with a 30-meter spherical crown and one and a half meter in diameter trunks, firs, ash trees, maples. Many unique objects are found on the route "Pagan Oak Grove". This oak is popular among the guests of ""Zharkovschina". It is more than one hundred years old. However, some time ago, the trunk of a mighty tree was struck by lightning. The former greatness of the Perun’s oak can only be judged by photographs. During the tour, guests will also see the stone-altar, in the hollow of which water is collected in any weather. Each route is good in its own way. The tourists appreciated it. It was a great decision to combine nature and history, especially in this place” says the head of the tourist hotel complex "Zharkovschina" Svyatoslav Bolbot. He conducts tours for his guests.
A fascinating journey into the past can begin immediately on the territory of the estate, at the house of Count Vincent Tyszkiewicz, the founder of this beautiful place. By the way, all the buildings on the territory of the complex are made in the same "Zakopane" style, the distinctive feature of which is the gentle slopes of the roofs. One of the rooms of the central estate is equipped as a mini-museum, where portraits of several generations of the famous Tyszkiewicz family are collected. In 1754 Master of Svisloch was General Casimir Tyszkiewicz, then his son Vincent, and then Thaddeus, the nephew of Vincent.
“The current wooden mansion was restored in 1936 by the descendants of the Tyszkiewicz family according to old drawings” says Svyatoslav Bolbot. “There's a secret room in the house on the second floor. They say it was made especially for the count. All the hoods went out into the room, and when the count's guests came, he listened to the conversations in the house.”
A whole epoch in the life of Svisloch is occupied by the period when the owner was Vintsent Tyszkiewicz, the referendary of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. For Vincent, the last king of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Stanislaw August Poniatowski, married his niece Maria Theresa... she loved the pleasures of men, and rode a horse in a man's costume, hunt foxes and hares. And Vincent put on women's clothes and listened to women's gossip, hiding in the bushes near the house. It was a very unusual family. "The villagers often hear strange sounds and feel that someone is watching them. This is the restless soul of Vintsent Tyszkiewicz wandering around Zharkovschyna, - Svyatoslav Bolbot shares the details of the legend of local ghosts.
Not only is the estate overgrown with legends, new tourist attractions regularly appear on the "map" of the complex. Recently, for example, a forest spring was restored.
“ I have heard from locals that there is a spring the forest. With great difficulty it was found. We restored it and now we bring tourists here. We are discussing the possibility of providing new services on the territory of the complex: manual therapy, acupuncture, massage” says Svyatoslav Bolbot.
There is nothing better after a walk than a wonderful dinner. And the level of hospitality by the hosts of "Garkushina" few can match. The cuisine here is amazing. The dishes are mainly of national Belarusian and Polish cuisines.
For overnight accommodation, tourists will be offered several hotels. It is tempting to stay in the hunting house of Count Tyszkiewicz in Masherov's room. At one time, the head of the republic was here. After the death of Pyotr Mironovich, his widow came to the forest. Not so long ago, the hotel "Voytov Most" was built in the Svisloch part of the forest. In general, the tourist hotel complex "Zharkovshchyna" can accommodate more than 70 people at the same time.