The European Union’s highest court has ruled that Poland violated environmental laws with its massive logging of trees in one of Europe’s last pristine forests.
The ruling on Tuesday by the European Court of Justice said that in increasing logging in the Białowieża forest, Poland failed to fulfil its obligations to protect natural sites of special importance.
In a blow to Poland’s ruling nationalist party, which has also been accused by the EU of weakening the rule of law, judge Marek Safjan said the logging in the ancient forest endangered many species of birds and insects.
Poland had argued that felling the trees was necessary to fight the spread of bark beetle infestation.
Environmentalists say the large-scale felling of trees in Białowieża was destroying rare animal habitats and plants, in violation of regulations. They held protests and brought the case before the court last year.
Poland has since replaced its environment minister and stopped the logging. Warsaw has said it will respect the EU court’s ruling, which comes into force immediately.
If Poland fails to stop the logging, the government risks a minimum fine of €4.3m and up to tens of millions of euros.
James Thornton of environmental legal group ClientEarth, one of the groups who complained to the European Commission, said: “This is a huge victory for all defenders of Białowieża forest. Hundreds of people were heavily engaged in saving this unique, ancient woodland from unthinkable destruction.
“We warned that the increased logging would breach EU law even before the minister officially authorised it. From a legal perspective, the case has been as clear as day from the beginning – it was very obvious that the law was being broken.
“This is not the end of our fight. The ruling is just on paper for now: we need to see concrete action. First, the decisions that allowed logging must be withdrawn. Then, the Polish government should also consider enlarging the national park so it encompasses the whole of Białowieża forest. This is the only way to guarantee that devastation of the forest will not happen again. We believe that this world heritage site and one of the last primeval forests in Europe deserves it.”
More details soon …