UNESCO urges Poland to halt logging in ancient Bialowieza forest

FILE PHOTO: Environmental activists stand near a logging machine during an action in the defence of one of the last primeval forests in Europe, Bialowieza forest, Poland May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

WARSAW (Reuters) - The United Nations’ cultural body UNESCO has called on Poland to halt logging in its ancient Bialowieza Forest, saying it could otherwise decide to place it on its list of world heritage sites in danger.

Bialowieza Forest, which straddles Poland’s border with Belarus, is one of the last and largest remaining tracts of primeval forest that once stretched across the European Plain.

At a gathering in Krakow, southern Poland, UNESCO delegates called for a halt to logging in the oldest parts of the forest.

“Let’s hope this fresh warning will stop the illegal logging before Europe’s oldest forest is irreversibly damaged,” Agata Szafranska, lawyer at ClientEarth non-government organization was quoted as saying in a statement.

Poland’s environment minister argues that beetles pose a threat to the forest and that logging will help protect the trees. The conservative government has tripled the quota of wood that can be harvested.

The decision has prompted protests from environmentalist groups and divided Polish society. It has also raised concerns in the European Commission, which stepped up legal action over the logging earlier this year.

Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko