Mires of Poleski National Park at risk due to mining plans

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Mires of the Poleski National Park are at risk due to mining plans in the Lubelskie Coal Basin.

The Australian company Balamara is making progress in the process of acquiring the permit to build a coal mine in the Lubelskie region in Poland, right next to the Poleski National Park. A group of experts from the Wetland Conservation Centre prepared a report, which describes the biodiversity of valuable peatlands threatened by the mine and negative changes it may cause. Well preserved mires, inhabited by rare plants and animals are at risk of degradation, despite being legally protected at the highest possible level. In the face of the climate crisis,  its consequences and the urge to prevent it, building a coal mine in this area is completely unjustified. Living wetlands are important in maintaining the global greenhouse gas balance and mitigating local climate and water cycle (CMOK).

Polesie is famous for its natural environment, mires and lakes protected i.a. in the Poleski National Park. In this region large hard coal deposits are located, which have been, up till now, exploited by one underground mine: Bogdanka, located ca. 10 km from the national park border. The Australian company Balamara is making efforts to develop another mine, much closer to the border of the national park, in the Hańsk commune. All they need is an environmental decision and a mining license, and actions necessary to obtain both documents are ongoing. Mining will take place right next to an enclave of the national park covered by two large nearly undisturbed alkaline fens (Bagno Bubnów and Bagno Staw).

Experts from the Wetland Conservation Centre in cooperation with the European section of Wetlands International, reviewed scientific data about the ecosystems most threatened by the planned development and assessed the character and scale of possible degradation of the environment resulting from the mine construction. There are 14 protected areas within the border of the company’s exploration licence, including the national park (highest level of nature protection in Poland), which is also protected within the frame of Ramsar Convention on wetlands, a transboundary UNESCO reserve and a number of Natura 2000 sites and nature reserves. Within this area 112 protected plant and 180 animal species have been recorded. The flagship species of the area is the aquatic warbler, a small, globally endangered (IUCN VU category) migratory bird. There are only about 20 000 individuals left in the entire World, and 4% of them breed on Bagno Bubnów, within the borders of the mining licence. These data give a picture of ecosystems unique on a European scale, where little disturbed fen systems are a rarity, and testify their value.

Mining will require constant pumping of groundwater from the mine, which would result in the lowering of the groundwater levels over a considerably large area and collapsing exploit corridors would cause local ground subsidence. Both processes have been observed for years at the nearby Bogdanka and can lead to irreversible damage in fen ecosystems due to desiccation or flooding, which would cause a drastic decline of the populations of organisms depending on natural wetlands, thus rare and endangered. Such changes would also turn fens from carbon sinks to carbon sources, and limit their role in storing water and mitigating the local climate. In the face of the climate and environmental crisis, as well as the biodiversity loss it is clear, that this investment is contrary to the public interest.

For the last few years, activists and scientists, including the organisation “Society for Nature and Human” from Lublin and prof. Grzegorz Grzywaczewski from the Lublin University of Life Sciences, has been striving to prevent any new mining activity in Polesie. “In the XXI century we have the knowledge, and therefore the awareness of the role of the natural environment. And yet, we are planning to destroy the last, most valuable natural environments in Polesie by building new coal mines.” – says prof. Grzywaczewski.

Dr. Wiktor Kotowski, professor at the University of Warsaw and board member of the Wetland Conservation Centre: “The government’s stubborn efforts to build another coal mine, which will destroy mostly valuable wetlands seems almost perfidious. We are threatened by increasing global warming, which we have caused exactly by burning fossil fuels and destroying natural ecosystems. The Paris Agreement obligates Poland to end greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which requires resigning from coal, but also protecting carbon-rich ecosystems. And there are no more effective land-based carbon sinks than active peatlands, and they are among the most endangered ecosystems. As naturalists, we must not allow this insane investment to go on.”

Jarosław Szymański, director of the Poleski National Park: “Establishing the Poleski National Park in 1990 was the last moment to save the unique nature of the polish part of Western Polesie. For the last 30 years, we managed not only to protect the environments, but also increase the biodiversity of this area. It also became an important site for education and wildlife tourism. Being the caretaker of the Poleski National Park I am convinced, that the natural value of this area is much higher, in local and global scale, than short-term profits of coal mining.”

Yurena Lorenzo, Head of office of Wetlands International – European Association: “Polesie is one of the most important areas in Europe, in terms of wetland conservation. The plans to exploit coal is incompatible with the protection of the nature of this area, which is Poland’s obligation as a signatory of the Ramsar Convention, which indicated the Poleski National Park as a wetland area of global significance. We call on the Polish government to reconsider these plans.”

An online press conference with the authors of the report, scientists and the director of the Poleski National Park will take place the day before the World Wetland Day, on February 1st 2021.

Header image: Bagno Bubnów @ Andrzej Różycki, LTO