EuroNatur Projects in the Narew Region

Back to Nature – restoration of the Narew

© Alfred Limbrunner
Corncrake with young © Alfred Limbrunner

In the 70s and 80s wide stretches of the Narew river were chanellised. The land areas gained turned out, however, to be no use for the arable farming that had been planned. The farmers found to their dismay that the sinking ground water level destroyed their meadows and pastureland. They increasingly gave up using the land. As a result bird species such as Ruff, Aquatic Warbler and Common Snipe disappeared because they relied on an open meadow habitat. Reeds invaded the neglected land, gradually taking it over and the one-time variety of species began noticeably to diminish.

That was the moment when EuroNatur's work in north-east Poland began. At first the goal was to restore important sections of the river and recreate conditions for the labyrinth of meanders and ramified backwaters to return. Up to the present with the aid of PTOP (North Podlassian Society for Bird Protection) it has been possible to acquire several hundred hectares of land in the buffer zone of the Narew National Park. In the meantime water has returned to the backwaters which had dried out as a result of the channelisation and older river courses have been reconnected. The results speak for themselves: today far more species breed in the Narew region than in the time after the channelisation. 

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Reconnecting people to nature

© D. Metera
The Sakowicz Farm Cheese Dairy in Rogowo © D. Metera

In the meantime the farmers in the Narew valley are among the most important supporters of nature conservation. Ideas travel by word of mouth: projects such as climate-friendly production of energy from reeds and the setting up of cheese dairies need no advertisement. More and more they are turning out to be a sure-fire success. “This is exactly how nature conservation should work” as EuroNatur's project leader Lutz Ribbe says, hitting the nail on the head. For that is what the project work in the Narew Region in the North-east of Poland has achieved; long term perspectives for people and nature.

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Energy from reeds – For nature, mankind and climate

© Lutz Ribbe
Michal Gogol, farmer, produces a climate-neutral fuel from reed briquettes. © Lutz Ribbe

A successful project is running to generate energy from reeds of which there is a superabundance in the Narew National Park. Moreover reeds threaten to overrun many species-rich open land habitats.

Working with its Polish project partners EuroNatur has discovered ways of winning farmers for the idea of mowing down reeds in the sensitive areas. One concept was to use the plant material for heating. The idea has now taken on concrete form: since the end of 2007 Michal Gogol has been regularly clearing sensitive wet meadows of the intractable reeds invading them. Then he processes the biomass into reed briquettes and has in this way created a source of income for himself which is new to the region - a way of earning money which is finding more and more imitators.

The bird population data shows that mowing has also set a positive development in motion in nature. Meadow breeding birds are slowly but surely recapturing the mown wet meadows for themselves, and quite incidentally the farmer is making a contribution to climate protection with his reed briquette production. For when the reeds by the river re-grow just as much CO2 is captured as is released into the atmosphere by burning the briquettes. And the heat produced is not less than what wood produces.

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Red cows and spicy cheese

© Lutz Ribbe
Red cows can also graze on boggy meadows. © Lutz Ribbe

With their water-resistant hooves Red cows are perfectly adapted to the wet meadows along the Narew. EuroNatur has already supported a number of farmers in establishing their herds of Red cows. Meantime in Waniewo, a little place in the West of the Narew National Park, one farmer has even been found who drives his cows every morning over to the reed islands in the river to graze there. In the evenings he brings them back to the bank of the river for milking.

The recipe for success here is the same: nature conservation work pays for the farmer: made into cheese the high-quality milk of the Red Cows sells like hot cakes at regional markets as far away as Warsaw.

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Energy from oil-bearing plants

© EuroNatur
Experts in their element: Thimmy Brandt und Prof. Piotr Banaszuk in a mixed cropping field. © EuroNatur

Some Narew farmers are breaking new ground. They have been taking part since November 2007 in a project financed by the German Federal Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt). The goal is to produce biomass without too much input of energy and without negatively affecting the environment. It is all centred on mixed cropping which is still largely unknown in Poland. This method allows the farmer to plant fodder crops for his animals and at the same time oil-bearing plants for energy generation on one and the same field.

Experiments in planting camelina sativa (false flax) as part of mixed cropping have been in progress since 2008. A good number of participants in the project come from the community of Choroszcz where already two small cheese dairies have been set up with EuroNatur's support. This demonstrates the positive domino effect of successful projects. The farmers are given guidance in the process of the experiments. EuroNatur sees to it that for example the dialogue between the farmers and German experts is kept up regularly and organises one-to-one counselling on sowing and cultivation techniques.

The oil seeds harvested are to be pressed in small oil mills and the oil extracted to be used and marketed regionally. The press cake, which is a by-product of the process of pressing oilseed or the legumes (leguminosae) also planted in mixed cropping, is then to used as fodder.

In April 2010 the first oil mill arrived in Narew. In the long term a whole network of such decentralised oil mills is to develop, since this concept is well-adapted to the small-holding farm structure of the Narew region. The vegetable oil which is produced in these small mills is not refined but is intended among other things to be used directly as tractor fuel. The energy-intensive and expensive process via refineries is thus no longer required and all the processes remain in the hands of the farmers.

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Sewage treatment using plants – out with the waste water without sewers!

© Gunther Willinger
Plant-based sewage treatment systems are spreading like wildfire in the Narew region. © Gunther Willinger

The example of plant-based sewage treatment systems shows how important model projects are to promote nature-friendly solutions in a region. As part of “Local Agendas 21” funded by DBU, the German Federal Foundation for Environment, EuroNatur has worked with experts to develop a sewage concept tailored to the Narew region.

So in May 2004 the first nine plant-based sewage treatment systems were built on private land in the Polish community of Sokoly. The interest in this sewer-less disposal of waste of water grew and is still growing in East Poland and right up to the border with Lithuania.

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Pentowo- where Storks have been given the freedom of the city

© Gernot Pohl
Adebar - the fairy-tale name for storks harking back to old Norse sagas. © Gernot Pohl

On the edge of the flooding areas of the Narew lies the village of Tykocin. And in Pentowo, a hamlet outside Tykocin, there is a single farm which shelters the largest colony of White Storks in Poland. The couple who own it, supported by EuroNatur among other well-wishers, have erected platforms in the trees around their farm and as their land is farmed extensively optimum conditions have developed for Adebar, as the stork is known in German fairy-tales.

The numbers of breeding pairs has risen from two at the end of the eighties to more than twenty. The farm also hosts an information centre for visitors, which is very popular. The wet grasslands, now partially restored after a period when they dried out, are extensively grazed by old cattle breeds, such as Red Cows, or mowed when not grazed, creating plentiful foraging grounds for the storks. 

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The Narew Region is a LEADER

© Jutta Schmitz
© Jutta Schmitz

The conditions are perfect for the positive developments along the Narew to be further boosted. For one thing the successful projects are finding more and more imitators and for another the region has been recognised by the European Union as a so-called “LEADER Region”. This step guarantees financial aid from EU support funds for measures promoting sustainable regional development till 2015.

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Absurd airport project

© Josef Timar
Positively programming collisions with cranes: the airport is planned right in the middle of a crane area. © Josef Timar

The Polish authorities in the voivodship of Podlasie wish to build an international airport near Tykocin, only two kilometres as the crow flies from the Narew National Park and right between two extensive Natura 2000 regions.
This is not only a question of an ecologically unacceptable project, these plans are also absurd in terms of both transport and economic policy. In order for large-scale jets to be able to land the runway would have to be 2 400 metres long: a scale, foreseeably, for no more than two take-offs and landings per day.

In addition the plan is in complete opposition to the transport and environmental goals of the European Union (EU). And on top of that, this blatant disregard is to be financed with EU money: 112 million Euros are being demanded by Poland for an ecologically and economically absurd airport project.

However – for the moment – it's a red light for the airport project: EuroNatur has pointed out in an official statement that the airport represents direct danger to life and limb. After all in the direct vicinity huge numbers of large birds such as stork, geese and cranes are on the wing – devastating collisions are positively programmed. As a result of this objection the planning documents have been given “a grade F” by the Ministry in Warsaw and sent back to Podlasie.

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