Visiting the bisons
Alexander Buryi
Director General of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park

Visiting the bisons

The Belovezhskaya Pushcha (Belavezha Forest), the last survived part of relic forest in Europe, is undergoing difficulties now. The difficulties in the biodiversity conservation and the current political and economic situation make the Belovezhskaya Pushcha’s personnel to optimize their work and change their plans for the future. EcoTourism Expert talked about this with Alexander Buryi, Director General of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park.

- Please tell me, are there fakes about the Belovezhskaya Pushcha today that prevent attracting tourists to the National Park?

- We have never really fought with anyone because we know our business and do it professionally. Arguing with ‘weekend scientists’ and troublemakers is to create intrigue and to ‘hype’.

At the same time, we are obliged, of course, to make a response - to consider any letter coming and respond to it giving our comment. But each case requires an individual approach.

As for the Belovezhskaya Pushcha, there were, probably, only a few fake news, which, to be honest, I don’t even remember now as they were so insignificant.

- Let’s put aside the fakes and tell me what makes your heart hurt today as you are the Head of the National Park?

- I care for everything, from scientific studies to employees’ work at a hotel. We have to solve all problems, including the ones people have; 1,300 employees are in the staff of the National Park and many need help in solving household issues, in particular, the issues related to routine things like harvesting hay, providing them with firewood, and salary issues.

- What is the salary of the workers at the Belovezhskaya Pushcha now? And what is the economic state?

- Of course, we cannot say that our salary is high. The problem is that we were focused on the European market. For example, the products of our woodworking industry were bought in Europe at high prices, three times higher than what the Asian countries offer today.

Both our needs and our opportunities have grown according to the dynamics. We have done a lot to improve the tourist facilities, for example, we have upgraded the technologies and equipment in the hotel business, in public catering, as well as the transport infrastructure.

We are focused on making money.

- And how much do you succeed in this?

- Today, our state subsidies cover about 30 percent, we earn the rest money on our own. And we do not rest on our laurels, we have approached the markets of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and China. So, we are not a distressed National Park.

- Do people come to work at your Belovezhskaya Pushcha?

- To work at the Belovezhskaya Pushcha, you need to be a passionate person, you must love the Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Of course, we request some specialists who graduated from universities, but only a few remain to work with us. You know, young people today are fond of gadgets, they are used to living in large cities, but here, we have a forest where they should love and understand nature.

- By the way, did you manage to remove any plant species or animals from the Red Book - the Endangered Species List - during your work?

- Yes, we succeeded! There is such a fungus - Common stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) (a stinkhorn tincture was used for ‘abdominal pains’ in the folk-medicine, wounds were disinfected with it, the stinkhorn was used as a medicine for uratic arthritis and kidney diseases, it can also be used for rheumatism and some gastrointestinal diseases - ed.). Thanks to the work we’ve done, it has been removed from the Red Book.

- In general, do tourists create a serious load on the ecology of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha Natural Reserve?

- The fact is that humans do not have a very big footprint on nature changes - we see how the climate and temperature change, and there is a shortage of moisture. If we talk about the Belovezhskaya Pushcha, we also see the changes in it - there is a slow change in species of trees and shrubs, and thus, a change in the soil and, as a consequence, the habitats of animals and birds. But this is inevitable.

As for a human impact on the National Park, if the tourists leave just some wrappings, of course, it can do some harm to nature, but this is a small ‘load’ on nature. But the technical development in general really does certain harm.

In this sense, my task as the Head of the National Park is, on the one hand, to ensure the economy of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha, and, on the other hand, to do this without doing any harm to nature. And it’s a very difficult task.

- And in this situation, what about tourists?

- It’s very simple: the main task for us in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha today is to provide and develop ecological tourism as the human recreation option less harmful to nature. That is why we do not focus on woodworking today, because we are limited in raw materials as we have just 58-59 thousand hectares of protected area.

- There is another problem - the wall being built by Poland that cuts the Belovezhskaya Pushcha into two parts ...

- No one else harms nature as much as humans. In my opinion, the wall is a narrow-minded ambition of stupid people. At the same time, the Poland’s Minister of Energy is in charge of national parks and forestry in the country today. He perceives the forest as a resource, and not as a nature reserve. By the way, they cut down a fairly large amount of their forest five years ago to improve their economy.

At the same time, I am sure that nature will ‘cope with’ all this. Yes, of course, the processes of exchanging the gene pool of hoofed animals and small animals will be disrupted, as well as the hydrology, since the Belarusian part of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha is the main water reserve, and watercourses have a slope towards Poland. So, there will be floods in Belarus, and Poland will suffer drought. Accordingly, soils will change, the species composition in the forests will change, too.

By the way, Europe is sparsely wooded, it does not have such a rich animal world and such amazing forests as in Belarus and Russia.

At the same time, about 700 EU scientists appealed to the UNESCO and the Council of Europe requesting to ban the wall construction, but their opinion was ignored. It should also be kept in mind that the Belovezhskaya Pushcha is the farthest northern route of the migration of hoofed animals from Asia to Europe.

- And how serious is the situation?

- I would like to underline that if the wall is removed, everything will get back to normal within one or two generations. To do this, a political will is required.

- So, do you have a general vision of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha’s future?

- We must understand that today, we live in the world where economy reigns, everyone wants to eat. As the Director General, I see the Belovezhskaya Pushcha as a nature reserve that should be preserved and would increase its biodiversity in the future. It is necessary that the Red Book mosses, lichen, fungi, and birds would be “removed” from the Red Book - the Endangered Species List - with our help.

Therefore, we monitor the load on nature very carefully. But under these circumstances, it is necessary to solve the social issues of the locals and workers. The tourists are welcome to visit the Belovezhskaya Pushcha - come and bring money and do no harm to nature.