Overview and history
Old oaks are witnesses
to the richness
of past primeval forests.
Forested areas occur on almost 63% of the territory of the Wigry
National Park, where they cover 9 464,2 hectares. The severe climate
of north-eastern Poland results in the occurrence of forest
communities of a boreal (northern) character. The most conspicuous
differences compared with forests in other parts of Poland are the
absence of beech, fir, broad-leaved linden, durmast oak and sycamore
maple, and the abundance of spruce, which can also be found in
Poland in the mountains. Spruce occurs in almost all forest
communities in the Park.
The forests of
the Wigry National Park constitute the northern part of the
Augustów Primeval Forest. It covers
almost 1 150 km2
and is one of the largest compact forest complexes in Poland.
Combined with forests in Lithuania and Belarus, the Augustów
Primeval Forest is the largest forested area in the lowlands
of Europe, covering ca. 3 000 km2.
At the time following the conquest of the Jotvingians’ lands in the
13th century, till the 17th century, the Wigry lake was surrounded
by primeval forests left almost unexploited in any way by Man and
used as the hunting grounds of Lithuanian dukes and Polish kings.
Pine and spruce forest predominated while mixed coniferous forests
with major proportions of oaks, linden trees and maples grew on
better soils. The abundant occurrence of oaks around Lake Wigry is
confirmed by the fact that, until the beginning of the 19th century,
the forest complex near the Wysoki Węgieł peninsula had been called
„Dumbrowa” (a vernacular name for oak woods).
Old names for parts of Lake Wigry. Source: Knut Olof Falk, From the past and present of Lake Wigry waters,
in: Lake Wigry, a Cradle of Polish Hydrobiology. Dissertations and Monographs, 1979, PWN Warszawa.
Forests in the year 1890.
The maximum extent of deforestation
around Lake Wigry. Source: Novaja
Topograficzeskaja Karta Zapadnoj
Rossii , published 1909-1917.
For more than 300 years, the forest surrounding Lake Wigry
has been primarily a source of timber.
The 17th century is marked by the beginning of commercial
exploitation of the forests for timber. Charcoal and potash (potash is a kind of ash obtained from wood of deciduous trees. It has been used for tanning hides and in soap production) were produced, and wood tar (pitch) and turpentine were distilled there.
The exploitation of forests was undertaken in a predatory manner,
i.e. by felling mostly valuable deciduous trees. From the mid 19th
century, a planned forest management practice had been introduced.
The felling of trees was done on regular plots (clearings). The
young forest regenerated spontaneously from surrounding trees or
from seed trees left on the clearings.
About the same time, the regeneration of the forest was enhanced by
the manual sowing of tree seeds. In the 1920s, the practice of
planting young saplings bred in forest plantations was started. All
the abovementioned methods of regenerating forests have preferred
coniferous species, resulting in the emergence of pine and spruce
forests. The proportion of deciduous species was progressively
reduced. As a result of these practices, the pine predominates now
in almost 80% of the area of forest stands (forest stand is a portion of a forest which is homogenous (uniform) in structure, tree species composition, age and the density of canopy, as well as the type of soil and land relief, and differs from nearby forested areas by at least one of these
Pine stand in forest section 160.
Till the second half of the 19th century, the extent of the forests has continued to shrink.
The deforested areas were taken over by villages and farmlands. Since the beginning of the 20th century, a slow increase in the area of forested land has taken place. The areas of the Wasilczyki, Białe and Słupie villages from where their populations were resettled in 1903, were the first to undergo afforestation. The next series of afforestation projects were carried out after World War II in the areas once occupied by the villages of Zakąty, Jastrzęby and Czerwony Krzyż, which were destroyed by the Germans during pacification operations. In the second half of the 20th century the cultivation of poor soils was abandoned. The forest started to take over spontaneously the drained meadows along rivers and lakes, as well as boggy depressions amongst the fields. Pine trees were planted in the dry and sandy patches of former farmlands.
The protection of forests surrounding Lake Wigry began in 1932, when a decision on managing the forests on the fringes of the lake ”as reserves” was taken. In the 1930s, the partial reserve ”Wigry” was established on the Wysoki Węgieł peninsula. The reserve covered nearly 577 hectares. In the late 1950s, the felling age for pines in forest
stands, around Lake Wigry and Czarna Hańcza was increased to 120 years, and the logging by complete clearances was abandoned.
Some portions of the forests in the Park
resemble old primeval forests.
At the same period, the first nature reserves of ”Stary Folwark”
and ”Lake Wądołek” were established, with forests within their limits. After declaring the Wigry Landscape Park in 1976, some of the most valuable portions of forest stands have been gradually removed from the logging operations. Since 1980, the felling age limits have been increased and introduced in the landscape park for both pine and spruce (140 and 120 years, respectively). In 1985, 18 new nature reserves were established in the area of the future national park, covering a combined of more than 1 700 hectares. On 1 July 1986, a part of the Wigry section of the Suwałki Forest Inspectorate (more than 7 000 hectares) was established as the Wigry Park Forest Inspectorate. Thus, when the Wigry National Park was created on 1 January 1989, it incorporated parts of the forests from the Suwałki and Głęboki Bród forest inspectorates.