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Landmark Decision!

Polish Government puts wildlife first!

Today’s decision by the Polish government to proceed with an alternative route for the Via Baltica expressway– an international road corridor in north-east Poland – has given a reprieve to some of Europe’s best wildlife sites, says a coalition of conservation groups. The road - part of a route linking Helsinki to Warsaw – is part of the EU’s Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T).

Campaigners from CEE Bankwatch Network, BirdLife International, the RSPB and OTOP (the RSPB’s partner in Poland) have said the decision by the Polish Council of Ministers is a major victory that represents a significant step towards the proper implementation of Polish and European environmental laws.

However, the groups say that the new decree does not mark the end of their campaign to save Polish sites of European importance from suffering damage from other road construction plans in the region.The sites spared by today’s decision include locations important for a range of threatened species, including lynx, wolf, beaver and threatened bird species including aquatic warbler and greater spotted eagle which have their most important concentrations in the EU in north-east Poland. The sites known as Natura 2000 sites, are all protected under European environmental laws including the EC’s Birds and Habitats directives.

According to today's decree, the Polish part of the Via Baltica expressway will be constructed in line with the recommendations of experts and the findings of a Strategic Environmental Assessment, demanded by the European Parliament, the Bern Convention and environmental groups. This has taken several years to complete.

This environmentally-sound routing of the road via Lomza, confirmed now by the government, is also valid on economic, traffic and social grounds. The decision means that the expected stream of intra-Continental lorries will go via Lomza, thus avoiding negative impacts on three Natura 2000 sites: the Biebrza Marshes, and the Knyszyn and Augustow Primeval Forests. However, it does not bring an automatic halt to current road construction work inside the Knyszyn Forest or other environmentally harmful road-development plans in north-east Poland.Dr Helen Byron, a senior RSPB international site casework officer, said: “This is great news! After seven years of campaigning, the Polish ministers approved a new route for the Via Baltica corridor that will avoid the threatened sites of international importance. Sadly, this doesn't mean our work is over entirely - we still need to protect sites along the 'old' Via Baltica route and ensure that construction on the new route goes ahead so that this isn't just a paper victory. But this is an absolutely fantastic step forward ensuring a brighter future for the wildlife of this naturally diverse region.”

Marta Majka Wisniewska, Polish national coordinator for Bankwatch, said: “Today's decision from the Council of Ministers does not close the case of egregious road development in north-east Poland. There is a further need to change other strategic documents, in particular the current list of investments under the Operational Programme 'Infrastructure & Environment' and the Polish proposal on TEN-T revision. And, of course, the devil will be in the final implementation of today's positive outcome.”

Malgorzata Gorska, IBA Casework Officer of OTOP (the RSPB’s Polish partner), said: ”As these road developments have been proceeding at high speed, Natura 2000 sites like the Knyszyn Forest and the Biebrza Marshes are still under threat. Our task is to ensure that all environmentally-harmful road projects along the old routing of the Via Baltica, as queried by the European Commission, are halted or modified. With the new route for the Via Baltica corridor settled there is no need to continue with these large scale projects on the old route which will needlessly damage Natura 2000 sites.”

4th July 2014