EU court orders Poland to halt logging in primeval forest


The European Union's top court ordered Poland on Friday to immediately halt large-scale logging in the primeval Bialowieza forest, in an attempt to save the trees as an EU case lodged against Warsaw may take years to conclude.

A spokeswoman for the European Court of Justice (ECJ) gave no immediate reason for the ruling but it follows a legal appeal this month from the European Commission to halt logging at the UNESCO World Heritage-listed forest.

The Commission, the EU's executive arm, has said the logging violates the bloc's wildlife protection laws.

Straddling the border between Poland and Belarus, Bialowieza is one of Europe's last ancient forests and home to its largest herd of European bison.

Environmentalists have been holding regular protests to try to halt the logging and UNESCO has also appealed to Poland stop cutting down the trees.

Poland's right-wing, eurosceptic government says logging is needed to protect the forest from beetles and also to safeguard local communities living in the area. It has increased the quota of wood that can be harvested there.

"If Polish authorities do not respect the (ECJ) decision, it will be in serious conflict with EU law," said Agata Szafraniuk, a lawyer at ClientEarth, a green non-governmental organisation.

But Poland's Environment Minister Jan Szyszko - a hunter who enjoys the backing of forester and hunting lobbies - was quoted as saying on Friday that more than one million trees must be cut down in Bialowieza this year because of the beetle invasion.

The main legal case brought by the European Commission against Warsaw over Bialowieza could take months or even years to conclude, hence its appeal to the ECJ for swift interim action.

Should Poland lose the main case at the ECJ, it could be fined a lump sum of more than 4 million euros and possible daily penalties of up to 300,000 euros for every day in which Warsaw fails to adhere to the court's decision.

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