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National Parks in Poland
1. SWIETOKRZYSKI NATIONAL PARK

Location, area, history
The Park is located in the central part of Poland, in Swietokrzyskie Voivodeship. It encompases: Lysogory the highest range of the Swietokrzyskie Mountains, with their highest peaks: Lysica (612 m a.s.l.) and Lysa Gora (595 m a.s.l.), the eastern part of Pasmo Klonowskie range (together with the peaks at Bukowa Gora, Psarska Gora, and Miejska Gora) and a part of Pasmo Pokrzywianskie range (with Chelmowa Gora peak).
The history of conservation of the Swietokrzyskie Mountains started in 1922, when two strict nature reserves were established on the southern slope of Swiety Krzyz (area of 196 ha) and in Lysica region (area of 115 ha). In 1932 both reserves were enlarged to cover the area of 1,347 ha in total. The national park was officially established in 1950 over the area of 6,054 ha.
Currently its area amounts to 7,626 ha, out of which 7,212 ha are covered by forests. There are 5 strict nature reserves in the Park, having the total area of 1,731 ha.

Geology, geomorphology and soils
The Swietokrzyskie Mountains are the oldest mountains in Poland and Europe. They were formed during the Caledonian uplift, 520-400 million years ago. They owe their present form to the Herzinian mountain-building movements which lasted about 300 million years. In the period when the area was covered by a sea, various sediments were deposited on the sea bottom, which formed a number of rock types, such as: shales, conglomerates, sandstones, and limestones. The rocks have preseved numerous traces of life existing in the seas of the past times, in the form of fossilized plant and animal organisms. Many of them have been first scientifically described only in the period between 1960-1985. In the Quarternary period, lasting for the last 2 million years, the Swietokrzyskie Montains were covered by a glacier. The Swietokrzyskie chain is distinct among other Polish mountains for its geological structure which exposes the old rocks that would normally be hidden deep under younger deposits, as it is on a lowland.
The most important and unique feature of the Park are boulder fields, called "goloborza". These are the fields of quartz boulders of the Cambrian origin, located close to the mountain summits and deprived of vascular vegetation.

Vegetation
The Park flora is represented by 129 species of lichens, 190 species of bryophyte, and 670 species of vascular plants, 49 of which is protected by law. The most valuable species of the Park include: Siberian iris, globe flower, ostrich fern, and common buckler fern. 674 trees in the Park have the status of natural monuments. An important achievement of the Park is the restitution of common jew (Taxus baccata), whose population at present amounts to 1,300 trees. The boulder fields, "goloborza", with their valuable flora and fauna, are consider the most stable habitats. It is presumed that communities of lower plants, such as lichens, liverworts found on the boulder fields may have a primeval character.
Most of the area is covered by forests with fir and beech. Pine forests are less common. Mixed forests with pine and oak and an admixture of fir, larch, spruce and beech are found in the lower parts of the mountains. Richer habitats are occupied by dry-ground forests with lime and hornbeam, while wet and boggy sites by wet coniferous forests and alder carrs. 35 species of trees were found in the forests communities of the Park.
Special care is given to fir, which for many years was a dominant species in the forests of the Swietokrzyski Mountains.

Fauna
The Park fauna is represented by over 4000 species of invertebrate and 210 species of vertebrate, including 187 species protected by law. 8 species of invertebrate were first scientifically described in the Park. The presence in the fauna of mountainous and northern/mountainous species is considered its most important feature. They are usually components of the most valuable biocenoses, i.e. fir forest, beech forest, and boulder fields. Molluscs are quite unique as mountainous species amount to 30% of their total number. Mountainous species are also numerous among insects. Many mountainous, relict animal species live on the boulder fields.

Material culture and tourism
Apart from outstanding natural values, the Park and its immediate buffer zone is rich in important architectural monuments. Most of them are sacral buildings. The most valuable is the Benedictine abbey, from the first half of the 12th Century, located at the top of Swiety Krzyz. The Polish oldest preserved piece of writing - "The Swietokrzyskie Surmons" was probably made here. Little chapels are an interesting component of the landscape. The most famous are St. Francis and St. Nicholas chapels located along the tourist trail leading from Swieta Katarzyna to Swiety Krzyz. Other historical sites are located outside the Park borders. They include the convent of Benedictine nuns from 1633 in Swieta Katarzyna, churches in Bieliny (early baroque style, from the first half of the 17th Century), Bodzentyn (gothic style, from the mid 15th Century), and in Slupia Nowa (late renaissance style, from the second half of the 17th Century). Other, more important sites are e.g. the ruins of bishops' castle from the late 14th Century in Bodzentyn, the worship embankment around Lysa Gora from the 9th and 10th Centuries, the building of former hospital monastery from the 16th Century in Nowa Slupia, and the museum of smelting industry in Nowa Słupia, where a show of old, traditional methods of iron casting can be seen during the "Dymarki" festival. Natural values of the Park can be observed while hiking along numerous tourist trails and interpretative paths, and well as visiting the museum of natural history and forestry on Swiety Krzyz.

2. BORY TUCHOLSKIE NATIONAL PARK

Location, area, history
Bory Tucholskie National Park was established on 1 July 1996, on the area of 4,789 ha. At present the Park covers 4798 ha. It is located in the central-north part of Poland, in Pomorskie Voivodeship, within the Polish largest forest complex - Bory Tucholskie. The Park encompasses a part of the Zaborski Landscape Park that was established in 1990 to protect the outstanding natural and cultural features of the southern part of Kaszuby, the Land of Zaborow (Ziemia Zaborowska).

Geology, geomorphology and soils
The Park constitutes an important element in the network of areas under the highest form of conservation in Poland. The area was shaped by the Scandinavian glacier during the Baltic glaciation. It is covered by a vast Brda outwash (sandr), mostly built of sands and gravels which gave origin to poor soils. The landscape is relieved by valleys and channels, as well as dune hills.

Waters
There are over 20 lakes in the Park. 4 of them, of the particularly great value, are oligotrophic lakes with crystal clean water and Lobelia dortmanna. 3 dystrophic lakes and the area of so called "Seven Lakes Rill" (Struga siedmiu jezior) constitute other interesting features. The main rivers are Brda and Czerwona Struga flowing through the buffer zone of the Park.

Vegetation
56 water vegetation, 7 moss communities and 15 forest communities were distinguished among plant associations present in the Park. Humid pine forests dominate in the Park. Large areas are occupied by coniferous forests with cup-moss and high representation of rare species of lichens. Lichens are represented in the Park by 206 species. A valuable element of the flora are plants associated with oligotrophic lakes, e.g. Lobelia dortmannna, Isoetes lacustris, as well as with peatbogs and moss communities, e.g. Carex, Drosera, and Calla palustris.

Fauna
144 species of birds were found in the Park, 108 of which are nesting species. Other groups are represented by: 25 species of fish, 43 species of mammals, 13 species of amphibians, and 6 species of reptiles. Most interesting birds include: crane, eagle owl, sea eagle, goldeneye, and kingfisher. Among mammals, 7 species of bats, beaver and river otter are particularly precious.

Material culture and tourism
Local inhabitants have preserved many of their customs and traditions until the present times. Many typical for Kaszuby buildings (mostly cottages) can be found here. The Park area is frequently visited by tourists. Main holiday centres of Bory Tucholskie are located on Charzykowskie Lake, in close proximity of the Park borders.

3. BIALOWIEZA NATIONAL PARK

Location, area, history
Bialowieza National Park is located in the eastern part of Poland, in Podlaskie Voivodeship, at the border with Belorussia. The Park lies in the central part of Bialowieza Primeval Forest, which is the most natural forest complex in the lowland part of Europe. The Park area (enlarged in 1996 by over 5 thousand ha) is 10,502 ha, while the oldest part, "Strict Preservation" (Rezerwat Scisly) occupies 4,747 ha. The Park is dominated by forest ecosystems which take up over 90% of its area.
The Park history goes back to 1921 where the forest district "Preservation" (Rezerwat) was created, which in 1932 was renamed into "National Park in Bialowieza" (Park Narodowy w Bialowiezy). It was restored in 1947 as Bialowieza National Park, which is one of the oldest in Europe.
In 1977 the Park was recognised by UNESCO as the Biosphere Reserve, and in 1979 designated as World Heritage Site, as the only one natural site in Poland.
In 1992 UNESCO enlarged the World Heritage Site to adjacent part of Belorussian National Park "Belavezhskaya Pushcha". On that way was originated transboundary Polish-Belorussian World Heritage Site.
In 1997 Park was designated by European Diploma.

Geology, geomorphology and soils
The Park area belongs to a pro-glacial morainic upland formed as a result of desintegration and melting of the central Polish continental glacier, which was a part of the Warta Stage. The relief is not highly diversified. The surface is mostly composed of sands and gravels with frontal moraine boilders. Soils are dominated by brown and grey-brown soils formed from glacial tills. Black soils and poorly developed alluvial soils are present in the river valleys. Small interior terrain holes are occupied by peat soils.

Waters
Bialowieza Primeval Forest lies on the border of the Vistula and Niemen drainage basins. The Park area lacks large lakes and rivers. The most valuable part of the Park "Strict Preservation" is situated in the junction of the Hwozna and Narewka rivers. The Orlowka stream has also its source there. The area joined to the Park in 1996 is cut through by the Narewka tributaries: Lutownia, Braszcza and Przedzielnia.

Flora and vegetation
The Park flora is composed of about 4,500 species, including 728 species of vascular plants, 277 species of lichens, over 3,000 species of fungi. Among particularly rare plants found in the Park are: globe flower, Siberian sworldflag, arnika, Holly grass and marsh violet.
There are 40 plant communities in the Park, among which forest communities are prevailing. They are dominated by deciduous lime-oak-hornbeam forests with lime and hornbeam (Tilio Carpinetum) both in typical and moist varieties. Riparian ash-alder forests and mixed coniferous forests are not as common. Very small area is occupied by moist coniferous and alder carrs.
The "Strict Preservation" deserves special attention as no forestry activity has been carried out since 1921. According to inventory data from 1991, the average age of treestands in the "Strict Preservation" is 126 years old (for Poland this average is 54 years). Many trees have impressive size and age. The highest spruce trees are over 52 meters high. The oldest oaks are over 400 years old. Some of them have become legendary, such as Jagiello Oak, which was knocked down by the wind at about 500 years of age.

Fauna
The Park fauna is abundant and composed of about 12,000 species, most of which are invertebrates. The largest group are insects (about 8,500 species). All taxonomic groups are represented by many rare and protected species. There are about 120 species of breeding birds, 7 species of reptiles, and 11 species of amphibians.
European bison is the Park symbol. Last wild European bisons extinct in Bialowieza Forest in 1919. The species was reintroduced here in 1929. At present, in Polish part of Bialowieza Primeval Forest the herd of over 250 specimens lives in the wild. 54 species of mammals are found in the Park, including wolf, lynx, beaver, and European bison.

Material culture and tourism
The traces of early settlement in the Bialowieza Primeval Forest can still be seen today as good preserved barrows. Bialowieza Glade and the village of Białowieza have long enjoyed treatment from the kings. There is a group of old oaks named after the kings of Lithuania and Poland in the supposed site of an old Władysław Jagiełło hunting manor. A monument was put up to commemorate the hunting of the king Augustus the III Saxon, in 1752. In the end of the 19th Century was built the hunting palace for Russian tsars surrounded by an English style park. The palace was burned in 1944.
Bialowieza is a well known scientific centre. Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw University, Forestry Research Institute have their departments here, specialised in research of natural forest ecosystems. The Park is a site of numerous research projects conducted by scientists from various centres in Poland and abroad.
Tourism is allowed in the Park only in organised groups, guided by licensed guides. In the "Strict Preserve" only one, 4 km walking trail is available for all visitors. The main attraction for visitors is the natural history museum and the exhibition enclosure of European bisons. The Park's breeding centre of European Bison is the largest in Poland. The Park is the editor of "The European Bison Pedigree Book" and "National Parks and Nature Reserves".
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