In a landmark case, the EU’s top court has ruled that Poland broke EU law by increasing timber logging in a protected primeval forest.

Today the EU Court of Justice ruled that Poland broke EU nature protection rules by increasing the number of logging licences granted for Białowieża forest, recognised by the United Nations as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The ruling enters into force straight away and if Poland continues logging it could run up huge financial penalties of at least €4.3 million.

Białowieża forest is almost unique in mainland Europe, with untouched pristine woodland home to hundreds of natural treasures such as the European Bison and the three-toed woodpecker.

James Thornton, Chief Executive of environmental law group ClientEarth, welcomed today’s ruling. He said:

“This is a huge victory for all defenders of Bialowieza Forest. Hundreds of people were heavily engaged in saving this unique, ancient woodland from unthinkable destruction. We warned that the increased logging would breach EU law even before the minister officially authorised it. From a legal perspective, the case has been as clear as day from the beginning – it was very obvious that the law was being broken.”

Today’s conclusion of the case follows nearly two years of protracted legal wrangling. On 20 November last year, the EU court ruled that the Polish government would face €100,000 a day in fines if it did not stop illegal logging within a two week period – the first ruling of its kind to impose fines on a country before a case has been concluded.

The case was brought to the EU Court of Justice by the European Commission when it called on the EU court to slap a hefty fine on the Polish government following its refusal to respect an emergency ban on logging in Bialowieza that was issued by the EU court in July 2017.

The European Commission said that logging in Białowieża was a breach of EU nature rules as the forest is part of the EU’s ‘Natura 2000’ network of protected sites where nature-damaging activities are restricted.

The Polish government claimed logging was crucial in order to tackle a bark beetle outbreak.

Sergiy Moroz, Senior Policy Officer for Water and Biodiversity at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) said:

“Today’s ruling is a resounding victory for Europe’s nature and wildlife – and the EU laws that protect them for future generations. It’s time for the Polish government to stop the illegal logging in Białowieża forest and protect the rare and precious species that call this ancient forest home.”