A controversial change to Polish environmental law has unleashed what campaigners describe as a “massacre” of trees across the country. The new amendment, commonly known as “Szyszko’s law”, after Jan Szyszko, Poland’s environment minister, removes the obligation for private landowners to apply for permission to cut down trees, pay compensation or plant new trees, or even to inform local authorities that trees have been or will be removed. The change came into force on 1 January and has led to a surge in tree-felling, with activists reporting newly cleared spaces in cities, towns and parts of the countryside all over Poland.
Although the new law prohibits private landowners from engaging in commercial developments themselves on land that has recently been cleared of trees, it contains a loophole: there is nothing stopping them from selling the land to developers as soon as the trees have been cut down.
“Before the new law, we would receive between five and 10 inquiries daily,” one owner of a tree-cutting business told the Guardian . “But in January and February, we would sometimes receive 200 inquiries in a single day.”
Environment minister Szyszko is already known for opening to industrial logging Białowieża forest, Europe’s last remaining primeval woodland. In defence of the move he has cited the book of Genesis, which exhorts mankind not only to “replenish the earth”, but also to “subdue it”.
Szyszko next project is to dismantle of Poland’s environmental monitoring and protection regime.