One of the lesser discussed aspects of the cultural republicanism which fuelled the early 20th century Irish Revolution were the environmental interests and concerns of the men and women of 1916. Of course they did not express that interest in the language of the modern ecological movement but throughout their writing there is a deep respect for the flora and fauna of Ireland and the wider world. For Patrick H. Pearse the island was inhabited by “…fellow-citizens of the grass and woods and water” and this greatly influenced his educational and intellectual pursuits. While that strand of republican thought was lost in the decades following the internecine Civil War, in recent years it has come to the fore again, notably with the Shell to Sea campaign in County Mayo or the national movement demanding constitutional ownership of all water resources by the State.
In my own politics I am very much a Green Republican, reflected in my former enthusiasm for the Green Party (until that was killed off by the GP’s complicity in the desecration of the historical landscape around the Hill of Tara, its ministerial role in the denigration of Irish nomenclature for official placenames, and its part in the discredited Celtic Tiger economy). So further news from Poland on the destruction of the ancient Białowieża forest, featured by the Guardian, is deeply worrying.
Scientists and environmental campaigners have accused the Polish government of bringing the ecosystem of the Białowieża forest in north-eastern Poland to the “brink of collapse”, one year after a revised forest management plan permitted the trebling of state logging activity and removed a ban on logging in old growth areas.
Large parts of the forest, which spans Poland’s eastern border with Belarus and contains some of Europe’s last remaining primeval woodland, are subject to natural processes not disturbed by direct human intervention.
A Unesco natural world heritage site – the only one in Poland – the forest is home to about 1,070 species of vascular plants, 4,000 species of fungi, more than 10,000 species of insect, 180 breeding bird species and 58 species of mammal, including many species dependent on natural processes and threatened with extinction.
While Warsaw’s odious right-wing Law and Justice government has restricted logging in Białowieża’s dedicated national park, this area represents just 17% of the Polish-controlled woodlands in the region. Tens of thousands of hectares of associated primeval forest have been left deliberately vulnerable to exploitation. Which is exactly what is happening, with an incalculable loss to Europe’s natural heritage.