Establishing The Lower Oder Valley National Park at Międzyodrze – “The European Amazon”, Poland
By Edyta Bodnar
Photos by Piotr Piznal, Piotr Chara, Piotr Fisher Rosinski, Piotr Fisher Rosinski, and Ryszrd Matecki. Illustrations by Ryszard Matecki.
Edyta Bodnar became part of the GEN community after joining the Community Exchange hosted in Ireland on Community Herbalism and Health Sovereignty in Europe. Since 2022 she has been dedicating much of her time and energy to her community in the wake of an environmental disaster that ravaged the lives of human and nonhuman inhabitants alike, along the Oder river. Edyta has gathered a group of multidisciplinary community members to band together in their environmental activism to demand for policy change to be made in order to avoid another horrendous disaster in the future.
Wild, moist, rich and hardly accessible to humans, the land between the two Oder river branches stretches for 60 square kilometres. This land consists of peat marshes, wet meadows, a tangle of canals, backwaters and even lakes. This area, called “the European Amazon”, is home to a great variety of fauna and flora, a long list of protected species and over 200 species of birds (125 breeding ones), including many threatened with extinction. This is an important place of rest and feeding for migratory birds on their annual journey from the North of Europe to Africa, and back.
This precious land is located in the middle of Europe, just over an hour drive from Berlin.
The Oder river is Poland’s second-longest river, with a distance of 840 kilometres (522 miles) long.
The river has its spring in the Czech Republic, along its course it forms the Polish-German border and flows into the Baltic Sea. In its lower course, the Oder branches into two river arms, the Western and Eastern Odra. The land between those two river arms is called Międzyodrze.
In August 2022, there was a tragic poisoning of the Oder river. Hundreds of thousands of lives (fish and invertebrates) were lost as a result of a combination of factors: an appalling industrial waste management policy, lies and omissions by governmental institutions and weather conditions.
400 tonnes of dead fish have been removed from the river, though the exact number of lives lost is still unknown. It is estimated that 50-60% of the fish population and 80-90% of molluscs have been eradicated.
It was thanks to Międzyodrze and its extraordinary properties that the estuary of the Oder River to the Baltic Sea (Lake Dąbie, the Szczecin Lagoon and the Baltic Sea itself) were saved from further contamination during the catastrophe. Some of the fish could find shelter in the old canal from the poisonous water in the main river corridor. Hopefully, thanks to Miedzyodrze, life in the Oder can slowly revive.
It is amazing to think that Miedzyodrze could play a comparable role in the health of the river as the appendix in the human body through its capacity to store healthy, good life forms and microbiota. When the system suffers disease the appendix releases its stock of good bacteria and “reboots” the digestive system. We believe that a similar process happens with the river.
No words can explain the feelings felt when standing at the river shore and looking at masses of small and huge lifeless fish passing by in murky waters for days and nights, when you hear confusing information in the news, when you start realising that those responsible for the destruction are not going to be punished and no real steps are being taken in order to prevent this from happening again.
We realised that we cannot hope for any support from the government and we need to take action to protect our environment. At the end of 2022 an informal group of about 10 committed people was formed, consisting of scientists, nature photographers, social & environmental activists, naturalists, herbalists, ornithologists and artists. Our aim is to establish a National Park in Międzyodrze in order to protect this extremely valuable area.
The idea of the Lower Oder Valley National Park is not new. The first time the idea of creating a German-Polish national park crossing the border of two countries was expressed in 1990. It was followed by a period of intense work by a team of scientists, government representatives and provincial administration of both countries. Unfortunately, all that work resulted in establishing the National Park on the German side only. The Polish part of the proposed national park only gained a much lower status of a Landscape Park which doesn’t imply much needed protection.
In order to communicate our message, educate and start building social support we set up a Facebook profile for the planned National Park and created an expansive website. There is a great deal of resistance from the Polish authorities towards activities aimed at protecting nature, including in this case the Oder River. The political focus is on expanding the river’s function as transportation and a free sewage canal for the industrial industries. We set ourselves the goal of building the strongest possible social support for the idea of establishing a National Park. We use whatever talents, skills and channels of communication we have in order to communicate our message. All of our activities to date are based on volunteering.
We put a lot of effort into educating the local and wider community about the importance and need to protect our environment.
We visit schools to show kids photographs and talk about the work of a nature photographer, we organise concerts where the music is blended with the recordings of the sounds of nature, we take part in many more or less formal meetings discussing the future of the river, we speak to the local politicians, we write articles and hosted the exhibition of a series of black & white graphics “Tears of the Oder” has been shown in several venues in Poland and Germany.We’ve realised that our incredible strength is that we come from different disciplines and each of us is an expert in our own field.
Our initiative seems to be continuously gathering more support and recognition. We are just about to put some formal structures for our group.
Thanks to the assistance and support from the Global Diversity Foundation and the GEN Seed Project funding we will continue our work in strengthening our mission statement within the local and wider community. This also involves meeting local government representatives and reaching out to our future partners in the German National Park just on the other side of the river.
In September we plan to organise an event with a concert of musician and river activist Michal Zygmunt in the town of Gryfino, located nearby the proposed national park. This concert will be educational in nature and will bring more understanding and enthusiasm towards the idea of environmental protection.