Easier to stay overnight in the wilderness in the State Forests

The State Forests has designated special forest areas of over 65, 000 ha in total, where bushcraft and survival enthusiasts will be able to do their hobby without fear of violating the Forest Act. The pilot program will start in several regions of Poland on 21 November.

The State Forests has designated special forest areas of over 65, 000 ha in total, where bushcraft and survival enthusiasts will be able to do their hobby without fear of violating the Forest Act. The pilot program will start in several regions of Poland on 21 November.

'We will evaluate the results in a year, but it may be a breakthrough. We are removing barriers of misunderstanding between various groups, and together we are looking for solutions that will allow everyone to enjoy the forest in a way that is safe both for them and for the forest.' says Andrzej Konieczny, Director-General of the State Forests.

The community associated with bushcraft and survival (i.e. rather rare forms of outdoor activity focusing on close contact with nature, minimalism, self-sufficiency and long-time stay in the forest) accounts for over 40,000 people in Poland and is increasing fast. The members of the community and the foresters are very much aware of the importance of deep contact with nature to our health, and good knowledge of the laws of nature.

In spite of this, the idea of 'wandering in the wilderness' is a challenge for the State Forests as the manager of most forest areas in the country. For example, the Forest Act of 1991, Art. 30 forbids to camp away from places designated by a forest owner or the forest district manager. Unfortunately, there is no clear definition of 'camping' (does the definition include everything from a pitched tent, through a hammock suspended between trees, to a sleeping pad spread out on the ground?).

Free book Forest survival published by the State Forests

What's more, bushcraft or survival practitioners usually do not want to spend the night in designated and developed tourist areas, but they prefer the wilderness instead. Similar problems relate to the use of fire in the forest, cutting branches to build huts, etc., which make the foresters very concerned. 'We must follow new trends in recreation and try to give everyone the freedom to pursue their passions in the forest. Forest users should, in turn, understand the duties and responsibilities of foresters, especially for the safety of people and nature.' indicates Anna Pikus, head of the Department of Social Forest Functions at the Directorate General of the State Forests.

To dispel myths and meet each other's needs, in April 2018, the Director-General met with the representatives of various groups of forest users: cyclists, scouts, bushcraft and survival practitioners, detectorists or dog sled drivers.

Following the meeting, a series of consultations and workshops for foresters, as well as the representatives of organisations promoting bushcraft and survival began. The participants were, among others: Marek Lewandowski (vlog Ekwipunek Dźwigany Codziennie and the Facebook group Bushcraft Polska), Łukasz Słota, the group Bushcraft Poland, Grzegorz Cieśniarski (EDC), Przemysław Płoskonka and Sergiusz Borecki (Polish Survival School Association), Rafał Wierzbicki (Stary Wspaniały Świat publishing house), foresters, bushcrafters, specialists in fire protection and forest access from Directorate-General of the State Forests.

During the meeting in March 2019, an innovative solution was jointly developed and works on its implementation started. Foresters took advantage of a legal opinion, according to which, since the legislator does not specify exactly how the camping site should be designated by a forest manager, it is, therefore, possible to indicate not only a specific camping spot but also a whole large area with precisely defined borders.

'We have designated a total of 43 such areas in 15 out of 17 regional directorates, in total covering over 65,000 ha of forests. The smallest area accounts for 224 ha, the largest – 5,371 ha. In the entire designated area the bushcrafters will be able to engage in the most important activities for them, however, only through following the established regulations.' - explains Andrzej Konieczny, who issued an appropriate decision on October 21, 2019. The forests covered by the pilot program are part of the so-called statutory promotional forest complexes (there are 25 of them in the State Forests), which are to test innovative and experimental forest management solutions.

The Director-General has stated that the pilot program will run from November 21, 2019, to November 23, 2020. He also set out a pattern of regulations that people, who want to take advantage of the opportunities available in designated forest areas, must respect. The most important thing is that within these areas it will be allowed to camp anywhere in a group of up to four people and for no more than two nights in a row without the consent of the forest district office (all that should be done is to let them know by e-mail). Campers will then have to restore the place to its original condition, and first clean up the place according to the rule 'leave no trace'.

Some points of the regulations are an international catalog of good practices in bushcraft and survival. As to some aspects, foresters had to remain principled – the users of pilot areas, like all others, are prohibited from using open fire in the forest. The scale of the fire hazard in forests, recently intensified by subsequent drought years, does not allow for compromise here for security reasons.

'As responsible forest managers, we can't fulfill all dreams of survival and bushcraft practitioners. This program probably does not fully satisfy our partners, it can also raise the concern of foresters who take care of test areas. However, this is the first step in the right direction that both sides can be really proud of.’ says Anna Pikus.

The pilot period is to allow foresters who have not been very familiar with this form of recreation to learn that practicing survival and bushcraft does not pose a threat to the forest, as well as to other people. Areas covered by the program will be monitored. The foresters and volunteers from bushcraft groups will conduct observation, interviews with encountered tourists, and online surveys. Foresters will also ensure, for example, that hunting clubs mark the hunting ground in the right place and time, and will warn everyone about planned collective hunting. After one year, it will be time to assess how many people make use of this type of offer, how prepared they are, what part of them behaves ethically and respects the established rules, whether and how the type of hobby has an impact on the condition of the forest. The conclusions will be the basis for developing target solutions.