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.


“The law allows any tree on private property to be cut down by the owner, even if it is 200 years old,” said to The Guardian  Joanna Mazgajska of the Institute of Zoology at the Polish Academy of Sciences to The Guardian. “Many private citizens regard trees on their land as a nuisance. They don’t report, they just cut – it’s barbarism.”

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.”
In the southern city of Krakow, a group of women calling themselves Polish Mothers on Tree Stumps are raising awareness of the issue on social media by posting photos of themselves sitting on tree stumps and breast-feeding their children. “Every day, I go around Krakow with my husband and son to find a new place where trees have been cut down, and every day we find one,” said to The Guardian Cecylia Malik, who founded the campaign, which has since spread across the country. “Since the passing of the new law, we have done 50 in a row.”

For some, the planting of trees amounts to dissident activity. The municipality of Kielce refused an initiative to plant trees, on the grounds that “such an initiative could be regarded as involving our city in an anti-government protest”.

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.
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