Understanding the current state and dynamics of any forest is extremely difficult - if not impossible - without recognizing its history. Białowieża Primeval Forest (BPF), located on the border between Poland and Belarus, is one of the best preserved European lowland forests and a subject of myriads of works focusing on countless aspects of its biology, ecology, management. BPF was protected for centuries (15th-18th century) as a game reserve of Polish kings and Lithuanian grand dukes. Being, at that time, a part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, BPF was subject to long-lasting traditional, multi-functional utilisation characteristic for this part of Europe, including haymaking on forest meadows, traditional bee-keeping and fishing in rivers flowing through forest. This traditional model of management came to an abrupt end due to political change in 1795, when Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania ceased to exist in effect of partitioning by neighbouring countries, and the territory of BPF was taken over by the Russian Empire. The new Russian administration, influenced by the German trends in forestry, attempted at introducing the new, science-based forestry model in the BPF throughout the 19th century. The entire 19th century in the history of BPF is a story of struggle between new trends and concepts brought and implemented by new rulers of the land, and the traditional perception of the forest and forest uses, culturally rooted in this area and originating from mediaeval (or older) practices.
The book will show the historical background and the outcome of this struggle: the forest's history in the long 19th century focusing on tracking all cultural imprints, both material (artificial landscapes, introduced alien species, human-induced processes) and immaterial (traditional knowledge of forest and use of forest resources, the political and cultural significance of the forest) that shaped the forest's current state and picture. Our book will deliver a picture of a crucial moment in forest history, relevant not only to the Central Europe, but to the continent in general. Moment of transition between a royal hunting ground, traditional type of use widespread throughout Europe, to a modern, managed forest. Looking at main obstacles in the management shift, the essential difference in perceptions of the forest and goods it provides in both modes of management, and the implications of the management change for the state of BPF in the long 19th century could help in better understanding the changes that European forests underwent in general.