by Hannah Mossman
Bright and (too) early on 12 May, a merry band of five MMU lecturers and 32 MSc students will jet off to the primaeval forests of Bialowieza, Poland. We'll spend nine days studying the ecology, behaviour and conservation of the animals (and plants), waking up early in the morning in the hope of grabbing a sighting of one of the 900 European Bison in the forest, and eating too much kabanosy.
Bialowieza Forest, covering over 140,000 ha of Poland and Belarus, is of exceptional conservation importance due to its old growth forests, including areas that are undisturbed with natural processes - the only place in Europe where this occurs extensively. Last year, whilst walking around the forest what struck me the most, apart from the vastness, was the abundance of tree seedlings and saplings, something that you don't see whilst walking around woodlands in the UK. And this is despite an almost intact herbivore community - actually, worth remembering that the UK has many non-native herbivores.
Working on small group projects will be the major task for the trip and spending lots of time in the forest is the best way to see some of the 59 mammal, 250+ bird and thousands of plant and invertebrate species. Last year we clocked up sightings of 112 bird species, 21 mammals and 6 herptiles. Its not a competition, but...! The list was disappointingly short of owls - Bialowieza has at least eight owl species, including, as described by the Collins fieldguide, the 'astonished' Tengmam's and 'austere' Pygmy owls - but we only saw the Tawny. Fingers crossed for a better haul this year.