The Bird Protection Area ‘Middle Vistula Valley’

Autor: dr Przemysław Nawrocki    

The Bird Protection Area ‘Middle Vistula Valley’

The special bird protection area Middle Vistula Valley [Dolina Środkowej Wisły] was established mainly because it is one of the key ten Polish breeding sites of two bird species threatened by extinction in the European Union: the Common Tern and the Little Tern. For the Little Tern, the Middle Vistula Valley is the most important breeding site in Poland. Both of these terns are closely associated with the landscape of the middle Vistula, a braided river with numerous sandy islands. These islands, completely bare or with scarce vegetation, are the favourite breeding sites of the two tern species. The Middle Vistula Valley area hosts about 1,400 breeding pairs of the Common Tern and 500 breeding pairs of the Little Tern. In addition, relatively common here is another species threatened by extinction in the EU states, the Kingfisher. This beautifully plumaged bird excavates a nest burrow in steep river banks undermined by the current, and in the steep shore of larger, established islands. These steep banks can be found only in little transformed sections of the Vistula – if it was not for the natural, changeable, braided river, undermining banks and washing away or building islands, the bird community of the middle Vistula would not be as diverse. In terms of naturalness, natural wealth and beauty of the landscape, only the Loire river can compare with the Middle Vistula in the European Union. But this unique, natural landscape of the Vistula has unfortunately been almost entirely spoilt in the city of Warsaw due to river regulation. The beautiful, almost natural Vistula can be seen only in the southern and northern verges of the city, in the nature reserves ‘Wyspy Zawadowskie’ [Zawady Islands] and ‘Ławice Kiełpińskie’ [Kiełpin Sandbanks]. All bird species typical of the whole middle Vistula nest there: Little Terns, Common Terns, Common Gulls (unlike the name would suggest, they are threatened by extinction), Little Ringed Plovers, Common Ringed Plovers and Kingfishers.

What is still left of wild river nature in the other parts of the Warsaw Vistula section is merely willow bushes and remnants of the riverine forest. However, this habitat remains vital for birds, including species threatened by extinction in the European Union, such as the Little Bittern, the Black Woodpecker, the Bluethroat, the Barred Warbler or the Red-backed Shrike. The Black Woodpecker is a resident in the woods of the Vistula in Warsaw and the other species find a shelter here during spring and autumn migration.

The Middle Vistula Valley area was established to protect also the large population of the Corncrake, another species globally threatened by extinction. This ‘first fiddler on a meadow’, as the famous Polish poet of the 19th c., Adam Mickiewicz put it in his major work, ‘Pan Tadeusz’ [Sir Thaddeus], in Poland nests mainly on meadows. This species can best illustrate that the Natura 2000 network does not mean a ban on any form of land management. On the contrary, effective protection of the Corncrake will require measures to retain traditional meadow management.

The White-tailed Eagle is the bird that inspired our national emblem and another species of special concern in the European Union, where it is threatened by extinction. Regular occurrence of White-tailed Eagles on the western bank of the Vistula results, paradoxically, from several years of serious environmental negligence: dumping untreated sewage directly to the river. In the winter, sewage flowing out from the sewerage on the western bank of the Vistula attracts numerous flocks of Black-headed Gulls and Mallards, which are the favourite prey of White-tailed Eagles.

The project ‘Protecting the habitats of priority bird species of the Vistula Valley under conditions of intensive pressure of the Warsaw agglomeration’ (wislawarszawska.pl) has received a grant from the Financial Instrument for the Environment (LIFE+) and from the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management.