Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Country Profile: Poland

Poland (Polska) is a Republic which joined the European Union in May 2004. The capital is Warsaw. The unit of currency is the Zloty (PLN). It borders on Germany to the west, the Czech Republic to the south-west, Slovakia to the south, Ukraine to the south-east, Belarussia to the east, Lithuania and Russia (Kaliningrad) to the north-east and the Baltic Sea to the north. Poland's Baltic Coastline is 491 km long. The country covers some 312,685km² and 91% of this is lowland, though there are mountains along the southern border with Slovakia such as Bieszczady and the Tatras. In the north is the Baltic Sea and its huge bays such as Zatoka Pomorska (Pomeranian Bay) and Zatoka Gdanska (Gdansk Bay), Szczecin Lagoon and the estuaries of the Odra and Wisla rivers. The coastline varies between beaches, sand-dunes, marshes and pinewoods. Inland is a landscape can that only be described as a lake district. The Mazuria region is composed of hundreds of river and canal linked lakes, most with peninsulas and islets, many with reedbeds and marshes and all set amongst mixed boreal forests. In the east and north-east are the marshes, bogs, meadows and wet forests along wild meandering rivers like the Narew and the Biebrza. The often flooded landscape is sprinkled with wooden barns, hay-stacks and tiny hamlets. In the very east along the border with Belarussia is the famous lowland virgin forest of Bialowieza and its old huge oaks, limes, hornbeams and spruces. Around Bialowieza are even larger managed conifer forests. In the heart of the country are lowlands like the Nizina Slaska (Silesian plain), Nizina Wielkopolska (Great Polish plain), Nizina Mazowiecka (Mazovian Plain) and Nizina Podlaska (Podlasian Plain). These areas are mainly covered in arable land, dotted with carp-ponds and reservoirs and crossed by large rivers like the Warta and Vistula basin. In the very south of Poland the landscape changes dramatically as here are the country's only high mountain ranges. In the east the Carpathians are mostly blanketed in coniferous forests but the higher elevations of the Tatras are more Alpine with meadows, pastures, silent tarns, rocky boulder-littered terrain and rugged peaks with permanent snow cover. The country's highest peak Rysy (2499 m) is here.
Four threatened species, Red Kite, White-tailed Eagle, Corncrake and Aquatic Warbler have crucial and healthy populations. Indeed, Red Kites are flourishing in several areas and the White-tailed Eagle population now stands at almost 500 pairs with more wintering. With 1000s of pairs of Corncrake Poland is a stronghold. Aquatic Warbler, too, is another species which has a key European breeding population. With 40,000 pairs Poland is a very important country for breeding White Storks. In fact, this figure amounts to some 25% of the world population. Around 40% of nests are on electricity poles in villages and these are often fitted with platforms to raise the nest and birds well above the live wires. Apart from these high profile birds Poland also has major populations of Black Stork, Honey Buzzard, Montagu's Harrier, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Common Crane and Black-tailed Godwit, to name just a few. There are some breeding Great Snipe and also a few pairs of Greater Spotted Eagle. The country's forests and uplands support good numbers of grouse, owls and woodpeckers.

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