I had the opportunity to attend a camp at the northern border of Poland in Augustów. When I found out, I immediately said yes to this adventure. From the advance information, I knew that I would have the opportunity to learn about local beekeeping, learn about the flora of their forests, see their grouse population and visit a national park.
I was excited for Monday morning when we left Budapest. We set off on our 14-hour journey with the Hungarian team, joined by Slovaks along the way. When we got there we were welcomed with dinner, and the Polish and Czech teams were already there, so we had a full group. The first novelty was at dinner, we were given a fruit compote as a drink, the odd thing was that the glass had the fruit in it. It was delicious. After the long journey, we started our trip on Tuesday morning. We learned about a northern European tradition: forest beekeeping. The tradition is to build beehives in the forests, 4-10 metres high, carved into the trunks of trees, where honey and wax are collected by climbing up with ropes. In this way, the colonies breed in their natural habitat, becoming an active part of the ecosystem. Often, they carve their boxes into the trunks of already felled trees and hang them in the forest. When we out of the forest, we tasted the country's speciality, mead. We were also able to participate in the making of a beehive that afternoon. Piotr was our guide for the day and we worked with the tools he had made by himself. I was very impressed that the basic principle of forest beekeeping is that bees are treated as a wild species, not as farm animals as in modern farming. The beehive making was followed by a barbecue, which brought the group even closer together. Together we prepared the ingredients, built the fire and sat around in a circle to eat. The highlight of the evening was listening to music. We were shown Polish and Czech national music and we also played our Hungarian favourites. We also had an enjoyable chat. It was a real camp feeling.
On Wednesday after breakfast we were on the road again. We visited the natural and managed forests of a national park near Augustów, guided by a local biologist. In order to preserve the biodiversity of Polish forests, it is worthwhile to apply slash-and-burn management, leaving dead trees to allow the forest to regenerate naturally. The symbolic bird of Poland is the wood grouse, but its population has dwindled to a few hundred in the country. We had the chance to visit a breeding centre where we were able to see the endangered birds through windows. We could see through these windows, but they could not see us. It was very important to leave them undisturbed, as they are sensitive to any outside influence. This was not the end of our day, afterwards we went on a hike to the nearby lakes where we had a beautiful view. Our Czech and Polish companions brought binoculars, through which we looked for birds. Back at the hostel, we even played a board game about climate change with the help of the Game On Project. Then some of us went for a walk around the area and watched the sunset.
The next day after breakfast we headed home. On the way we discussed what we liked in the camp and how we felt. I had a great time in nature. As my studies in Uni are not related to nature conservation, I learned a lot and heard a lot of interesting things. I am very happy for meeting a lot of new people and I hope I will have the opportunity to meet them again, even in a similar event. It was a great way to start my summer.
Photos: Petra Pácsonyi