Nature walk at the Edmund Szyc stadium

23.05.2021 (Sun)
Leading: Tomasz Knioła and Magdalena Garczarczyk

The Edmund Szyc stadium in Poznań was built for the Polish General Exhibition (PWK) in 1929. During the Second World War, it was transformed into a labor camp for Jewish prisoners, and after the war it hosted various sports events and state ceremonies. In recent years, development plans for this area have changed dramatically. First, the developer wanted to build a housing estate on the site. However, most of the residents of the Wilda district and Poznań who took part in a deliberative opinion poll decided that the stadium should be turned into a park – the city of Poznań bought back the land from the owner. This notwithstanding, it did not change the fact that the stadium has not been used for several decades and, as a result, hundreds of trees and bushes grew on the earthen embankment around the pitch (the so-called “terrace” or stands). Nature has benefited greatly from this. The natural resources inventory made in spring 2019[1] showed that 25 species of birds lived at and around the stadium and it was estimated that a total of 67 species of birds found favorable breeding and living conditions there. At least 4 species of bats which prey in the area were found. In addition, 16 species of ants, 6 species of bumblebees, 13 species of daytime butterflies, and 2 species of dragonflies were identified, many of which are protected and rare species. Massive mature trees and dense undergrowth, bushes, grasses, and herbaceous plants, as well as plant remains that have not been removed for many years, are key to the abundance and diversity of the animal world. Insects feed on the flowers which grow on the pitch in abundance (flowers are a source of food in the form of nectar and pollen), and benefit from numerous microhabitats in the form of greenery, (often soft) soil, and reinforced concrete or brick elements (remains of the benches), in or underneath which they can take refuge or reproduce.

On May 23, 2021, a nature walk was organized at the stadium. Two naturalists acted as guides. Magdalena Garczarczyk talked about plants, from small herbaceous plants, through bushes and trees, and Tomasz Knioła talked about birds which could be heard and seen, and which have their breeding or feeding habitats at or around the stadium. The walk began on the asphalt path which surrounds the stadium from the outside. Then, we walked along the earthen terrace of the stadium, which is almost completely covered with trees. The walk ended on the pitch covered with herbaceous plants, some bushes, and young trees. The participants could find out or be reminded about the names of common plants and birds that live next to us in the city. We talked about the value of urban greenery that is wild, unshaped, untrimmed, unraked, and untouched – this great variety of plant species, be it alive or dead, gives rise to numerous microhabitats. It is also crucial for the abundance and diversity of the animal world, because each insect, bird or mammal species has its own slightly different habitat requirements. And the more habitats there are, the more animals, both in terms of the number of species and individual conspecifics, there are. Some alien species, which grow in abundance in the stands, such as the ash-leaved maple and the black cherry, were deemed controversial. On the one hand, they have a positive affect on the city’s microclimate (they release water vapor from the leaves) and on water and carbon retention. They also function as habitats for animals (lush Canadian goldenrod grows on the pitch in late summer and it is a source of food for insects). On the other hand, the species in question are expansive/invasive aliens, which means that they quickly take over the areas where native Polish plants have grown for tens of thousands of years. The value of plants which are native to Polish lowlands is much greater for native animal species.

The Edmund Szyc Stadium is a unique enclave of wilderness in the city. When we walk on the pitch, we can only see two tall buildings on Anders Square, but we can’t hear the city at all. Similarly, when we walk on the path along the stands, we can’t see the city, as the trees shut off the view. A special atmosphere is created by the even descending rows of thousands of concrete bench posts. Thousands of people sat there in the past, now they look like tombstones.

Sooner or later, such unused areas as the Edmund Szyc stadium fall victim to expensive “revitalization projects” during which young trees, bushes, and tree saplings are removed and only mature trees with well-developed treetops are left. The wilderness is turned into a “park” with tall mature trees and lawns. Most microhabitats disappear when greenery disappears, and along with them, numerous animals, including the rare and protected species. The animals that remain are, for the most part, common and they do not have high demands. Indeed, such “revitalization projects” are a mistake, because not only animals but also people suffer significant losses. We lose the possibility of communing with wilderness in the city. We can no longer find solace and rest among the trees, insulated from the anthropogenic surroundings, such as buildings, streets, vehicles, and noise.