When you think of desert you Poland isn't probably the first country which comes to your mind. And you are damn right, this is the only one we have here. To be honest it's one of the very few deserts in Europe. It's located in southern Poland and it's located between two major cities Krakow and Katowice, on the borderlands of my hometown called Dąbrowa Górnicza. The site has around 33 square kilometers and consists of two major areas of sand divided with a small river.
As could suspect it's not really natural. Błędów Desert is not a desert in a climatic sense. The climate of this "desert" has never differed in any way from the climate of its surrounding. It's simply much too humid to create really desert-like conditions. So how did it happen this unique place occurred right there?
The very beginning of the desert can be traced back around 2-3mln years ago, when during chilly ice-age, the deep valleys were filled slowly with debris brought by the river, after a long time, valleys disappeared completely, buried with sand and gravel. Around 10000 years ago, when warmer Holocene began, the area was covered with forest. This "dormant" stage of the desert lasted till the Medieval times. At these times in the neighboring town of Olkusz mining and smelting industry was founded, this land is rich with lead and silver. The local industry had a big demand for wood. Firstly to burn it in forges and secondly to build shafts in mines. Forests were clear-cut, and desert could be born again with big areas of sand just resembling the desert's character.
Since then, a big part of the desert was taken back by trees, which is an interesting ecological dilemma. From the one hand desert is clearly manmade environment but from another local ecosystem is unique and is full of species, which are really rare. Desert taken back by pine trees will come back to its natural state, which could be considered good, but at the same time, it will lose its unique character and biodiversity. During the last years, dilemma was resolved in favor of the desert. A program of deforestation (or "redesertation") in the easter part of the desert was started, it aimed to remove a few square kilometers of young forests and build touristic infrastructure.
As an additional trivia, I will add here the fact that desert was used by the Nazi military as a firing ground before operations in Africa, and later by polish troops during communist times, till today you can find some shells and bunkers in this area.
From time to time I just go to the desert to experience vast open space and unique landscapes. Neighboring forests are full of mushrooms so it's worth visiting, especially during autumn. The place is relatively unknown and clear with a couple of walking trails to complete so eight you are into nature, sports, or history you'll find something for you here.
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