Caving organizations in Poland
Agnieszka Gajewska Speleoklub Warszawski
Poland is primarily a flat and lowland country. The percentage share of mountains compared to alpine countries is very low so the interest in mountains and the potential for exploration are not as good as in case of Austria, France or Italy. Speleology itself in Poland is also not a widespread branch of science, sport discipline or a form of recreation.
The start of cave exploration goes back far in the history, however as a consciens science or exploration of subterranean passages started at the end of the l9th century. The first initial stage of intensification began in the nineteen twenties, but the major development did not come till the fifties. At that time a large amount of clubs were created and majority of karst areas in Poland were well explored. When that happened Polish cavers directed their attention towards other karst regions around the world and this yielded major achievements in cave exploration outside Poland with majority of the attention directed towards the Alps. Unfortunately due to financial and organizational difficulties Polish cavers rarely went outside Europe.
Some people are interested in caving just as a pure recreation, others prefer vertical caving, cave climbing, cave diving, cave photography. Moreover, what many caverns value most, is exploration in Poland and in foreign countries.
Everybody interested may become a cavers in Poland. All one has to do is: be over 18 years old, be in good health condition, and finish a caving training course. During the training students learn the techniques of vertical caving, the safety rules in mountains during winter and summer, basic climbing skills and general knowledge in geology, topography, cartography and first aid. After finishing the course the graduates receive caving licence which allows them to receive cave entry permits from local authorities and National Park officials.
Polish cavers are associated in caving clubs. In order to become a member you need not have a caving licence, but just being a member is not sufficient enough to go freely caving. The number of people in the clubs may be anything from few to over two hundred. Being a member does not oblige anybody to active caving and is only a way of being associated with the caving community. The exact number of clubs members is not known because it changes every year, the closest estimate would be around 800 people in 22 caving clubs. Some clubs exist for over forty years and others are very young. Every year one new club is created and in the same time one stops to exist or becomes inactive.
Climbing and caving clubs in Poland are united in the Polish Mountaineering Association (PZA), which is the member of the UIAA and the UIS. The PZA is represented by a management board which is elected every three years by the representatives of all the member clubs. The primary function of the PZA is the representation of the interests of the movement, setting the overall guidelines for caving and climbing activities in Polish mountains, supervising the training and safety. The PZA also had funds available which are used to support initiatives such as expeditions, training seminars, and bulletins. Despite financing available from the PZA the main way in which the clubs fund their activities are membership dues.