Sumava : two speakers to be remembered !

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For the participants of the Sumava summer camp, entitled “No forest, no Future”, Monday 4th August was crucial in developing their understanding of this national park. The previous day’s lecturer, Mr. Patrick Moldan, had highlighted the different approaches and attitudes taken to the Sumava National Park, and the political situation behind these attitudes. On Monday, we were presented with two very different, but equally interesting lectures by Mr. Michael Valenta, one of the most experienced foresters in the Czech Republic, and one of our own participants, Markus, an expert speaker on the Bavarian Forest. It is widely agreed that the forests in the Czech Republic are in the middle of most of the country’s environmental problems. With 52% damaged, the forests in the Czech are the worst damaged in Europe. For this reason alone, the Sumava camp, and in particular the involvement of such experienced speakers was extremely important.

We were introduced to the first speaker, Mr. Valenta, who began by briefly explaining the different zones in the park, their location and their accessibility to the public. Using detailed maps to guide him, he explained how the villages, unlike in other national parks, are a part of the Sumava National Park. Historically, the forest and people have been interrelated. Man has had both positive and negative intervention with regard to the park. Up until 1999, a policy of non-intervention was followed in Sumava. However, under immense political pressure, a controversial management plan was put into operation in 2000. The main problem Mr. Valenta highlighted is the management of the trees on the higher plains. As a result of the artificial spruce monoculture on the higher plains, there has been attacks by the bark beetle which could result in a catastrophe for the forest. However, the policy of cutting trees has been severely criticised and Mr. Valenta hinted that while many of the foresters believe that nature is able to control itself, many of the powers that be do not agree. He did, however, highlight that they are not only concerned with forest management, but with the ecology of the forest itself.

How much of the forest is actually managed?
48,000 hectares of wood are managed by the park administration. The administration, which is situated in the town, is made up of the director, civil service, forest management, economy and the public rangers. The Sumava National Park, Mr. Valenta highlighted, “is a mixture of management, meadows and natural succession”. There are 4,000 hectares of peatbogs and mires, and also areas of pastures and meadows. However, with regard to the peatlands, throughout history people have always feared swampy ground and despite man being dependent on water for life, these peatlands were continually drained. While the importance of the peatbogs and the mires in particular are now being realised, the previous negative intervention by man has resulted in most of these valuable areas having been destroyed. The pastures and the meadows are also a result of human influence and impact after World War 2. Many of these pastures and meadows are now leased or have private owners and are being used for agricultural purposes.

People and Sumava today?
Last year, 1.8 million people visited Sumava National park. the park administration have organised buses and last summer, 100,000 people availed of these buses to visit the park. The aim of the project in Sumava is to develop a landscape that will unite people and nature. there have been many measures to unite these two worlds and develop a concrete link between nature and man. Eco-tourism is key to Sumava with 60km of river being used for water sports, 400km of market base being used for hiking and 450km for cycling. In winter, the mountains are blanketed in snow and many tourists avail of the cross-country skiing at the National Park. While this increased tourism is economically very good for the area, many have questioned whether less interference in the forest would help to solve some of the problems in Sumava.

The future for Sumava National Park…
Mr. Valenta, after giving us a description of the situation as it stands today, briefly described the transition, timing and management plan which is to be pursued in Sumava in the next decade. He emphasised the need to see more natural development, and again dealt with the issues revolving the tree cutting in Sumava. While it is a very controversial issue, he did emphasise that in the short term, the cutting of the spruces was needed to prevent the bark beetle destroying a larger number of trees. However, as Mr. Moldan had pointed out the previous day, biodiversity was key to improving and helping the Sumava. Mixed forests must be allowed to develop and Mr. Valenta reiterated this point. Also, one of the key policies to be pursued is one which eliminates any management in the core areas. He agreed that it would be beneficial for the trees in this area to be allowed to develop naturally. The plan also limits the amount of trees that are being cut yearly, which on the long term will be a very substantial solution. Above all, Mr. Valenta highlighted, as did many speakers that week, the importance of educating people to the problems in the forest, as well as giving them a respect for the forest. We cannot expect man and nature to live harmoniously if there is not some form of respect or bond between them.

We were treated to a very insightful lecture by Markus, one of the German participants in the summer camp. Markus began by explaining that his lecture would be based mostly on the situation in the Bavarian mountains, between the Danube and the Elbe. Between 300 and 500 million years old, these mountains were one of the last settled areas as their cold, long winters were not attractive agriculturally. People settled in 1000AD as the salt obtained was of great importance to Bohemia, and a very important resource in glass manufacturing. The first workers from England were involved in producing and cutting wood. Many of the old and new towns in the surrounding areas are a result of the situating and re-situating of these factories. To transport the wood, large systems of prepared rivers, or ‘triften’ were developed. Meadows were also formed for agricultural purposes, and these “islands in a sea of forest” were an important feature as cattle rearing was economically very important to the people at this time.

Markus also discussed, with the aid of diagrams, the lynx and the capercaille. he discussed the situation with regard to the lynx today. As the lynx is a threat to the deer population, hunters were used to control the population. However, they not only killed the lynx, but the deer and it has had dire consequences for this animal. He also pointed out that the Bavarian Forest is not the ideal location for the capercaille, as this bird needs to be linked to another forest for migratory purposes. Throughout Markus’ lecture, he emphasised that the natural state of the forest is what is most important for the ecology of the forest. In other words, the forest must develop with as little human interference as possible to survive.

The Forestry and the Trees in the Bavarian Forest
At this stage in his lecture, Marcus presented the group with a leaf from each of the trees present in the Bavarian Forest. the main species are Spruce, Beech, Mountain Ash and Fir. He focused on the spruce as this is a major problem for the foresters in the Sumava. He explained how, below 4 degrees, the spruce cannot survive. He also pointed out that the spruce need a large amount of water, something which is not a problem in the Bavarian. With regard to the problems which had been highlighted with the spruce by the Sumava administration, Markus commented that he felt people are mistaken in using the argument that the spruce grows very quickly for justification. Species have to suit the area they are growing in and if the soil and water supply are suited, there should not be a major problem with the spruce.

The National Park Bavarian Forest
Finally, Markus outlined briefly the history of the Bavarian Forest and it’s functions as a National Park. When it was first declared a national park, in 1970, the area was only 13,000 hectares. The idea behind this he explained was that it was better to have a smaller, successful park than a larger park that was difficult to maintain. Since 1997, the park has been expanded to 24,000 hectares and has gained a lot of recognition. The approach taken to the park is one of as little human intervention as possible. As a result, a lot of the forest is forbidden in an effort to let nature take its course. The functions of the park are threefold. Firstly, and most importantly, the nature and ecology of the forest must be protected. The park is also an area which should be enjoyed by families, although the areas open to people are restricted. Finally, the park is used to learn more about nature.

Too much human interference?
Today, 3700 hectares of the forest are damaged. While this figure is a good one in relation to many other European forests, the damage is largely put down to human intervention. With regard to the bark beetle which is a major concern in Sumava, Markus argued that the bark beetle is a part of nature and the damage is human abuse. In the commercial forests in the Bavarian, measures are taken to control this animal, but in the national park, such severe measures are not used.

Conclusions from both lectures…
While the situations in the Bavarian Forest and the Sumava might appear to be very similar, their likeness lies only in their proximity to one another. Many factors have to be taken into account when weighing up both lecturers arguments. For example, the length of time in which both forests have been national parks, and most importantly the politics behind the decisions taken with regard to the forests. One issue which has continually been referred to is the amount of human intervention in nature and the reasons for this intervention. What is certain, however, is the fact that both administrations need to share information and educate each other if they are to help preserve and maintain these precious national forests.

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