Authorities act to curb illicit blueberry harvesting

Photo: CTK

The Krkonose (or Giant Mountains) have always been a popular holiday destination for Czech as well as foreign tourists. In recent years, however, the North Bohemian mountains have also attracted an increasing number of professional blueberry pickers, mainly from Poland, who try to make profit on the free blueberry crop and don't pay much attention to the environment. Local authorities have been forced to take steps to curb the problem.

Krkonose National Park,  photo: CzechTourism
On Friday, the administration of Krkonose National Park limited access to some areas of the park to protect it against an invasion of blueberry pickers. The measure will stay in force till mid-October. Those who are caught breaking the ban face a fine ranging from CZK 1000 to 10 000. Radek Drahny is the spokesman for the Krkonose National Park.

"One of the main aims of the Krkonose National Park administration is to protect the park's environment and keep it for future generations. In previous years we have had problems with people entering the zones with limited access and picking blueberries. The activity in itself is not dangerous, but their presence is risky, because they enter a fragile ecosystem where any slight change can mean great losses. That's why we issued this measure for the seventh time this year limiting access to the third zone, where you can normally move freely."

The park's spokesman assured me the mountains will not be completely closed off and the regulation won't affect tourists who plan to spend their holidays in the Krkonose: tourist and bike tracks will stay accessible as usual. As Drahny explains, it is not the local people and tourists who present the biggest threat to the park:

"In past years we have had problems with blueberry pickers from Poland, who come in large groups and cause devastation. Places visited by Polish blueberry pickers look like a moonscape. They try to harvest as much and as fast as possible and they use special tools - so called combs - which tear out the bushes with roots, leaving a mess behind."

According to estimates, one person can harvest as much as 150 litres of blueberries a day and the amount of blueberries harvested per year is 200 000 litres. The price for this amount on the market amounts to millions of crowns. With Poles having their share of the mountains on the other side of the border, I wondered why they prefer to come to the Czech Republic:

Photo: CTK
"In Poland they have the same regulations as they do here, but the ban applies for the whole territory of the park. Also, their sanctions are more severe and it is easier for Polish authorities to trace Polish citizens. Some people who come here still believe that our laws don't apply to them because they are citizens of a different country. But actually, thanks to police and customs authorities, we have been quite successful lately in enforcing the fines."

With the measures only affecting 18 percent of the park's protected area, blueberry lovers needn't worry, as it still leaves enough blueberry fields accessible for free use. Since the ban was first put in force seven years ago, local inhabitants have already found places where they can pick blueberries legally. With a bit of luck, tourists will find some too.