Czech scientists create red list of endangered biotopes

Photo: Dáša Kubíková / Czech Radio

More than half of the Czech Republic’s biotopes are endangered, including peat bogs, marshlands and fens, Czech scientists have found. To raise awareness of the problem, they have put together the country’s first red list endangered biotopes.

Just like the rest of Europe, the Czech Republic is increasingly threatened by a loss of biodiversity. It is not only animal and plant species that are disappearing at an alarming rate, but also biotopes.

Czech scientists have recently assessed 157 such habitats around the country and discovered that more than half of them are endangered, with fourteen of them being on brink of extinction.

Černovír fen, photo: archive of Sagittaria

One of the most endangered habitats in the Czech Republic are fens, which have shrunk to a tenth of their original area, says Michal Krátký from the environmental group Saggitaria:

“Fens are typical for having a larger amount of carbon in the soil. That’s why the soil is so black. These are one of our most fertile soils.

“That’s why they are so endangered, because people have always tried to take advantage of the soil. And in order to do so, they had to drain it.”

One such fen, or the remains of it, can be found near the town of Olomouc in Central Moravia. Today, most of its area is taken up by a housing estate and a railway station. Just a few metres from the rail tracks is a meadow with rare plant species.

Red list of endangered biotopes, source: Ecological Indicators, vol. 106: Red List of Habitats of the Czech Republic

“It is also home to some endangered animal species, such as the northern crested newt and fire-bellied toad. One of the flowers that are still in bloom today is the endangered fringed pink.

“The Černovír fen was also the only habitat of the dwarf birch in the Czech Republic. It disappeared at the beginning of the 20th century when the fens were dried out.”

Scientists who assessed the country’s biotopes also discovered that two types of habitats have already disappeared from the landscape over the past 50 years: the backwaters in the Těšín region in the north-east of the country, which were once home to the carnivorous waterwheel plant, and salt marshes which accommodated rare species of succulents.

Photo: archive of Radio Prague International

Milan Chytrý from Masaryk University in Brno, who headed the research team, says draining of the landscape is just one of the factors behind the disappearance of the biotopes:

“The second reason is the disappearance of pastures around towns and villages. In the middle of the 20th century, you could still see horses and other animals grazing there.”

The abandoned meadows, once home to rare plants, are gradually overgrown by other, more aggressive species, Mr Chytrý explains. Other negative factors include fertilization, air pollution, climatic change and river regulation.

Scientists hope that the new red list of endangered biotopes could help state institutions, municipalities and non-governmental organisations to identify which locations should be protected as well as ways how it should be done.

The list of the Czech Republic’s endangered biotopes should be updated every ten years.