Friends of the Earth striving for more wilderness areas in the Czech Republic

Chřiby, photo: Johana Drlíková, CC BY-SA 3.0

The NGO Friends of the Earth is striving to start a broad debate on expanding wilderness sites outside of the country’s national parks. Earlier this month it released a list of five suitable localities where Nature could be left to its own devices. These areas would moreover be open to the public. I asked Jiří Koželouh, the NGO’s programme director, to tell me more.

Jiří Koželouh,  photo: archive of Friends of the Earth
“The Czech Republic only has wilderness on 0,3 percent of its territory and most of it is in the country’s national parks, that is why Friends of the Earth have suggested that the Czech Republic needs new areas of wild nature protection – relatively large areas, but not as large as national parks. We envisage areas of 10 square kilometres, which is not as large as a national park, but is larger than some small protected areas that we have now.”

What would be the aim of such a project?

“The aim is to protect the natural processes in Nature, it is important for biodiversity because for example some very rare species of frogs or beetles are dependent on dead trees.”

You have already selected 5 localities suited to this purpose – where are they?

“Yes, we had a scientific study conducted by experts on nature conservation and this study identified areas suited to wilderness protection in the Czech Republic. They found about 170 smaller places with natural ecosystems and then they made clusters and identified five most suitable areas with a size of more than 10 square kilometres. The selected areas are Makyta in the Beskydy Mountains in the eastern part of the country, a place covered with beech forests, Chřiby in the south-east of the country, Libavá, a former military site in the north-east, Litovelské Pomoraví in central Moravia and Jezeří in Krušné Hory in north-western Bohemia.”

So these areas would be left intact –without any human interference….how would it work?

“The purpose of this project is to protect the natural processes in these areas and allow people and biologists to watch the spectacular transformations of Nature.”

“We would need to exclude forest management from these areas, but not people, tourists and so on. Of course, there would need to be some rules, but as we see it these areas should be open to the public, to tourists, to people who want to explore wild nature and so on.”

This land obviously belongs to someone….some of it belongs to the state-owned company Lesy CR which is not enthusiastic about the idea, it says that the Czech landscape has been managed for thousands of years and that the country is densely populated and simply not suited to this purpose – what do you say to that argument?

“I agree that we have no primeval forests on large areas, but this is not about presenting a picture of what a primeval forest looks like, the purpose of this project is to protect the natural processes in Nature and allow people and biologists to watch the spectacular transformations of Nature, so it is about preserving the processes, not primeval forests.”

You say the Czech Republic should seek inspiration in Germany. Can you explain?

“Yes, Germany has a national strategy the goal of which is for 2 percent of German territory to be protected wilderness areas. That’s the aim and now they are looking for suitable locations.”

Chřiby,  photo: Johana Drlíková,  CC BY-SA 3.0
And who are you negotiating with, here in the Czech Republic?

“We started negotiating with Lesy CR, with the Defence Ministry which owns forestland, with the Agriculture ministry, the Environment Ministry and so on. We presented our study at a seminar attended by the heads of these institutions and outlined our ideas.”

And what has their response been like?

“Of course, the owners of forests are quite concerned, and I understand that because the project would rule out forest management, but I think that the debate will come to some conclusion.”

This would require special legislation, would it not?

“I do not necessarily think so. I think one way of doing it would be to reach agreement with the owners of the property, but of course new legislation is also a possible approach. However, I think that a deal with the owners of the respective forest land –be it the state or Defence Ministry – should be sufficient.”

“It is important for biodiversity because for example some very rare species of frogs or beetles are dependent on dead trees.”

Do you have any idea where the public stands on this? Do you have public support?

“Yes, I think so, because there was a big public opinion survey conducted by Masaryk University in Brno and about 71 percent of respondents said they support wilderness protection projects, and 60 percent think it would be good to have them on former military sites. So I think that public support is quite strong and now we just need to make a deal with the forest owners.”

If your plan is successful are you hoping to protect endangered species in these areas or are you planning to try to reintroduce breeds that have been lost?

“The aim is to protect plants and animals that are there now – for example rare species of frogs, beetles or bats or large carnivores like wolves, lynxes and very rare species like the wild cat and so on. So it is about the natural development of these areas, not about the reintroduction of breeds.”

You selected five localities –but what is your goal – are you hoping that one or two will be established?

“We are now at the stage where we are debating all these localities with the owners of forests, with the local authorities and so on and we are hoping to choose the first locality, a site on which there will be broad consensus.”

Litovelské Pomoraví,  photo: Dr. Killer,  CC BY-SA 3.0
So you would consider one locality a success…what is your ultimate goal?

“I think that we would consider a success the launch of a broad debate on more wilderness areas in the Czech Republic and the creation of the first such locality – it would be a great start to wilderness protection in the Czech Republic outside national parks.”