Prague renovates ten old gamekeeper's lodges

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The city of Prague, as a popular tourist destination, attracts millions of people thanks to its rich cultural heritage, historical monuments, beautiful architecture and its romantic little streets and cafes. Although it is known as one of the "greenest" capitals in Europe, few people are aware that Prague includes some 4,900 hectares of forest land. Around half the land is owned by the city, which spends some 36 million crowns - 1.2 million Euros - a year on maintenance. For over a decade, it has also owned ten run down gamekeepers' lodges but has only recently been given the green light to renovate them and offer its rangers homes close to their forests.

Vaclav Kroutil is Prague's director of forest maintenance:

"Naturally the forests around Prague are inhabited by wild animals, as in other parts of the country. We are talking about small and large birds and animals - there are rabbits, pheasants, partridges and quail on the outskirts of the forest. The largest animals are deer and moufflon herds. Moufflons are only found in the Kunratice-Michalsky forest where they were introduced in the 1970s. The present population of deer was also introduced to certain areas - such as the Kunratice forest - which were plundered during and after the Second World War."

In most places it is common for rangers to live in lodges close to the forests they maintain. In Prague, however, most rangers are forced to live in the city and commute to their workplace. Although the city acquired ten gamekeepers' lodges in the early 1990s, former forest workers who still lived in them refused to give them up. After over ten years in court, the lodges are now empty but run down and in dire need of repair.

"The foresters in Prague take care of occasional timber harvesting, collect seeds in the autumn and winter, and are responsible for the maintenance of paths. Apart from these forest activities, they also have to look after areas set aside for recreation, such as different kinds of arbours, troughs and playgrounds. There are only six rangers, so all the maintenance, repairs, and so on, is a lot of work."

With each gamekeeper's lodge looking more like a country house than a little cottage, Mr Kroutil says each lodge will cost nine to ten million Czech crowns to renovate. City Hall hopes Prague's gamekeepers will have moved into their new homes by 2006.