Threats to wild land in Šumava National Park


I was recently contemptuous of the vision of the Peak District National Park Authority (PDNPA) for its publicly owned land (1) and so I was interested to come across a press release from the Park that announced that in recognition of its continuing conservation work, the European Diploma of Protected Areas awarded to the park had been renewed by the Council of Europe for another 10 years (2). The Diploma has been around since 1965, and is awarded to protected areas on application to the Council of Europe because of their “outstanding scientific, cultural or aesthetic qualities” but they must also be the subject of a “suitable conservation scheme” (3). The Peak District National Park was one of the first to receive the Diploma in 1967, awarded on a time-limited basis, and subject to external scrutiny:
“The award of the European Diploma provides an invaluable stimulus for the efficient protection and management of landscapes, reserves or natural monuments and sites with special European significance. In the European Diploma, the authorities responsible for protected areas have, under Council of Europe auspices, an international instrument capable of helping them in their task of management and protection. The unique nature of the Diploma also lies in the fact that it is awarded for a limited duration; the threat that it may be withdrawn has a deterrent effect in respect of dangers liable to cause harm to the area and acts as a stimulus for the preservation and improvement of the site”

You can imagine that the PDNPA was keen for people to share this news. Jane Chapman, head of environment and economy at the PDNPA, said (2):
“I’m delighted this prestigious diploma has been renewed for 10 years – it’s a recognition of the sterling work being done by hundreds of people across the national park”

I should point out that the Diploma for the Peak District National Park was renewed without any expert, on-the-spot appraisal, but solely on the basis of a self-assessed annual report submitted by the PDNPA (4).

Wild land in European National Parks

You may be interested to know about a few other parks that have the European Diploma of Protected Areas. The Swiss National Park (NP) was awarded a Diploma in 1967, the same year as the Peak District National Park. It’s a mountainous nature reserve, the oldest Central European and Alpine national park of 170km2 at an altitude between 1400 and 3200m (5). The park has 21 marked walking routes, totalling 80km, and harbours a rich variety of alpine fauna (bearded vulture, chamois, deer and marmots) and flora within an intact natural landscape that is 28% woodland, 21% alpine grassland and the rest is scree, rocks and high mountain. The Park is a strictly protected wilderness where flora and fauna can develop freely and dynamic natural processes are allowed to run their course unhindered - nature is left to her own devices. The Park is closed during the winter so that wild nature is able to spend the hardest months of the year without any disturbance. This comprehensive and consistent philosophy towards non-intervention and strict protection has been a crucial element of the Park since its foundation in 1914. It is not surprising therefore that the Swiss National Park is classified under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) system of protected areas as Category Ia Strict Nature Reserve, which is defined as (6):
“strictly protected areas set aside to protect biodiversity and also possibly geological/geomorphological features, where human visitation, use and impacts are strictly controlled and limited to ensure protection of the conservation values”

The Retezat National Park in Romania and the Central Balkan National Park in Bulgaria are two of the more recent national parks to receive the Diploma, in 2008 and 2009 respectively. The Retezat NP, first declared in 1935, covers 381km2 of alpine and sub-alpine pastures and streams, rocky peaks and ridges, relic natural lakes, and a variety of woodland in the Carpathian Mountains. Forests cover around 49% of the park area, with beech forests located between 800 and 1200m, mixed deciduous and conifer forest between 1200 and 1400m and spruce fir forest between 1400m and the treeline at 1800m. About 26% of the forest is considered to be in a primeval natural state. There are also about 80 glacial lakes, located at the bottom of glacial basins, arranged in tiers, aligned, isolated or grouped in complexes. Alpine flowers fill the meadows above the treeline, and the park is home to brown bear, wolf, lynx, wild cat, chamois, otter and Golden eagle (7)

The park has a core area of 20,863ha as a Special Area of Conservation, which is reserved for nature conservation, tourism and educational purposes (8). This core zone contains the 1,932ha strictly protected Gemenele - Taul Negru Scientific Reserve, set aside for scientific research and only accessible with a special permit. The rest of the park outside of the Scientific Reserve is marked with hiking trails, some for day hikes, and longer routes between mountain cabins or campsites for overnight stays. Both the Special Conservation Area and the Scientific Reserve are classified in IUCN Category Ia.

The Central Balkan NP lies in the heart of Bulgaria, its 716km2 nestled in the central and higher portions of the Balkan Mountain Range between 500 and 2,376m. It encompasses high-mountain meadows, vertical rock faces, precipices, deep canyons, waterfalls, numerous peaks, and temperate humid mountain forests that cover 61% of the park. The park is home to brown bears, wolves, foxes, wild cats, martens, weasels, red deer, roe, Balkan chamois, wild boar, golden eagle, hobby and eagle owl (9).

There are nine Reserves within the Park, and which cover 28% of its area. These reserves have the strictest protection in the management plan in terms of preserving the natural state, but they are accessible for people walking along marked trails. They were identified to contain representative examples of ecosystems that encompass unique, remarkable and/or characteristic plant or animal species in their natural habitat (10). All of the reserve areas are classified as IUCN Category Ib (Wilderness) which is defined as:
“unmodified or slightly modified areas, retaining their natural character and influence, without permanent or significant human habitation, which are protected and managed so as to preserve their natural condition”

A legal protection status

Clearly, these three national parks have a “suitable conservation scheme” in place, as is required by the award of the Diploma. This is shown by their approach of maintaining natural systems untouched (other than by hiking trails) either over the whole of the park or in their core areas. It begs the question of how the Peak District National Park can be in such august company amongst these other Diploma holders when it has none of their strict protection measures (1). A clue to this was given in a recent interview with Jane Chapman (see earlier) when she said that the Peak District National Park was the only national park in Britain have the “European Diploma for Protected Landscapes” (12). It is that slip of saying Protected Landscapes rather than Protected Areas that reveals more than is ever explained in the PDNPA press release, or in general about the national park system in the UK.

Under the criteria for awarding the Diploma, the area submitting an application must have a legal protection status, either by means of legislation or by a decree of a competent authority, which certifies that the area is adequately protected. Applicants are provided with two groups of specific criteria under which to explain why the area applying for the Diploma has been given protected status (13):
“A. The essential goal of the protected area is to preserve biological and landscape diversity and ecosystems.
B. The objective of the protected area is to preserve biological and landscape diversity, together with harmonious and sustainable development of socio-economic and educational functions”

Under the first group, applicants have to show the existence of strict regulations on any artificial change in the environment, and which prohibits hunting, fishing, and the harvesting of natural products. There must be as well an absence of permanent human occupation and of economic activities such as agriculture, forestry, mining, industry and tourism developments (skiing etc). This would certainly rule out the Peak District National Park, and all the other national parks in Britain. The Swiss, Retezat and Central Balkan National Parks are likely to have sought approval of their application for the Diploma under this group: for the whole of the Swiss National Park, and at least for the core areas of the Retezat and Central Balkan NPs. In fact, the latter two parks as a whole are classified under IUCN Category II National Park, which is defined as (14):
“natural or near natural areas set aside to protect large-scale ecological processes, along with the complement of species and ecosystems characteristic of the area”

In contrast, agriculture, forestry, tourism, leisure activities, buildings and infrastructures plus hunting and fishing are all allowed for applications under Group B. This and the objectives of the group make it very similar to an IUCN Category V Protected landscape, and it is this category under which the Peak District National Park and all other national parks in Britain are classified. It is defined as (15):
“where the interaction of people and nature over time has produced an area of distinct character with significant ecological, biological, cultural and scenic value”

To give you an indication of how out of step our national parks are with the conservation measures in the rest of continental Europe, Britain is the only country where all its national parks are IUCN Category V. Some of the other countries manage some of their national parks as protected landscapes in IUCN Category V, such as Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Russia and Serbia, but each of these countries has other national parks that are IUCN Category II. In addition, the national parks in another 23 European countries are all IUCN Category II. Thus of the 320 or so national parks in Europe, Britain has half of the 28 that are classified as IUCN Category V.

It may seem that I labour the point about the very low aspiration of our system of conservation for wild nature, as represented in this case by our national park system, but it is ingrained in Britain that the question of natural integrity is never addressed in our approach to conservation. The implication is that cultural considerations will always predominate over ecological ones, and that little emphasis is given to the environmental factors in land use that constrain cultural landscapes. In this way, Britain has avoided - unlike many continental European countries - addressing the appropriateness of humanising all ecosystems by modification. Thus the vegetation over almost the whole altitudinal gradient has little resemblance to the potential natural vegetation, and virtually everything that could be a system-directing species has been eliminated from the farmed landscapes we see in our national parks, as it has been in farmland everywhere else in Britain.

Learning from others

While I find this depressing, the pervasive wilful ignorance that it represents must be countered by seeking inspiration, meeting the people, and learning the lessons from national parks in other European countries. I met the Directors of Borjomi- Kharagauli, Retezat and Central Balkan NPs at a PAN parks wilderness conference last year in Borjomi, Georgia, where I was one of the speakers (16). Toma Dekanoidze of Borjomi- Kharagauli NP was a charming host, and there was an evident simple delight in his welcoming us to the park. Nela Ratchevitz of the Central Balkan NP was a charming walking companion as we hiked the Lagodehki State Nature Reserve (17). In my quest during the meeting to build a European lexicon for wild land, Nela wrote out the Bulgarian for “wild nature” on a paper napkin, so concerned was she that I get it right. Zoran Acimov of the Retezat NP was larger than life, a bold and entertaining man who soon got us all dancing in after dinner celebrations. I used to go swimming each day of the conference in a natural mineral pool, along with Michal Pálka, a lawyer who was Head of Department of International and Legal Affairs, and Jan Pecánek an information officer and park ranger, both from Šumava NP in the Czech Republic. Michal and Jan were wild flower enthusiasts and knowledgeable about other national parks in central Europe. They gave me an impressive collection of beautifully illustrated publications about Šumava NP, its wild animals, rivers and forests.

Šumava NP had caught my attention last year while researching the report on wild land in Europe for the Scottish Government, and was the reason why I looked into the European Diploma, as I came across the park’s application (18). Michal had presented the application at a meeting of the Group of Specialists - European Diploma of Protected Areas in March 2010 (19). It’s an excellent document that illustrates well the distinction between Primary, substantially unmodified habitats that are shaped by edaphic factors (soil, its composition, moisture content, pH etc) and the dynamic forces of nature (wind, temperature, sun, rain etc) compared to Secondary habitats arising through human use and management of land, their continued existence being dependent on that management.

The Šumava NP is classified under IUCN Category II, and its area of 680km2 covers a range of habitats that includes a mix of montane and alluvial forest types, lakes and ponds, and water courses, as well as peatlands, mountain hay meadows, grasslands and heath, and it is home to deer, otter, wild boar and the recently reinstated lynx. Because of its location in the Central European mountains, altitude is a significant factor in vegetation in Šumava (from 600 up to 1.378 m) but there is also the influence of range of edaphic conditions such as high groundwater levels, peat-forming processes, a high content of fragmental material in the soil, the presence of screes and a rocky relief. A mostly forested landscape, the document explains that the natural treeless habitats in Šumava are small-scaled and have developed mainly in relation to springs, wetlands and mires, rocky sites or within permanently disturbed parts of stream or river floodplains. “Secondary biodiversity” is found in the “human induced grasslands” of the traditionally managed treeless habitats. The application says of the latter:
“These treeless habitats are usually not of the primary origin (in the sense of a geobotanical reconstruction of vegetation)…”

It is obvious from the application that it was primarily using Group A to explain its protected status, since the selection of this area for the European Diploma was based on the “quality of its natural conditions (high potential of natural vegetation, low degree disturbance) within a large transboundary area”. This referred to a core area of about 13% of the park that backed onto the border with Germany, which would be expanded in the coming years, and where the aim was “supporting of natural processes of primary ecosystems in the NP so that large continuous parts of the area are healthy and without human interventions after the transition period” and also “strict protection of wildlife”. This is similar to the central mission of the park, contained in the Government Regulation 160/1991 that established the park in 1991, and which is to “maintain and improve its natural environment, especially as regards the protection and the renewal of the self-management functions of the natural systems, strict protection of animals living at large and of wild plants”. The Regulation also states that economic and other uses of the national park must be secondary to the maintenance and improvement of natural conditions.

I also came across the report of a conference jointly hosted in 2009 by Šumava NP and the Bavarian Forest NP, its trans-boundary neighbour in Germany, on the appropriateness of non-intervention management for protection of wildland (20). It captures the breadth of enthusiasm for wildland and its nurturing across continental Europe. An important principle was identified, that because of the natural processes occurring within Primary Habitats, there was no need for management intervention to maintain their conservation interest. Moreover, relying on natural disturbances without our intervention (wind throw, insect outbreaks, avalanches, wild fires etc) can be a successful approach to restoring natural dynamics in Secondary Habitats, as I have noted before for places like Scar Close in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (17).

Zdeňka Křenova, Head of Department for Research and Nature Conservation and who wrote the European Diploma application, gave a presentation about Šumava NP at that conference, pointing out the advantages of the trans-boundary cooperation between Šumava NP and the Bavarian Forest NP in Germany. The latter has held the European Diploma since 1984. The cooperation to form one of the largest trans-frontier protected areas in Europe began in 1999 after signing of a Memorandum between the two national park administrations (21). Various amendments followed, evolving the aim of protecting the undisturbed course of natural processes in a cross-border core area that would undergo a stepwise expansion. More recently, in 2009, the directors of both parks signed a Vision 2020 Statement (22) that agreed the objective of developing a core area of 15,000ha with a common management approach, information services and monitoring networks to become the “first and largest trans-boundary wilderness area in Europe: Wild Heart of Europe”. A leaflet for Europe’s Wild Heart maps this cross-border wilderness area between the two national parks, and gives much detail on its natural value (23).

Then in May 2010, the parks agreed a common approach to bark beetle management (24). These beetles affect the spruce trees that dominate the forests of central Europe, tunnelling in to form galleries within the bark of living trees where their larvae feed and develop, ultimately killing the tree. Outbreaks of these beetles are a natural part of forest ecosystems, causing a natural disturbance in the forests as the dead trees fall, and creating volumes of dead wood as habitat for other bugs and beetles that are dependent on the process of fungal decay of wood, or on the products of that decay. Over time, young trees will replace those killed by the bark beetles, and this lack of intervention while wild nature takes its course is the predominant approach that has been adopted by the Bavarian NP, as well as was agreed for the core area of the Šumava NP. There were also areas of temporary, fixed-term forest management in the agreement, with active interventions for the purposes of logging and processing of the bark beetle infested trees, but with considerable care given during operations to the conservation of ecosystems. It is expected, at the end of the fixed terms, to transform these into areas without active management measures. There are always on pressures on Šumava NP to prevent the spread of the beetle to municipal forests within the park, as well as adjacent private forests, and thus the agreement included areas of longer term management, but again ensuring care of ecosystems. It is likely though that this is a rearguard action with a very low efficiency at preventing spread and death.

I saw Hans Keiner, deputy director of the Bavarian Forest NP, give a presentation on non-intervention as the best ecological practice for forest management in the trans-boundary core area at a conference in Brussels in November last year (25). He very successfully challenged the view that the apparent “dead wood areas” after a severe beetle infestation are an ecological desert, showing the recovery of rare fungal and beetle species, and colonization by woodpeckers, owls and other dead wood nesting birds, as well as the re-growth of the forest through new, self-seeded trees. It was a very strong argument against “salvage logging”, the process of removing dying or damaged trees to prevent the spread of the bark beetle, since it removes the dead wood that is such an important component of natural forests.

On the second day that this conference was going on in Brussels, a meeting was held at the Archa Theatre in Prague, Czech Republic, to discuss the future of European wilderness, and in particular the trans-boundary core wild land area in Šumava and Bavarian Forest NPs. It was another in a series of discussion meetings involving a wide range of people from cultural, scientific, and social life under the banner of Cabinet Havel, a project of Masaryk University. Václav Havel, the first President of the Czech Republic was there, as well as Zdeňka Křenova (see earlier) and Ladislav Miko, a former Minister of Environment of the Czech Republic, but now Director of Natural Environment, EC Environment Directorate-General, and who had given one of the keynote presentations on the first day of the Brussels conference. The outcome of the discussion was an Open Letter to the President of the European Parliament, the EU Commissioner for the Environment, the German Chancellor, and the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic. It was signed by a range of people at the meeting, and its main point was (26):
To preserve this unique piece of European nature for next generations we call to establish the first transboundary Central European Wilderness  Area - Europe's Wild Heart according to international criteria. Europe's Wild Heart has a high potential to be a valuable member of global wilderness areas”

It finished with a belief that “people will come to understand themselves in the beating Europe's Wild Heart”

Opposition to the park’s policy

It was shortly after I read that wonderful sentiment that things began to unravel in this good news story about Šumava NP, but first some local history. The Šumava Mountains and its high natural value were a likely choice for a national park. The population of the area began to drop during the 19th century and accelerated during World War II. Post-war, the border area was part of the Iron Curtain protecting the Soviet Bloc (27, 28). A border zone and military training areas were established, leading to an exodus of remaining inhabitants and the dismantling of existing human settlements in the 8 - 10km wide zone along the border. Since the 1960s the mountains gained in popularity for recreation, although it was not until the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 that the border zone and military areas became accessible for recreational and hunting use. The park was set up shortly afterwards in 1991, new hotel accommodation went up as well as restaurants, car parks, information centres, marked tourist routes, nature trails, etc.

The management of Šumava NP has provoked long argument at regional, national and international level for more than a decade. The Management Plan for the period 2001- 2010 is said to look much more like a forest exploitation plan than a national park management plan (28) and this may have something to do with 10.3% of the park area being municipally owned forests that are a source of income. As far back as 2001, Jaromír Bláha, a Forest Campaigner for Hnutí Duha (“Rainbow Movement”) a Czech environment group, objected to the changes to the original management zones, and the constant logging under the pretext of bark beetle management, including the incursion of logging into the core area (29). I spent an evening with Jaromír and others at the Brussels conference, discussing a plan to promote the designation of a million hectares of wilderness across Europe, and we were of course looking to places like Šumava NP to make a contribution to that goal.

The Šumava NP plan and management policy were also criticized in 2002 and 2004 by IUCN missions and proposals were made to improve the situation (28). Nothing much happened until after a general election in the Czech Republic in 2006 led to a coalition Government that included Green Party members. Martin Bursik, Green Party, became the Environment Minister, and appointed František Krejčí as the new Director of the park in 2007. He was an opponent of tackling bark beetle by “salvage logging”, especially in the park’s core areas, and together with Bursik, they pursued the development of a policy of non-intervention and expansion of that core area in combination with the Bavarian Forest NP.

Opposition to the park’s policy is frequently expressed by regional and local politicians. The conflict centres on nature conservation versus economic development, and the influential position of the Šumava NP in the regional development process. The NP authority is seen to be a well-equipped and well-staffed professional administrative body that is thought to be a block on economic development of the region so that the interests of local communities are neglected. There is also a rejection by some communities of the existence and expansion of the core area with limited human intervention because it may jeopardise the surrounding commercial forests. Repeatedly, the regional authorities in Plzeň and České Budejovice have expressed their objections against extension of the core zone of the NP (27). This opposition from local authorities and interest groups has significantly delayed or stopped the return to natural processes in the core area of the park.

In 2009, a row blew up over management of Šumava NP when regional political leaders accused the park and Ministry of Environment of failing to curb bark beetle (30). South Bohemian regional leader Jiří Zimola said the park was facing a bark beetle ‘pandemic’ because of the failure to control the outbreak in the core area where there was a policy of non-intervention that allowed the trees to die and rot naturally. Zimola claimed expert findings supported regional leaders taking matters into their own hands and declaring a state of emergency for the Šumava forest unless a new course was taken. Otherwise, they would bring in forestry companies to liquidate trees damaged by the bark beetle even if the park authorities disagreed. Ladislav Miko, the Environment Minister at the time, admitted the bark beetle was a problem but also stressed that it had its place in the parts of the forest set aside for more ecological development:
“Currently the bark beetle is a problem in the Šumava mountains as it is a problem in all other parts of Central Europe and neighbouring countries. Nevertheless, we are pretty sure that in the non-intervention zones it is part of the natural process and should be accepted as such. People generally in the Czech Republic are not used to non-intervention management. So they see something like dying forests and they believe this is something that is tragic, that is really bad. And it is also hard for them to accept this is a natural face of the forest development. So it is a kind of: ‘they are not used to this situation.’ Secondly, of course, the forestry companies still see the forest as a source of very important material, which is timber, and they are not very happy to see it remains for destruction for the natural process.”

The Ministry and park authority pointed out that the trees were growing back successfully in the areas of natural development. A year later, a special edition of the park's quarterly magazine, Šumava, was published in November 2010 that had a detailed look at the differences between the poor ecology of managed forest areas compared to the unmanaged, natural areas of the forest in Šumava, and how commercial forestry was misguided in its view of the role that bark beetle plays (31):
"The consequences of forest disturbance are often viewed as something negative and dangerous for the ecosystem. Naturally evolving forest ecosystems have always been formed and maintained by natural disturbances which affect the species composition and tree age, the amount of decaying wood or the species diversity. What seems like destruction from the perspective of the trees and the canopy can be viewed differently from the perspective of the ecosystem as a whole. Natural disturbances caused by windstorms or bark beetle outbreaks help maintain the biological diversity. Various plant and animal species inhabit a certain ecosystem for the very reason of being dependent on natural disturbance"

Wilderness is a key element in the attractiveness of the core area

As part of the evaluation of the application of Šumava NP for the European Diploma, an Expert Group carried out an appraisal visit last year (28). They met many regional and local representatives, often coming across strong opponents to the park and its current policy. They repeatedly observed a trend of opponents putting responsibility for all the local problems and deficiencies on the national park and its administration. The Expert Group believed that the fight against bark beetle on large areas in the middle of the park that is demanded by opponents will just be a delay but will not “save” the forest as is claimed. The Expert Group considered it would be wiser for opponents to non-intervention to better understand the bark beetle infestation and natural processes, and be given the opportunity to monitor where regeneration is taking place 5, 10 or 20 years after bark beetle attacks.

The evaluation report notes that regional development failures were blamed on the park, even though the park has little responsibility for that. Thus the park cannot stop the continuing depopulation of the area, nor the lack of development projects in the area, or the insufficient tourism infrastructures. Opponents claimed that the number of villages in the park area went from more than 40 in the past to down to 22. However, it was confirmed that this dramatic drop occurred just after the Second World War, together with the establishment of military and border zones, and is not related to the park. The Ministry of Environment rather than the park were responsible for the inadequate water treatment system or air pollution caused by the use of lignite instead of wood for heating. Some municipalities challenged the existence of the Park itself, because it was set up by Government Regulation a year before the Czech Republic passed its Nature and Landscape Protection Act No. 114/1992, but then so were two other Czech national parks: Krkonoše and Podyji. Local authorities complained that “wilderness is invading zones where it should not be”, although wilderness is a key element in the attractiveness of the core area, as has been demonstrated on the German side.

It must be considered that since 85.6% of the park area is state owned, then Šumava NP should fulfil a significant role in the national system of protected areas in the Czech Republic, and especially on the basis of the central mission of the park to “maintain and improve its natural environment, and in particular as regards the protection and the renewal of the self-management functions of the natural systems, strict protection of animals living at large and of wild plants”. Remember also that the Regulation states that economic and other uses of the national park must be secondary to the maintenance and improvement of natural conditions. It is that contention between natural values and cultural values which blocked two proposed mountain national park projects in Sweden (Kirunafjallen and Jamtlandsfjallen) during the last 20 years due to opposition from the municipalities and local inhabitants, and which nearly did the same for the establishment of Fulufjället NP.

My walking companion in Borjomi-Karagauli NP at that wilderness conference last year was Stig-Ĺke Svensson, another wildflower enthusiast (17). Stig-Ĺke is head of the Swedish Environmental Protection Unit (SEPA) of the County Administrative Board of Darlana, which manages Fulufjället NP. Fulufjället (‘Mount Fulu’) was founded in 2002 and its 385 km2 lie in the southern part of the Swedish high mountains, on the border with Norway. An undulating bare sandstone plateau rises from steep slopes, and rivers cut deep valleys and canyons in its sides. The boreal forest ecosystem is home to the brown bear, wolves, lynx, wolverine, Golden eagle and moose. A wilderness core zone covers 60% of the park and has hiking trails and opportunities to camp, but hunting and fishing are prohibited (32).

The planning process for the park started in 1990, after SEPA presented the Swedish National Park Plan that proposed 20 new parks (33). They were to be selected on the basis of important biodiversity and geological values, uniqueness and the representation of distinctive natural regions. What made Fulufjället interesting was the absence of reindeer herding, which exists in all other parts of the high mountains. The thick lichen heaths ungrazed by reindeer made this a reference area for research on reindeer overgrazing and trampling impacts. In addition, the Fulufjället area was sparsely populated, with around 350 living in a few small villages around the mountain. The rate of unemployment was high: for several years many young people had to move away to find a job so that the population was steadily falling making the average age rise.

The sticking point was the feared loss of the traditional local uses of Fulufjället, such as hunting, fishing, snowmobiling and wild berry picking. However, in order for Fulufjället to become a national park, such uses had to be managed and restricted so that its natural values could be enhanced along with the visitor experience, and so the recreational impact from snowmobiling could be reduced. The conflicts between the national park plans and the interests of the local people gradually became more obvious as the regulations were formulated and clarified. Rumours that “everything will be forbidden” were widespread, resulting in massive petitions. Any benefits of a park were unclear to local people and the municipality, in spite of SEPA’s efforts to inform them about it. Accusations were made about those who were “sitting in the capital city and making decisions without understanding the reality” or the people who lived in the area. The old conflicts between national and local interests were evident, and this was in spite of the fact that most of the area is state-owned. It also appeared that resistance to the park came from dissatisfaction with the local economic and living conditions, which now - in the shape of the proposed park - had an obvious, external target to focus upon. To counter the opposition, a process of engagement with local people was undertaken, and it soon became clear that the "no national park alternative" with continued traditional use also had disadvantages, as the existing negative socio-economic trends would most likely continue if nothing happened. Many of the social problems found in small villages and sparsely populated areas also came to the surface. It also became obvious that the resistance to the national park had its strongest base in some older men with strong local influence.

In the end, the process of engagement gave local stakeholders support and the confidence to formulate their ideas of how such a national park could be beneficial for them economically, socially and in other ways, such that a national park would be a resource for opportunities instead of a basis for restrictions. The focus then was on how to use the benefits of a national park outside its borders. SEPA concentrated more on the local vision of, for example, a new visitor centre with local employees, new tourism facilities outside the park and better infrastructure, rather than struggling with the removal of certain trails for snowmobiles inside the park and where and when not to hunt. The ‘loss’ was clear — a national park with some restrictions — but the ‘gain’ was created by what the national park would be: a new future, with possibilities for the people to live and work in the area.

Endangering the very purpose of a national park

Perhaps the people around Šumava NP are more intractable than those around Fulufjället. They have now got there own way after the Czech parliament elected in June last year, no longer needed a coalition with the Green Party, and a new Environment Minister Pavel Drobil was appointed. He set out to implement a radical change of direction in the management of the Šumava NP, resulting in the resignation at the beginning of last November of František Krejčí, the director, who stepped down under strong pressure from the minister (34). Some believe the ministry was aiming to find a new director who would open the park to logging, as some politicians, as well as many logging firms, would like to cut down infected trees to prevent a further spread of the beetle, and to make profits in the process. Drobil obviously had the support of the newly re-elected mayors in national park communities after municipal elections last October, since one Tomas Jirsa, mayor of Hluboká nad Vltavou, had been seeking Krejci's dismissal for two years, and most representatives of municipalities in the Šumava region, such as Jiří Zimola (see earlier) welcomed Krejci's resignation. Pavel Drobil didn’t last long himself, having to resign in December over suspected corruption at the State Environment Fund (35).

Tomáš Chalupa replaced Drobil as the Minister of Environment (36) and in February he appointed Jan Stráský, as the new Director of Šumava NP (37). Stráský, a former Deputy Prime Minister and the then head of the national parks council, would stay in office for no more than 18 months and, according to Chalupa, would “assume the role of a crisis manager”. The main task of the new Director of the national park would be the creation of a plan of defensive measures for conservation of the forest and the subsequent establishment of the management plan so as to most effectively prevent any further spreading of the bark beetle. Alarm bells rang in the Czech scientific community at this appointment and the direction that Stráský began to take. On the 2 March, the Ministry of Environment asked, presumably at Stráský’s behest, for a postponement of the discussion of the park’s application for the European Diploma that was scheduled for a meeting in mid March (38). At a meeting of the Park’s Council on 7 March, Stráský reconstituted the membership of the Council to remove the independent scientific section and reduce the number of representatives of scientific institutions (39). He also committed the park to developing defensive measures to combat bark beetle, and to seek exemption from the Czech nature protection law so that the Park Administration could carry out the defensive plan.

These actions led the Czech Society for Ecology to send an Open Letter to the Prime Minister, Minister of Environment, and various party leaders, expressing the concerns of scientists and experts who had been engaged with Šumava NP for a long time (40). They identified the appointment of Stráský as Director as a key issue and disagreed with his proposal to declare a state of emergency over the bark beetle, which they considered would lead to large-scale logging in the non-intervention areas. They regarded the large-scale logging as completely useless, and which may even be harmful. Also, they considered the proposed application of a chemical treatment for the bark beetle to be highly risky and unwarranted in protected areas. They objected to the reduction in area of the non-intervention areas in the park, established under the agreement from 2010 on bark beetle management, and the inevitable logging that would take place there, and to the large-scale planting of young trees in those areas that, anyway, had sufficient natural forest regeneration so that it would be a waste of financial resources.

As would be expected, the letter also objected to what they saw as a suppression of the role of scientists in the Šumava NP Council. They feared that the changes would result in a predominance of populist and economic views on the management of the park, as was being promoted by Stráský, and which would lead to irreversible damage of valuable ecosystems and habitats. They also pointed to the effort to withdraw, or at least delay, the application for the European Diploma as showing that Stráský and the new regime he was putting in place was out of step with the ethics and modern principles of conservation.

It was not long before the arrogance of Stráský was caught out when he had to admit in early May to the use of insecticides in the park without the necessary permissions under the law (41, 42). The Czech Environmental Inspectorate confirmed that bark-beetle traps containing a non-specific insecticide had been set up in the wetland marsh areas of the park, a violation of the law and for which the park may be fined up to one million crowns (about 38,000 GBP, 43,000 EUR). In a written statement, Stráský defended the use of biocides as being a legal obligation on him to take all possible measures against the beetle in order to prevent damaging of state property and the property of neighbouring forests' owner. Thus he said he had ordered the combination of all most effective methods to be applied in fighting the bark-beetle, including the use of biocides in bark beetle traps. Stráský said that he wasn’t aware who had placed the biocide in the wetlands, but he would have the stands removed and if the culprit were found, he would consider punishing him. He subsequently dismissed Tomas Hlavaty, a senior official of the park, for carrying out his orders but not securing the necessary permissions beforehand.

A few weeks later, Michal Pálka told me he was resigning from his job as a lawyer in Šumava National Park Administration due to his insurmountable disagreements with the new park Administration over its approach to nature protection and financial issues, which he considered to endanger the very purpose of a national park. This is a devastating indictment from someone who would have had responsibility for ensuring the lawfulness of actions within the park, as well as overseeing governance and probity. Michal is absolutely right that the events endanger the very purpose of a national park, especially if you consider that when the area became a park, it was immaterial what had happened before on that land (43) and that new considerations based on natural values applied.

Then Jaromír Bláha started sending through information on how Hnutí DUHA had been confronting the loggers and their chainsaws, as 3,000 trees were felled from mid-July onwards in the park (44). Activists, including scientists and members of the environmental group BUND Naturschutz coming over the border from Germany (45), had been confronting the loggers, some chaining themselves to trees fated to be cut down, and refusing to leave. Police were brought in to forcibly remove protestors (see photographs taken by Hnutí DUHA (46, 47)) leading to numerous lawsuits and to the European Commission asking for an explanation from Czech officials as to what was happening in Šumava NP (48). In addition, other politicians entered the row when the Environment Ministry’s stance on the bark beetle was challenged by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Chairman of the opposition Social Democrats criticized Tomáš Chalupa’s approach to resolving the situation.

As a measure of the concern at what was happening in the park, the Czech Helsinki Committee (CHC), a human rights organisation, visited the location near Modravský Creek, where the blockade against cutting of bark beetle-hit trees was taking place, in order to verify how the Police of the Czech Republic were intervening against the blockaders; and to make sure they acted within the law and did not use disproportionate methods (49). They collected many testimonies from blockade participants, and witnessed one policeman intentionally and repeatedly suffocating a participant of the blockade who was tied up to the tree (so he could not defend himself) and had ants sprinkled on his neck.

The CHC point out that under the Czech nature protection law, any interventions in a national park requiring intensive technologies - particularly resources and activities that may cause substantial changes in biodiversity, structure and function of ecosystems, or irreversibly damage the soil surface - are prohibited by that law. Interventions can only take place after the granting of an exemption by the competent authority for nature protection, and which it would appear the park had not been granted. CHC concluded therefore that the decision to cut the trees in this part of the park was unlawful and thus brought into question the authorization of the police to intervene. Independently of that issue, police law in the Czech Republic requires that the police proceed in such way as to not infringe upon the rights and freedoms of people involved, against whom the action was directed.

Under pressure, Stráský, who’s resignation as Director of Šumava NP had been called for during demonstrations outside the Ministry of Environment in Prague (50) held a meeting in Modrava in mid-August on the recommendation of Environment Minister Tomáš Chalupa (51). The 30 people at the meeting, park managers, representatives of local municipalities, scientists and environmental activists, discussed the Na Ztracenem area in Šumava NP where the activists had been blocking the cutting of bark-beetle-hit spruce trees since mid-July. They did not find any common ground between them.

About the time of this meeting, I wrote to Jan Stráský, Director, Šumava NP, Petr Necas, Prime Minister, and Tomáš Chalupa, Environment Minister, expressing my opposition to the logging that is taking place in the park (you can send your objections at (52)). I said that my research for the Scottish Government on European wild land had thrown up the meeting hosted by the Šumava NP and Bavarian Forest NP at Srni in 2009 (see ealier) and how the conference report Europe’s Wild Heart had captured the breadth of enthusiasm for wildland and its nurturing across continental Europe. I noted the important principle identified in the meeting that the natural processes occurring in Primary Habitat under non-intervention management are able to meet the demands of developing or guaranteeing a favourable conservation status. I warned that the Primary Habitats in the core, non-intervention areas of Šumava NP were now at threat from the logging.

I also pointed out that this logging is in contradiction to a recent scientific study that highlighted the importance of bark beetle dynamics in the restoration of habitats that support many saproxylic species (those species that thrive on decaying wood (53)). The positive responses of abundance and composition of beetle assemblages to dead wood produced by bark beetle infestation suggested that saproxylic beetles benefited from the resulting natural dynamics. Similar diversifying effects of natural disturbance have been shown for fire and windstorms. The authors recommended that nature be allowed to take its course in strictly protected areas such as national parks, and that the amount of dead wood within these protected areas be allowed to increase. Moreover, the results demonstrate that unmanaged areas or management by ‘‘benign neglect” can be quite successful in restoring natural forest dynamics, habitats, and the organisms dependent on forest structures.

It’s a long journey from the uniquely underwhelming approach to nature conservation in British national parks, through the wild land of successful national parks in continental Europe, to the upheaval that is currently taking place at Šumava NP. The strong message is that those successes for wild nature are achieved when natural values are given high priority, and would be lost in compromises with the cultural uses of landscapes. National Parks should have different aims and aspirations than the dogma of unremitting human exploitation. It is a hard lesson, but which more of us need to learn.

Mark Fisher 30 August 2011

(1) Nature improvement and restoration areas - are they a step towards rewilding? Self-willed land 28 June 2011

(2) European accolade renewed for Peak District National Park, Peak District National Park Authority News release 26 July 2011

(3) What is the European Diploma of Protected Areas? Culture, Heritage and nature, Council of Europe

(4) Group of Specialists – European Diploma of Protected Areas, 15 MARCH 2011, STRASBOURG. Directorate of Culture and Cultural and Natural Heritage, Council of Europe 5 April 2011

(5) Swiss National Park leaflet

(6) Category 1a Strict Nature Reserve, International Union for Conservation of Nature

(7) Biodiversity, Retezat National Park, Romania

(8) Management and zoning, Retezat National Park, Romania

(9) General Information about Central Balkan National Park, Bulgaria

(10) Reserves, Central Balkan National Park, Bulgaria

(11) Category 1b Wilderness Area, International Union for Conservation of Nature

(12) National Park Profile – Peak District National Park, INTO THE WILD- The Gap Year Blog from Frontier 8 AUGUST 2011

(13) Criteria for the award of the European Diploma of Protected Areas, Council of Europe

(14) Category II National Park, International Union for Conservation of Nature

(15) Category V - Protected Landscape/seascape, International Union for Conservation of Nature

(16) Europe’s Wilderness Days 2010, PAN Parks

(17) Walking the wild places, Self-willed land September 2010

(18) Šumava National Park - Application for the European Diploma of Protected Areas, Ministry of Environment of the Czech Republic 2008

(19) Group of Specialists - European Diploma of Protected Areas 4–5 March 2010, Council of Europe 26 March 2010

(20) Europe´s Wild Heart: The appropriateness of non-intervention management for protected areas and Natura 2000 sites, Conference Report January 2009, Srní, Czech Republic

(21) Memorandum, Bilateral international relations, Šumava National Park

(22) Šumava – Bavarian Forest National Parks´ Vision 2020

(23) Europe’s Wild Heart, Šumava National Park and Bavarian Forest National Park

(24) Memorandum on bark beetle management, Šumava NP and Bavarian Forest NP May 2010

(25) Restoring the forests of Europe – best ecological practice: the Sumava Bayerischerwald programme, Hans Kiener, Bayerischerwald National Park, Germany

(26) An Open Letter from Cabinet Havel and European Wild Heart, 17th November  2010

(27) Background Study on institutional and management frameworks in the Biosphere Reserves Aggtelek (Hungary), Babia Góra (Poland) and Šumava (Czech Republic), Ecological Tourism in Europe and UNESCO MaB, 2007

(28) Šumava National Park (Czech Republic) Application. Expert report by Mr Pierre Galland

(Switzerland) 22 – 24 July 2010

(29) Save Šumava National Park, Friends of the Earth Czech Republic February 13, 2001

(30) Row blows up over management of Šumava National Park, Chris Johnstone, Radio Praha 25 August 2009

(31) Šumava - Quarterly magazine of the Šumava National Park Administration, Special Issue 2010

(32)  National Park Zones, Fulufjället National Park, Sweden

(33) Walisten, P. (2005). Public participation for conflict reconciliation in establishing Fulufjället National Park, Sweden. In Mountains of Northern Europe: Conservation, Management, People and Nature, ed. by D.B.A. Thompson, M.F. Price & C.A. Gaibraith. TSO Scotland, Edinburgh. pp. 263-274.

(34) Šumava National Park head resigns, Prague Daily Monitor 2 November 2010šumava-national-park-head-resigns

(35) New minister Chalupa to focus on pollution, anti-flood measures, Prague Daily Monitor 18 January 2011

(36) Tomáš Chalupa to become new Czech environment minister, Daniela Lazarová, Radio Praha 11 January 2011

(37) Jan Stráský named the new director of the Administration of the Šumava National Par and Protected Landscape Area, Czech Ministry of Environment Press release 14 February 2011

(38) Appendix IV: Request by the Czech authorities to postpone the discussion about the application of the national Park of Sumava, in GROUP OF SPECIALISTS – EUROPEAN DIPLOMA OF PROTECTED AREAS 14-15 MARCH 2011, Council of Europe

(39) Minutes of the meetings of the Council, Šumava National Park 7. March 2011 NPS 01862/2011

(40) Letter to government representatives and parliament parties for support of functional nature protection in the Sumava National Park and Landscape Protected Area, Czech Society for Ecology 21 March 2011

(41) Czech Sumava national park official sacked over use of chemicals, Czech News 6 May 2011

(42) Czech national park head admits applying poison at odds with law, Prague Daily Monitor 9 May 2011

(43) Locality Na Ztraceném (Bird's Creek), Šumava NP

(44) Fans of Sumava peacefully prevent mass illegal logging in mountain, Hnutí DUHA Press release 15 July 2011

(45) BN visited Czech forest squatters, Bund Naturschutz in Bayern

(46) Forest Ibrahimovic photographed at Ibry, 26, 27 July 2011, Hnutí DUHA

(47) 13th day in Šumava photographed at Jardy Millera, 28 July 2011, Hnutí DUHA

(48) Politicians wade into bark-beetle fray, Jan Velinger, Radio Praha 3 August 2011

(49) Statement of the Czech Helsinki Committee on the police intervention in the Sumava National Park, released on August 7th 201, Czech Helsinki Committee

(50) Czech activists call for Strasky´s dimissal as Sumava park head, Czech News 15 August 2011

(51) Šumava park management, activists fail to reach consensus, Prague Daily Monitor 16 August 2011

(52) Stop the destruction of Šumava National Park, Czech Republic, Friends of the Earth International

(53) J. Müller,J., Noss, R.F., Bussler, H. and Brandl, R. (2010) Learning from a ‘‘benign neglect strategy” in a national park: Response of saproxylic beetles to dead wood accumulation. Biological Conservation 143: 2559–2569