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Bohemian Switzerland National Park


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Sandstone Landscapes: Diversity, Ecology and Conservation

14 - 20 September, 2002
Doubice in Saxonian-Bohemian Switzerland, Czech Republic


The České Švýcarsko (Bohemian Switzerland)
National Park

Official Website
in Czech only


was established on January 1, 2000 as the fourth national park in the Czech Republic. It borders on the German National Park Sächsische Schweiz (Saxonian Switzerland), which was established ten years before (1990). The entire Bohemian-Saxonian Switzerland is one of the traditional and best known touristic areas in Central Europe. This tradition goes back to the period of romanticism, when Swiss and German painters "discovered" the surrounding nature. One of them was also the famous Caspar David Friedrich (1774 - 1840). This period of time was the birth of the romantic-sounding name for the area - Saxonian and later also Bohemian Switzerland. It is worth noting that the oldest mountain association on the territory of the present Czech Republic, founded according to the example of alpine associations, was the Bohemian Switzerland Mountain Association (Gebirgsverein für die Böhmische Schweiz, founded in 1878 in Děčín). This association, together with the Mountain Association for the Northernmost Bohemia (Gebirgsverein für das nördlichste Böhmen) and the owners of the domain (the Kinskys and Clary-Aldringens) played an important role in making Bohemian Switzerland accessible for tourists. Since then tourism has always been an important source of income for local inhabitants. After 1945, when the majority of the German population was expelled from the country, a significant interruption in the continuity of the cultural and historical development of Bohemian Switzerland set in. It has just been in the last decade that Bohemian Switzerland has been rediscovered in connection with political changes in Central Europe and especially with the establishment of the Saxonian Switzerland National Park; the efforts rounded off by the establishment of the Bohemian Switzerland National Park.

The main object of protection in the Bohemian Switzerland National Park is a very characteristically developed sandstone phenomenon, i.e. unique geomorphology sandstone rock towns and the related biodiversity. The national park covers a part of the larger Elbe Sandstones (Elbsandsteingebirge) geomorphological unit, which covers an area of about 700 km2 on both sides of the border. The Bohemian Switzerland National Park covers an area of 79 km2; the remaining part of the Elbe Sandstones in Bohemia is covered with the Elbe Sandstones Protected Landscape Area. The bilateral unit of the Bohemian and Saxonian Switzerland National Parks constitutes a representative example of block sandstones of the Bohemian Cretaceous Basin, which is unique in Europe as far as the extent is concerned (a total of 172 km2) with minimal settlement (there are only two small villages within both national parks).


Characteristics of the area

Saxonian-Bohemian Switzerland, which is also known as Elbsandsteingebirge, is an erosion landscape extended along the Elbe valley on both sides of the German-Czech border (the nearest large city is Dresden). This area was formed in the Cretaceous period of the Mesozoic. After retreat of the Cretaceous sea, the compact table of horizontal strata (sand deposits up to 600 m thick) was deformed due to movements of the Earth´s crust and the typical erosion relief of the landscape developed. From the standpoint of the landscape ecology, the horizontal structure of the landscape in the Elbsansteingebirge can be characterized as follows (Härtel et Hadincová 1998): the sandstone areas form a matrix that is cut by the Elbe River and its side streams (=corridors), and relative uniformity of which is enriched by locally dispersed Tertiary volcanic hills (=patches), which result in a significant increase in biodiversity of the area. From the standpoint of the vertical structure of the landscape, three levels of the Elbsandsteingebirge can be recognized: table mountains, platforms and canyons or valleys.

In its geomorphological classification, a predominant part of the Bohemian Switzerland National Park consists of the Jetřichovické stěny (Jetřichovice rocks walls) geomorphological subunit - extensive areas of rock and forest complexes, with practically no settlements and a very diverse geomorphology. One of the best known objects in this part of the National Park is the Pravčická brána (Prebischtor) National Nature Monument - a rock bridge that is unique in Europe. Jetřichovice rocks are also frequently visited by tourists, especially the look-out points Mariina skála, Vilemínina stěna or Rudolfův kámen, as well as the rock castles (Šaunštejn, Falkenštejn, etc.). The most frequently visited place in the northern part of Jetřichovice rock walls is the Kyjov valley, which continues to the the Křinice/Kirnitzsch gorge. The area of the sandstone blocks of the Jetřichovice rock walls is frequently enriched by individual outcrops of basalt elevations, e.g. at the hills Větrovec, Mlýny, Goliště, Suchý vrch, in the Ponova louka Nature Reserve or on Český vrch. Geologically very interesting are the outcrops of Jurassic limestones along the Lusatian discontinuity (the valley of the Bílý potok brook).

The southern part of the national park includes the boundary areas of the Děčínské stěny (Děčín rock walls) subunit. A characteristic feature of this part is the Kamenice river, which - with its Tichá and Divoká (Silent and Wild) gorges - is the most visited site (besides Pravčická brána). The boats has been in service since the end of the 19th century. Not far away there is the only hamlet within the national park Mezná (local part of the village Hřensko), with examples of valuable folk architecture and Mezní Louka - starting point for hikes to Pravčická brána or to the gorges. South of the gorges there rises the highest point of the national park and the largest Tertiary basalt elevation of entire Bohemian-Saxonian Switzerland - the hill Růžák (Rosenberg) (619 m a.s.l.). This dominant landscape feature is also a national nature reserve of autochtonous forest ecosystems.


Biodiversity of Saxonian-Bohemian Switzerland

The vertical structure of Saxonian-Bohemian Switzerland creates unique opportunities for biodiversity in relation to the micro- to mezoclimatic conditions. The sandstones are highly permeable and their surface is quite dry. In contrast, the system of shady and constantly damp ravines creates quite an opposite climate. A typical manifestation of the phenomenon of sandstone rock areas is inversion of the vegetation levels, leading to the presence of montane and sub-montane species even at altitudes of less than 150 m, e.g. Interrupted Clubmoss (Lycopodium annotinum), Clasp-leaf Twisted-stalk (Streptopus amplexifolius) and even Yellow Violet (Viola biflora), from the bryophytes e.g. Lophozia grandiretis, Polytrichum alpinum, Oligotrichum hercynicum. These gorges are also habitats of natural occurrence of Norway Spruce (Picea abies) and Silver Fir (Abies alba).

In contrast, dry, relict pine (ass. Dicrano-Pinetum) and oak-pine (ass. Vaccinio vitis-idaeae-Quercetum) woods with only a few species (ass. Dicrano-Pinetum) grow on sunny tops of rocks, together with Common Heather (Calluna vulgaris), Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), Cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), Pohlia nutans, Dicranella heteromalla and other acidophytes. However, the shady edges of rock walls provide a pinewood habitat for a greater number of species, including Labrador-tea (Ledum palustre), a characteristic species of Bohemian-Saxonian Switzerland, and a number of peat mosses (Sphagnum sp. div.), occasionally also Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum). The vegetation of the sandstone rock towns does not consist only of forest communities but is also characterized by extensive areas of natural non-forest vegetation, especially communities on the edges of the rocks and also remarkable communities of cryptograms on the vertical rock walls, e.g. associations Tetraphidetum pellucidae, Mylietum taylorii, Lophozio guttulatae-Cephalozietum bicuspidatae.

The extensive rock and forest complexes are also home of a number of endangered and rare animal species, in particular Lynx (Felis lynx), Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo) and, following a successful reintroduction, the territory of Bohemian-Saxonian Switzerland has become again home of Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus).

The water courses also make a significant contribution to the biodiversity, especially the Kamenice and Křinice streams. The occurrence of a number of important species is bound to the gorges of these two streams, amongst the plants e.g. Spring Snowflake (Leucojum vernum), Shady Horsetail (Equisetum pratense), Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) or Fontinalis antipyretica, animals are represented by Otter (Lutra lutra), White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus), Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) or Black Stork (Ciconia nigra).

Another interesting habitat are the Tertiary eruptive elevations, that make a very important contribution to the increase of biodiversity. Herb-rich beech woodlands (ass. Melico-Fagetum) and scree woodlands (ass. Mercuriali-Fraxinetum) related to the basalt hills, especially at the hill Růžák, make a remarkable contrast to the acidophilous beech woodlands on the sandstones (ass. Luzulo-Fagetum). Characteristic species in these forests are e.g. Wood Melick (Melica uniflora), Nine-leaved Coral-wort (Dentaria enneaphyllos), Coral-wort (D. bulbifera), rare species are e.g. Hard Shield-fern (Polystichum aculeatum) or Mountain Currant (Ribes alpinum). The occurence of the montane bryophytes - Andreaea rupestris, Racomitrium lanuginosum, R. fasciculare and R. heterostichum - is interesting on slope debris. One of the rare animals is the grasshopper Pholidoptera aptera bohemica.

Saxonian-Bohemian Switzerland is an area of a moderate climate with an evident tendency to Atlantic climate (especially in the steep valleys) with average air temperature of 8° C and average rainfall 700-800 mm. Therefore, very typical of Saxonian-Bohemian Switzerland is the frequent presence of Atlantic and sub-Atlantic species (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium, Juncus squarrosus, Hypericum humifusum, Galium saxatile, Mylia taylorii, Plagiothecium undulatum, Lophozia longiflora etc.). Famous was especially the isolated occurence of an Atlantic element Hymenophyllum tunbridgense in Saxonian Switzerland, unfortunately for longer time already extinct due to overcollecting. Another example of a very unusual occurrence of Atlantic species are the gametophytes of Trichomanes speciosum discovered in the Saxonian-Bohemian Switzerland by J. C. Vogel and S. Jeßen (Vogel, Jeßen, Gibby, Jermy and Ellis 1993).

In contrast, thermophilous species (subpontic and submediterranean elements), e.g. Centaurea stoebe, Eryngium campestre, Salvia vericillata are quite rare, their distribution is concentrated on the volcanic hills and especially in the Elbe canyon.


Nature conservation

Since the end of the 19th century, the entire Bohemian Switzerland has been accessible through a traditional network of marked trails, especially attractive are two instructive trails around Hřensko (to Pravčická brána and the Silent gorge) and through Jetřichovické stěny.

To the main tasks of the National Park Administration belong primarily a consistent protection of the existing natural ecosystems and a gradual increase of their areas through targetted management of stands that were affected by forestry practices in the past. It is also an important task of the Administration to implement a visitors’ management according to the principles of sustainable tourism, incl. the maintenance of existing touristic facilities. In respect of the extraordinary natural potential of the bilateral complex Bohemian and Saxonian Switzerland National Parks, the essential goal is the achievement of category II (National Park) according to the Wold Conservation Union (IUCN) criteria.

A specific problem at the present time is caused by an intensive invasion of White Pine (Pinus strobus) into the natural communities. The first reports of cultivation of this species in Bohemian Switzerland dates from the year 1798. At present, a massive invasion of Pinus strobus can be observed in the forests of Bohemian Switzerland. In this area, Pinus strobus is only invading coniferous forests on acidic substrate (sandstone). Most endangared by the Pinus strobus invasion seem to be pine or pine-oak forests covering sandstone rocks (Dicrano-Pinetum and Vaccinio vitis-idaea-Quercetum (syn: Pino-Quercetum)).

Where invasion is very vigorous, very dense stands of Pinus strobus are formed, followed by a drastic reduction of the herb and ground layer, gradually leading to the almost complete disappearance of these layers. Simultaneously, regeneration of Pinus sylvestris becomes impossible. Moreover, there is a significant overlap between the center of Pinus strobus invasion and the first (i.e. most valuable) zone of the Bohemian Switzerland National Park. It is quite clear that radical measures have to be introduced to eradicate the focal points of the current invasion and to limit further spread of Pinus strobus. However, the possibilities of eradicating are complicated by the ability of this species to grow on almost vertical rock faces and on rock edges.