Dr. Jan Cerovsky
President, ECOPOINT Foundation
Senior Scientist, Czech Institute for Nature Conservation (IUCN)
In 1958, the IUCN – the present world conservation union – celebrated its tenth anniversary by holding its sixth general assembly and seventh technical meeting in Athens, Greece. This meeting has been an important milestone in the development of international nature conservation. For us, the former Czechoslovakia, it meant the formal start of our involvement in international conservation. The general assembly endorsed the membership of the Czech Nature Conservation Institute, the activities of which continue until the present day under the leadership of the Agency for Nature and Landscape Protection. As a result of broader and deeper international contacts after the 1989 velvet revolution, a professional IUCN national office and a foundation called ECOPOINT (founded by IUCN) are now in operation in our country. The sixth IUCN general assembly in Greece made a strong international plea for strengthening the case of national parks and other protected areas. This took place during the ceremonial closing session held in Delphi, also attended by the leader of the Czech Nature Conservation, Dr. Jaroslav Veselu, who was representing the Former Czechoslovakia.
It has been widely recognised and acknowledged, that protected areas play a crucial role in the protection and enhancement of the natural environment, as well as in the preservation and restoration of biodiversity at all levels. The Czech Republic is a country with a remarkable network of protected areas. Here are a few reasons why.
Firstly, the Czech Republic lies in the very heart of Europe, at the cross- roads of various historic and contemporary migration patterns. All central European landscape types and ecosystems, with the exception of coastal and high altitude areas, are represented in its territory. This is the reason for a rich and varied biodiversity, relatively well preserved in many parts of the country, in spite of heavy pollution, extensive urbanisation and industrialisation. Thanks to the Czech Nature Conservation Institute, the process of building a representative protected areas network has advanced considerably.
Secondly, nature conservation, particularly special territorial protection, have an old tradition in the Czech Republic. The two primeval forests in the Novohradske mountains in South Bohemia have continuously been protected since 1838, and constitute the oldest forest nature reserves in Europe and in the entire world. The famous “Kubanu Boubin” virgin forest has been carefully and continuously protected since 1858, and has also been extensively explored and documented. This represents a globally unique case of a century old, natural, open-air laboratory. In 1955, the first Czech protected landscape area “Cesky Raj”, the Bohemian Paradise, was established as perhaps the first solid European protected area under the present IUCN International Category V. In 1956, the Czech Republic got its first nature conservation act with clearly defined protected area categories. In 1963, the first Czech national park was declared in the “Krkonoje” giant mountains, the highest mountain range in the country and a remarkable island of subarctic tundra between the European far north and the Alps.
Thirdly, the network of protected areas and their management have developed more extensively lately, partly as an expression of the Czech people’s protest against the environmentally short-sighted, ethically rude, primitively exploiting resource and landscape use of the communist government system. Our experts recognised and implemented the concept of a representative protected areas system, which concerns inclusion not only of all best preserved samples of genetic and taxonomic ecosystems but also cultural and biological diversity. Moreover, our concept of protected areas promotes their crucial role in environmental interpretation and education, and in the development of soft tourism and ecotourism. Protected areas are being considered key elements in environmental networking and are now being developed on a pan-European scale within the ECONET programme. In the Czech Republic they are endorsed as the main tool for nature conservation in the form of “Territorial Systems of Ecological Stability” by the modern Nature and Landscape Protection Act, No. 114/1992 coll of 1992.
The new law on nature and landscape protection also defines the protected area categories, compatible with IUCN international standards. Their survey is given in the attached table proving, among others things, that more than 15% of the total country’s area is under special territorial protection.
The whole Czech system of protected areas consists of large and small protected areas. The first group includes national parks and protected landscape areas covered under IUCN category V. They are shown in the attached map, featuring their 1991 and 1995 status. Five of them have been declared UNESCO biosphere reserves. Quite a few are frontier areas, adjacent to the state boundary, and many of these are transboundary bilateral parks having their counterparts in neighbouring countries.
The second group includes small protected areas and nature reserves located all over the country. Many of them are found as core zones within large national parks and protected landscape areas. The small nature reserves may cover up to several hundred hectares each.
We also have problems with the maintenance of our protected areas. One of them is to mitigate the effects of land redistribution resulting from political and economic change. To face the new risks, state conservation authorities have established the Property Land Fund for special protected areas in the Czech Republic. This secures state ownership and good conservation management of selected lands. Conservation management of these protected areas is also supported by the state budget. Special conservation management is an imperative in central Europe, where human impact has had deleterious effects on biodiversity. Conservation management of protected areas is often carried out by volunteers, members of environmental NGOs and similarly sympathising and co- operating groups.
Last year, a European programme titled “Parks for Life: Action for Protected Areas in Europe” was launched by the IUCN. Its popular and summary versions were translated into Czech and widely distributed in the Czech Republic. Czech specialists have participated in the development of the action plan and will also take part in its implementation. We are proud to report that the Czech Protected Areas Network meets all European standards.
Recently, thirty priority projects have been identified and formulated for the implementation of the action plan. Some of them are of special relevance to the Czech Republic. In view of the situation, we have been selected to play a key role in the development of European trans-frontier parks. Because of our long, rich and effective experience with protected landscape areas, the Environment Ministry of the Czech Republic may be hosting an all-European conference on the protected landscape heritage of Europe, in May 1996, in the historic town of Cesku Krumlov. This town in South Bohemia is a world heritage site. It also has a whole range of protected areas nearby.
I would like to express my firm hope that many colleagues from Greece will attend the above mentioned conference and participate in many other projects of the European Protected Areas Action Plan. Many features similar to both the Czech Republic and Greece can be identified: a landscape inhabited and exploited for many centuries with a rich biological diversity. This is a unique case in Europe. I have the pleasure of expressing my deepest gratitude to all the sponsors for the opportunity to present this brief overview on behalf of the Czech Nature Conservation Institute. I particularly wish to thank the Biopolitics International Organisation and its President and Founder, Dr. Agni Vlavianos- Arvanitis, who I believe will be instrumental in the development of closer co- operation between the Czech Republic and Greece.
Dr. Jan Cerovsky is presently President of the Board of Directors of the Czech and Slovak Environmental liaison Centre, Ecopoint Foundation; he is also a member of the Governing Board of the Czech Environmental Foundation, EVA; the Czech Botanical Society, and the Sustainable Tourism Project Group of the Foundation of Nature and National Parks of Europe. Apart from co-operating widely with the Council of Europe (Naturopa), UNESCO and UNEP, he has been Vice President of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) since 1991. His wide and varied career has included extensive editorial service on nature conservation magazines, periods as visiting professor in many countries and the dissemination of information about science and conservation through mass media and the organisation of international exhibitions. His work was recognised in 1993 by the award of the Peter Joseph Lenne Medal in Gold, European Nature Conservation Prize 1993, from the Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Foundation, Basle, Switzerland; and in 1994 he received the Hugo Conwentz Medal from the Working Association for Professional and Voluntary Nature Conservation, Bonn, Germany.