European Green Belt in the Czech Republic and Slovakia
The Green Belt, which extends from Finland to Greece, is one of the most important nature reserves in Europe. Following on from articles about the Austrian (part 1), Bulgarian (part 2), Romanian (part 3), Serbian (part 4) and Hungarian (part 5) sections, we turn this week to the Czech and Slovakian sections of this vast conservation area.
The Iron Curtain is now in the past and has been replaced by a “green belt” along its borders. Like a large living and growing metaphor, it is a symbol for the way in which grass has grown quite literally over a historical divide.
The heritage of the Iron Curtain recalls the forceful separation of Europe, tragic family histories and death, but these fear-inspiring words also stand for a wonder of nature: the European Green Belt.
Short but significant
The Slovakian Green Belt is only 107.1 km long and thus much shorter than the sections in other countries. And yet they are among the most attractive regions in Central Europe, where flora and fauna have enjoyed forty years of isolation in which to prosper under ideal conditions.
The region between Austria and Slovakia extends from Záhorie to the capital Bratislava and the March wetlands along the Danube near Devin Castle. The Green Belt was established in 2002 in order to preserve the history and culture of the region. Nature conservationists have concentrated in particular on the area between Moravský Svätý Ján and the Pečniansky les forest area in Bratislava.
Hundred kilometre cycling paradiseOn the Czech side the Green Belt extends 800 km along the former West German and Austrian borders. Around two thirds of this area are nature conservation areas. The region is particularly interesting on account of the topography of the Czech border, formed for centuries by mountain ranges like the Bohemian Forest.
Today the Green Belt in the Czech Republic is a particular tourist attraction. Cyclists can enjoy a fantastic infrastructure with extensive cycle paths through breathtaking wooded countryside along the former border patrol roads. This gave rise to the idea for a separate cycle route, the Iron Curtain Greenway, which will one day run from the town of Aš in western Bohemia to the border crossing Nové Hrady in the south-east.
Animal encountersAmong the rare animals in the Czech Green Belt are the lynx and the kingfisher. The latter is also at home in the Slovakian section along with other rare birds like the sand martin and the black stork.
Closing gaps to protect natureThe fall of the Iron Curtain also opened up the border regions and put an end to the isolation that had enabled flora and fauna to prosper practically without disturbance. The land has been more intensively used since 1989, causing damage to the fragile biotope. Hydroelectric power stations in Slovakia alter natural watercourses and disrupt the migration of aquatic animals. In the Czech Republic environmental associations such as Hnutí Duha (Rainbow Movement) are concerned about increasingly intensive farming and road building that take too little account of the needs of the environment (such as crossings for wild animals).
The most important instrument for preserving the Green Belt is of course money, which enables numerous projects to be carried out. Behind obscure names like INTERREG IIIB CADSES (Slovakia) or Latin puzzles like Euregia Egrensis (Czech Republic) are EU financing mechanisms that enable informative books to be published or sections of the countryside to be regenerated.