Establishment of the first forest reserves in the 19th century

Czech lands experienced large-scale timber logging in the first half of the 19th century. It was associated with the development of metallurgy and other industrial production. Norway spruce (Picea abies) was extensively used for replanting and was artificially introduced in most regeneration areas of the then forests. However, already first and eventually second generations of spruce monocultures (especially poorly raised, unstable stands) experienced large windbreaks which were later accompanied by extensive calamities of bark beetle (Ips typographus). Rapid disappearing of yet untouched virgin forests in less accessible mountainous areas intensified by a growing movement of Romanticism in the first half of the 19th century led to establishing first forest reserves on the European continent.

The influence of Romanticism was reflected in the decision of nature-loving Earl Jiří František August de Langueval-Buquoy, Goethe’s friend, the owner of New Castle estate in southern Bohemia. He wrote on 28 August 1838 a letter to his forester which made an indelible impact in the history of nature protection not only in the Czech Republic: “ To my inspector František Železný! On my today’s walk in the Lužnice forest district I found a track of the 2nd main part between clearings No. 10 and 20, between the Almbach creek and the demarcation line (probably the state border with Austria – auth. note) looking like a virgin forest, inspiring admiration and respect by its condition. Given that the forests with these properties will be soon known only from the historical records, I have decided to preserve the said forest as a memorial of past times for the demonstrative delight of true nature lovers, to give up all forest management in it and I command you to carry out my will by further orders so no trees will be felled, no litter will be raked and no small wood will be gathered, in other words everything to be left in its present condition. Jiří Earl of Buquoy.

The forest in question was Žofín virgin forest in the Novohradské hory mountains. Its protection was then declared on an area of 38 ha. In 1938 the strict protection was extended to the total area of 99 ha and this area – National Nature Reserve Žofín virgin forest – has been protected till today. Simultaneously, the Earl Buqoy declared protection over another nearby situated virgin forest called Hojná Voda (now covering nearly 10 ha). Also this forest has been strictly protected until now as a National Nature Monument Hojná Voda.

Ing. Josef John from Boubín in the Šumava mountains followed similar line of thinking as Jiří Buquoy. However, his interest in the existing virgin forests was not inspired only by romantic notions. He understood that these forests were a key in understanding natural processes uncontrolled by man and that without this knowledge it is impossible to manage sustainable forestry and active protection of original forests. In 1843 Josef John took charge of forest management of the then Schwarzenberg estate in Vimperk. Since 1847 he planned to use his observations about tree development in the virgin forests in the forestry science and he probably had been thinking about their preservation for future generations (Nožička 1958, 1959).

It is certainly thanks to Josef John that virgin forests from Šumava mountains have become a focus of Czech foresters since 1849. On 2 September 1849, Czech Forestry Society organized their first excursion with participation of many leading experts into Boubín virgin forest and thus enabled many participants to see a real virgin forest for the first time. According to the records, about 33,000 acres (19,992 ha) of virgin forests were present in the former Schwarzenberg estates (Göppert 1868). Publishing report about this excursion aroused interest not only in the Czech lands but also abroad. Josef John tried to convince prince Schwarzenberg about the need to protect Boubín virgin forest. He told the owner of the estate among other things: “This forest stand nearly represents an open book of the nature where you can read the laws of the Mother Nature who if free and undisturbed for centuries, as is the case here, conserves vegetation, completes, destroys and renews it again, where a tree has an exclusive habitat, where numerous species are harmoniously distributed and assembled, where at the same time an order full of life and death can be maintained within the forest with a wealth of mass and individual maximum power and full of distinct evidences against violent devastation” (Nožička 1958). Thanks to John’s long-term effort and the intercession of Wroclaw chief provincial wood-reeve von Pannewitze, Schwarzenberd decided in 1858 that virgin forests in the department 31b, 34b and 35a of Zátoň district were left as permanent reserves (Nožička 1958, 1959). Protection of the Boubín virgin forest applied originally to relatively vast area (its exact extent is very difficult to establish from the archive materials). However, in 1870 Šumava was hit by large wind storm which caused huge windbreaks also in the Boubín. Fearing a massive spread of spruce bark beetles into surrounding spruce forests, also windbreaks in the reserve were processed and only a core with the area 48 ha (former department 31) remained untouched. This core has remained untouched by any harvesting until present.

Other forest reserves were established after long pause. They were always situated on the private land of big forest owners.

  • Odkaz1894 – Buky u Vysokého Chvojna
  • Odkaz1903 – Šerák–Keprník
  • Odkaz1904 – Labský důl
  • Odkaz1909 – Javorina

When the Czechoslovak Republic was established in 1918, there were in total 7 private forest reserves without any legal protection status.