Not even the military’s brutal assaults bother nature. Some plant species prefer those places that are disturbed by shells or tracked vehicles.
Considering that it was military information, the generals’ plan to leave the training grounds at Jince, Central Bohemia, leaked out surprisingly fast. A week ago the mayors of the municipalities involved and nature conservationists stared disbelievingly at the news, appalled at the consequences.
Due to visitor access restrictions, the impossibility of construction and a ban on any activities that are not associated with military training, the forests called Brdské lesy are at the moment impeccably preserved. They amount to a paradise for those who love lushly growing but carefully nurtured forests. But all that can be forgotten if the military march out.
After the military’s initial report, confidential information about the generals’ strategy filled out about the plans hand over the Brdy hills to nature conservationists enabling them to make the training grounds into a national park. If the Czech Republic got itself into trouble and needed to train a large number of soldiers, the area could once again be used as an exercise ground.
The best conservationists: soldiers and mosquitoes
But there is a hitch with that idea: a national park is not declared by order. No matter how highly its advocate, a national park cannot be constituted in an area that does not meet the criteria for certain definable rare species of flora or fauna. It is not enough to argue that it has gorgeous forests, healthy populations of reptiles, amphibians, fish and birds, or even habitats for the protected round-leaved sundew and the endemic Brdy blackberry.
The generals have failed in a strategy that counts on nature conservation.
However, the military has just such a territory, one that conservationists could immediately start preparing for a national park. It is called Hradiště and lies in the Doupovské vrchy in the Karlovy Vary region. Unconfirmed rumors have mentioned this area also as a candidate for a national park. And if the military authorities have not denied the leak about the Brdy, then maybe they would also tolerate this divulgence.
The generals probably have purely military reasons for changing their focus from Doupov to Brdy. Their vague notion of a dual purpose use for the territory falls flat as soon as the last army transporter leaves the Brdy site of Jince. In short, the generals have failed in a strategy that counts on nature conservation.
The outlined, though soon abandoned, option would be mutually acceptable: a national park in Doupov and a military zone in Brdy. As Pavel Křížek from Fauna Protection ČR (OF ČR) points out, “The best nature protection is mosquitoes and soldiers.” In the Brdy area — where the natural qualities may well merit preservation, though they are not at the level of a national park — soldiers would be a great benefit. The local mosquitoes are not so reliable.
Sorrow upon sorrow
Daily Lidové noviny lamented on April 14 that instead of Brdy, the soldiers will not be leaving the Libavá military area in the Karlovy Vary region. Citizens in Libavá are sick of the noise of jets over their dwellings and don’t want it any more. The area has large areas of restituted land, up to 1,100 hectares, and the owners can’t work them. The military wanted to buy the land but couldn’t find enough money, so it pays an annual rent of over Kč 20 million. So far, the owners are hesitant to exchange land in the middle of the exercise grounds for alternative lots. And while in Libavá there are a host of reasons why the locals would be glad to get rid of the military area, in Brdy the opposite is true. ‘The last piece of forest would disappear and become a dump.’
Mayors in the Brdy area have several concerns. Josef Hála, the mayor of Jince, told regional newspapers that the report on closing the exercise grounds was disturbing. “I’m shocked by it. Closing the military area and garrisons would negatively affect our region. I’m sorry about the military zone. If it really is to be closed down and opened up [to the public] it is the end,” he said. Jan Neoral, the mayor of Trokavec, is worried that commercial use of the area would only devastate it. “The last piece of forest would disappear and become a dump,” he said. Josef Vondrášek, the mayor of Rožmitál pod Třemšínem, stated: “It definitely won’t be good to sell it off to profiteers, which would destroy it as a well preserved environment. It would be a sin.”
The Brdy recreational woods
No one is in any doubt about the business pressures to use Brdy for recreational purposes after its change in status. Any possible protection by declaring it a natural park would be very weak. What's more, the area falls under two regions, which complicates any attempts to declare it a park which is a regional responsibility. The pressure for recreational buildings is far more likely to be successful.
Steps towards the much feared splitting up of Brdy have already been launched by the military since they are leaving the 13th Artillery Brigade behind and in need of training grounds. The Czech Republic is a curiosity in that it has a record five and a half hectares per soldier.
Regional naturalists are dismayed by future developments. A zoologist from the Mining Museum at Příbram, David Fischer, told the regional edition of Mladá fronta Dnes that politics lies behind the decision. “Speculators are trembling with anticipation at the prospect of turning the zone into a recreational area. It is an attractive area just 40 minutes from Prague,” Fischer said. Central Bohemia botanist Rudolf Hlaváček Brdy needs the military to stay put if it is to preserve its character. He is worried that the meadows will turn into golf courses and the local flora will be eradicated.
However, the military have now largely retreated from the Brdy battlefield with their role ending, or about to end, with the proposal on Brdy's future. They will now make way for the civilian decision makers with the first in line the Minister of Defense, followed by the government and finally Parliament. Only then can a decision about the military zones become law.
The Czech Republic is a curiosity in that it has a record five and a half hectares per soldier, even though an average a soldier only only use just over of a hectare of land during his basic military service. And hardly any of them actually looked forward to using them. Even if the army did leave Brdy, the Czech Armed Forces would still have more than 100,000 hectares for training.