Canyons, steppes and forests. Prague has almost a hundred protected areas, some of which are in danger
Prague is the second greenest capital of Europe. Four percent of its area even consists of very valuable natural sites, which are protected by law. In addition, thanks to the unique subsoil, a number of endangered plants are growing in the metropolis. Only a few kilometers apart you can come across nature with a completely different character. However, due to high attendance, some of these places are slowly losing their beauty.
One hundred years ago, Prague was substantially expanded to include a village and, until then, independent cities. The so-called Greater Prague, the capital of the new republic, was established. This was followed by dynamic development and a rapid increase in population. Aktuálně.cz brings another part of the series Prague 100 years as a big city, is dedicated to nature.
Prague is famous in the world for its historical architecture, but it is also among the elite due to the fact that it is one of the greenest cities on the planet – according to last year’s Husquarna ranking, it is the thirteenth largest city with the highest share of greenery. Of the European capitals, it is second only to Vilnius, half a million in Lithuania. Green areas occupy a total of 27 percent of the city.
Four percent of the city’s area even falls under the “protected nature” column. Prague ranks among the top in Europe in terms of the number and level of its protected areas. “As far as I know, we do not have any other city in Europe with so many protected areas,” says Jiří Rom from the Department of Environmental Protection at the Prague City Hall.
Prague boasts 93 small protected areas with different levels of protection. It has eight national natural monuments, sixteen nature reserves and 69 natural monuments. Eleven nature parks still cover about twenty percent of the city’s area.
Varied underground and human activity
Prague – its unusual location gave this unique advantage to Prague. While a large part of European capitals spread on flat boards, the terrain of Prague is very rugged. “We have the Vltava here with its canyons, which are often deeply cut. In addition, there are many tributaries. Thanks to that, there are a lot of hills and alternating northern and southern slopes,” explains Rom.
But Prague is also varied under the terrain. Rarely does such a spectrum of rocks reach the surface on such a small area, which supports the growth of rare plants. Which species will thrive in a certain locality determines the type and character of the rock – other plants grow in the southwest of the Czech capital, where there is a lot of limestone, and others in the north, where there are acid cobblestones.
Paradoxically, the long-term settlement of the area also made a significant contribution to the current form of Prague’s nature. All protected areas of Prague are based on human activity. “In prehistoric times, the settlers of Prague deforested, which is important because it has enabled the adaptation of today’s protected plant and animal communities,” says Jiří Rom, a specialist in the care of protected areas.
The grazing or burning of the area thus gave a characteristic character to several places protected today, even the worse ones, such as the Podhoří and Zámky nature reserves in Bohnice or the Sedlecké skály on the opposite bank of the Vltava. Conservationists must intervene here regularly to prevent the growth of shrubs or trees.
Rare flowers, butterflies and beetles
When mentioning nature, Praguers and visitors to the city are probably the first to remember the picturesque Prokop Valley, Divoká Šárka or Petřín. However, Jiří Rom, these places that can be great for photography and impress with their romantic atmosphere is only a fraction of what Prague’s nature has to offer.
One of the advantages of Prague is, among other things, the fact that only a few kilometers apart are completely different types of landscape. This is due to both the subsoil and the different weather. For example, there is a big difference between Divoká Šárka in the northwest of the city and the Klánovice Forest, Prague’s largest nature reserve, which stretches on the northeastern edge of the metropolis.
“In the east of Prague, it is completely different, very poor in nature than elsewhere. Sometimes it has a mountain character, but we are at altitudes. This is due to the fact that it is a relatively cold area,” provides Roma.
Even because of this diversity, it is impossible to say which of the Prague territories experts value the most. For example, Pottery Meadows between Šeberov and Hrnčíři are unique for the occurrence of a large number of moisture-loving plant species, for example, the very endangered Siberian iris or the highest upolin grows there.
The most protected areas can be found in the southwest of the capital – Prague 5 has 33. The second Prague 6 does not even have half. Due to the limestone slopes, the localities in Prague 5 are characterized by their arid steppe vegetation. For example, in the Prokop Valley, between Hlubočepy and Jinonice, there are several dozen plant species that are on the red list of endangered plants. These include, for example, the white-tailed deer, the only member of the routed family in the Czech Republic, the golden-headed lily or the downy oak.
The second oldest natural monument in today’s metropolis – the Pheasantry in Satalice, protected since 1951 (when Satalice was not yet part of Prague), is again a very valuable place for insects. Oak trunks serve as a refuge for endangered woodpeckers, ground beetles and weevils. In terms of their occurrence, the area is comparable, for example, to the well-known Boubín Forest in Šumava.
Beetle in Bažantice Photo: praha-priroda.cz
The Radotín Valley Reserve is again important due to the 600 species of butterflies that live here – for example, the protected white-striped poplar.
The naturalist Jaromír Strejček was especially responsible for the creation of protected areas in Prague. “Dr. Strejček found that the territory of Prague is very diverse geological, geomorphological and biogeographical and that the preserved parts of nature will need to be protected from a growing city if they are to survive,” says Pavel Špryňar from the Nature and Landscape Protection Agency. For example, in Divoká Šárka, Strejček managed to stop the construction of a dam in the gorge between Kozáková and Šestáková rock at the last minute.
One hundred years ago, there were twice as many species in the Star
However, conservationists fear that Prague may lose some of its many natural beauties in the near future. Due to the fact that the locality is located directly on the territory of almost 1.5 million metropolises, it is visited by many times more people every day than other areas outside the city.
They can endanger Prague’s natural monuments only by taking their dog for a walk. Dog excrement disrupts the chemical composition of the local soil so much that some more sensitive species of flowers disappear. The monument V Hrobech near the Kamýk housing estate suffers from this, for example.
The number of plants is dwindling because some people don’t even realize they are in a protected area, and the plants dig out of the soil to root them to plant them at home in the garden. This is the case, among other things, of the natural monument Obora Hvězda in the northwest of Prague. “We know that on average one species of plants will lose there every year. If we went for a walk there a hundred years ago, we would see twice as many species,” adds nature protection specialist Jiří Rom.
The city is trying to face this problem by creating “buffer zones” – green spaces near protected areas, where people can go for a walk or take their dogs. This is the case, for example, with the natural monument Lítožnice in Dubč in the east of Prague. “I need to adjust the surroundings to make it more attractive to the average visitor and I would not need to enter the protected area,” he adds.
From the Radotín Valley to Dvorecké hillside
The oldest protected areas in Prague are Radotín valley (published 1950) and Pheasantry in Satalice (1951). At the time of their creation, however, these areas were not yet part of Prague. The first protected area declared directly in the capital can therefore be considered up to Divoká Šárka in 1964.
Other natural monuments and reservations were added in 1968 (12 territories declared), 1982 (28 territories) and 1988 (42 territories). In the 21st century, five have emerged so far – Letňany Airport (2005), Blatovský potok spring (2009), Rocks in the zoo (2014), Komořanské and modřany ponds (2014) and Dvorecká stráně (2017).