Greetings from Vogtland vol. 7 – A biodiversity hotspot for central Europe in former mining land

Our master students recently participated in a 4-day excursion in the Vogtland-region, and learned many different aspects of forestry and wood products through visits in local forest areas and companies. This blog post series, written by the participating students themselves, highlight some of these encounters!

20180627_100241It is hard to believe that a former mining land could be today a hotspot of biodiversity for central Europe. But the Soos National Nature Reserve (Soos NNR) in Czech Republic holds today the highest category of nature protection. Its area of 221 hectares is the habitat for several rare species, that could establish over the mineral rich soils. Nonetheless, this special conditions were not originally found in the area, but were rather generated by mining activities. The former peatland disappeared due to sedimentation of mineral layers that today attract the establishment of specialist species.

The biodiversity that wills to be recovered has a cultural importance rather than an ecological relevance for the site, since many species that are preserved were not found before human intervention activities. Only a very low percentage of land in central Europe is protected, thus maximizing species diversity in these few areas becomes relevant. Richness in these ecosystems is highly valued because of its scarcity.

20180627_101418Moreover, the reserve has about 100 water springs or wells, highly connected to cultural history of many decades. These springs are peculiar since they hold salty carbonated water, and are valued because of their benefits to health. In the former times, this water was used to produce salt (Sodium Sulphate) for households in the region. Despite of being naturally carbonated, water from this springs can not be directly bottled due to the suspended particles that colour it.

Since the reserve was declared in 1964 no active alteration of the ecosystem was undertaken, thus most of the current landscape and existing biodiversity is a result of natural regeneration. Only recently active management is increasingly practiced, so that forest patches don’t overcome mining borned silica soils where rare species exist. The current plan is to restore the former landscape as it was soon after mining activities, to enhance the maximum species richness for the site. Therefore natural regeneration is not the best option for biodiversity protection in certain zones of the reserve anymore.

Nonetheless, it is amazing to see giant trees developed in a historically mining site with salty soil. This was possible through an ecological succession processes. Starting with small humus accumulation on a dusty bare soil, moss plants began to colonise the area making a way for further species. After a few years grasses gradually develop among moss covered soil, followed by small plants and trees.

20180627_112000Apart from this, the reserve hosts rare species of beetles and butterflies that only occur under the special conditions generated by the mining activities that were taken place in the past. A wide variety of bird species, deer and wild boar are enriching the reserve, hence its high protection status.

All of the beauty, history and peculiarity of Soos NNR attract tourists to visit and learn from the reserve. Apart from from educational activities for students, research projects, as for example to understand volcanic activity in the area, have taken place. Thus the reserve is an important center for biodiversity conservation, tourism, education and science.

Questions and uncertainties from the management of the reserve still arise. For how long are we going to be able to prevent forest succession over silica soils? How are these decisions benefitting natural ecological processes? Are high biodiversity and beauty of the landscape important factors for the sustainability of the reserve? There is a lot we can still learn from unique places like the Soos NNR and we hope to be able to answer some of these questions from the future experience with its management.

 Authors: Nicole Acosta & Japhet Mwambusi


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