Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Sumava Logging

Regular readers of this blog will know my views about the danger of the Sumava National Park's response to the problem of bark beetles. No one is underestimating the damage to the forest of the beetle. I have seen areas full of dead trees, but I do not believe that the wholesale clearance of trees which the Park authority proposes is an appropriate response.

Nor am I the only one. Five days ago a group of environmentalists (Czech Friends of the Earth) moved into an protected nature reserve which was under threat. In their press release they state:

The head of the National Park Ĺ umava Jan Strasky launched a massive felling hundreds of trees in a unique mountain forest around Bird Creek on Modrava. Large-scale use of chainsaws is however in stark contradiction with the law. Friends of the Earth, while the park management has repeatedly pointed out that the felling without permission is illegal, but without result,. Sumava lovers from different places of the Republic, therefore, from this morning trying to prevent illegal logging on the spot. Friends of the Earth also serves initiative of the Czech Environmental Inspectorate, to stop the devastation of the park.

So far there has been a stand-off between the protestors and the authorities. I'll keep you informed of developments.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

More on Birdwatching

The area around Trebon is packed with man-made ponds dating back to at least the Renaissance and even the late middle ages. I say ponds, but they are actually often as large as any lake. They were built as carp lakes to supply the tables of the Catholic Czechs on Fridays and holy days (and frankly any other day given the Czechs' love of carp). The lakes may be large therefore but they are also shallow enough to farm carp in and therefore they make the perfect home for waterbirds - those that stay all year long, part of the year and those that are passing through. As a result of the richness of the birdlife the Trebonsko area is designated a UNESCO biosphere.

Two lakes of particular interest to the birdwatcher are the Velky and Maly Tisy. The Velky (Large) is easily accessible - take the 148 road from Horni Slovenice to Lomnice nad Luznice and turn right down a small road which takes you  past the fishery at Saloun. Just before the fishery the road bends, park here and you can walk along the raised tree-lined embankment of the pond.

I had a wonderful time, but I wished I had brought binoculars. In order to take a zoom photo of this grebe with a steady hand I rested on a concrete pillar on the edge of the pond. I am as my family will tell you capable of great concentration, ignoring everything else if I need to. It has been a boon when working in a busy office, but it can be a disadvantage. When I had got the shot I was after, I rose to discover I had been leaning in a pile of birdshit. My shirt was sodden and stinking and I had not noticed!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Jan Hus Day

Yesterday was Jan Hus Day (John Huss), a national holiday in the Czech Republic. While for many Czechs the day is just the excuse for a holiday, it actually commerates the death at the stake of the country's most influential son. 

"Seek the truth
Listen to the truth
Teach the truth
Love the truth
Abide by the truth
And defend the truth
Unto death."

This is my favourite Jan Hus quote, which I think sums up the man. While he was and is seen by his followers as a forerunner of the Protestant Reformation, Hus saw himself as a true Catholic, wishing simply to bring the church back to the truth of Christ's teaching and the practices of the early church. But in a world where there were at least two popes and sometimes three fighting it out for control of the church and using and being used by the secular powers Hus was always likely to fall foul of the political shifting sands. 

After he died and his ashes scattered on the River Rhine his followers in Bohemia expanded on his teachings in a way that he might not have supported and then one hundred years later Martin Luther too claimed to be a follower of Hus.

Hus' significance within Czech history goes beyond theological history, Hus has huge significance on national identity. He preached in the Czech language and was a leading reformer of the written language (he is responsible for the hacek accent). Rightly or wrongly he was identified as a hero by Czech nationalists:  he was deceived and destroyed by a German Emperor. His importance is reflected in the fact that you will find statues of Jan Hus in most towns and indeed Hus Squares and Streets.

But which Jan Hus is it - the man or the national myth? Which truth?

Check out the tour I am running - In the footsteps of Jan Hus and the Hussites

Saturday, 2 July 2011


A few days ago I was in the South Bohemian town of Tabor. Tabor has to be one of the most remarkable historic towns in the Czech Republic and I realised that I had not blogged about it, so here we go.

Two names dominate the history of the town - Jan Hus, the church reformer who died at the stake before the town's foundation but who wrote some of his most important works in nearby Kozi Hradek castle and Jan Zizka - the one-eyed military genius who turned the Hussites into a fighting force to be feared. Zizka's statue stands in the main square and another of Hus in a neighbouring square. Both men deserve posts of their own, which I will give them soon.

Tabor is above all the town of the Hussites, created by them in the fifteenth century as a fortress town and soon the centre of their religious and military movement. Their presence is to be felt at every turn. On the main square stands the Hussite Museum - newly refurbished and hugely informative it is a must for any visitor. The Museum also allows access to some of the enormous network of underground tunnels built by the Hussites and extended over the years. Other attractions include the Tabor Treasure exhibition, the city fortifications including the Kotnov tower and the lovely Deanery church.

 When I visited last week the place was relatively quiet - the market on the square was just closing and there was hardly anyone around and certainly no tourists. I was able to view the beautiful facades and gables of the medieval and renaissance burgher houses at my leisure.

When I return the place will be transformed. We will be coming for the three days of the Tabor Meeting (Taborska Setkani), when the town celebrates its Hussite past. There will be a  torchlight parade through the town, fireworks, medieval market, the Old Bohemian market, performances by Czech and foreign ensembles, street theatre, concerts, children’s activities and a lot more. The Sunday will be devoted to European Heritage Day, when the doors of normally closed historic buildings are opened.

This is a major event in the European living history calendar made even more important by the fact that this will be the 20th Tabor Meeting. Every hotel room in the town will be full. And I  will be there.


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