ENVIRONMENT > For experts and partner cities > Greenery System Maintenance in the City of Prague
Creation, development, and present of suburban woods in the City of Prague
Suburban woods form an integrated part of human settlement surroundings. As their name indicates these are forests located “near cities”, i.e. in their immediate vicinity. To get a preliminary idea on here there are a couple of updated figures: Prague area is 496 km2, forested area is approx. 4,885 ha, i.e. almost 10 % of the City area, altitude spans from 177 to 399 m, yet the prevailing altitude is 200 to 300 m. Shares of altitudinal vegetation zones follow from these facts – substantially dominating is 1st forest altitudinal vegetation zone (further here under as FAVZ), 2nd FAVZ covers approx. 10 %, and 0ed and 3rd FAVZs have negligible shares.
The view in the past of forests can be introduced by the fact that the Prague territory is unique from the long-term view by, among others, that in the last approx. 100 years the area of forests has grown by over 28 % here. The onset of the effect is dated back in 1903 when the project of the Agriculture Council of Bohemia of forestation of bare slopes, then till the World War I the first approx. 80 hectares were forested. Unfortunately, the plantations were mostly of false acacia due to locality conditions. After the establishing of the Czechoslovak state the Forestation Commission for the Prague Surroundings was established and it caused that other 200 hectares were forested till the World War II, again mostly with false acacia, but also with Austrian pine and red oak. Some of plots were forested by their landlords, first of all due, to tax relief. As early as in those times a plan was developed to create a green belt, around Prague which was not implemented “due to resistance of private proprietors of lands”.
After 1948 the resistance of proprietors of lands was easy to overcome and since the beginning of the 1960s the area of forest became to be substantially spreading. The forestation has been carried out not only on lands, which are not suitable for any other use, but also on farmland managed before. The newly forested areas either have been adjoining to already existing forest stands (as in Šárka Valley area, for instance) or forest have been established in almost unstocked landscape till that time (as Strašnice and Hostivař, for instance). On the contrary to forests planted till 1948 this time forests are being planted not only as a continuous forest stands yet at the very beginning of the forest plantation the recreational use of such stands was taken into account – parts of the lands were being left unstocked (or just individual trees planted on) as recreational meadows to be, at the same time the basic network of roads was built. The forest-park Hostivař can serve as an example. It has area of 170 hectares, and out of them 50 hectares are meadows and 120 hectares goes to forest stands. Maximum number of plantations was carried out in the period 1965–1975 yet the forestation went on virtually till 1990 when the forestation was stopped for many years. Thus in the period 1948–1990 the area of over 800 hectares was forested.
The character of newly forested areas has been changing over years as reasons for forestation were changed from erosion prevention and harmless draining of rainwater at the beginning of 20th century through efforts to multiplicate beauties of the Prague surroundings and making the stay of inhabitants in wilderness more pleasant, to intentional planting of forest-parks as places for short-term recreation of inhabitants of newly created housing estates. However, then the short period, which the forest plantations were implemented in advance to the housing estates, was a certain drawback, concerning the forest-recreational point of view. A number of the stands meet their role well after 10 to 20 years since the housing estates were completed.
Therefore there are 4,885 hectares of forest land in Prague at present. Because these forests are heavily loaded with recreational activities they are classified as falling in the category of special purpose forests as suburban forests with increased recreational functions (Section 8 paragraph 2 c) of the Act No. 289/1995 Code, on forests in the effective wording). The proprietary structure is as follows: 2,400 ha is the property of the City of Prague, approx. 750 ha own natural and legal entities (out of them three owners have more than 50 hectares) and approx. 1,735 ha is national property by means of the company of s.p. Lesy ČR (organisational units of Forest Administrations Mělník, Nižbor, and Forestry Konopiště).
The current forest stands in Prague, as already mentioned, were not often formed in forest rotation but through forestation of non-forest lands. This is the cause of other serious trouble, which becomes clear after decades, but may be is even more hazardous then. It means uneven age of stands: in optimum case the areas of even-aged stands (grouped into age groups by ten years) uniformly distributed and starts to decrease after the rotational period (approx. 100 years). Yet investigating age distribution of stands in Prague great non-uniformities are detected, which reflect in a very exact manner two waves of new lands forestation. These age groups of extreme shares cover almost twice area of “standard area”. This means when the stands turn old it will be a big trouble to regenerate the stands before they begin to decline spontaneously due to their age. Namely pine is troublesome (rotation 140 years, regeneration period 40 years), when only certain specimen may grow 140 years old not whole stands thereof. Oak stands are due to tracheomycosis only in certain cases able to live up as a whole stand to the rotational age determined to 180 years.
Other significant feature of the Prague’s forests is their extremely non-uniform distribution. On one hand, there are ten cadastral districts in Prague (out of total 122 cadastral districts) where forest is the most frequent type of land. On the other hand, even if the city downtown is omitted where for course no forest exists (the closest forests is at the distance of four kilometres from the downtown), there many cadastral districts in Prague completely treeless. These are namely localities in southwest and northwest parts of Prague, which are primarily formed of agricultural landscape, in many cases lacking any greenery at all. Forests form a couple of larger massifs in Prague as follows: the largest one is the Klánovice Forests (approx. 1,000 hectares on the Prague territory), Kunratice Forest (approx. 300 hectares), forests southward of Modřany (approx. 500 hectares), forest near Radotín (approx. 400 hectares), and forests in Divoká Šárka Valley (approx. 300 hectares). Except for the Kunratice Forest all other forests are located in the Prague outskirts. The rest to the total area of 4,885 hectares goes to tens of smaller forests and groves.
In order to reduce the deficit in greenery in certain relatively large areas the survey of areas dedicated to the plantation of new forests, as greenery requiring the least costs for the plantations and follow-up management, began immediately the Land-Use Plan was approved. In 2002, for instance, approximately 3 hectares of farmland were afforested, and for 2003 forest plantation on approx. 7 hectares is ready. These figures would be very low, in out experience forests starts to deliver its functions if it has area approx. 10 hectares or more of continuous stand. Troubles in plantation of new forests are due to the lack of suitable lands.
The issue, which will be fully pronounced in next decades, is proprietary rights to the existing forest lands. Forests in Prague are in no way able to be financially self-subsident. If out of the Prague territory troubles with certain landlords consist in the fact they fell more than the permitted amount, in Prague the situation is exactly opposite. In the last eight years the private owners have not carried out any tending action with rare exemption. Nowadays there are numerous stands in silviculturally bad status and the situation will get even worse. The current legislation does not anticipate this issue at all and it cannot be addressed by means of national administration of forestry. The City of Prague responded to this issue as early as in 1994 when the City Assembly approved the intention to purchase forests which are property of natural entities. Till these days the city purchased over 101 hectares of forest and therefore duly silvicultural measures to stands are provided on this area.
Yet probably the greatest part of current troubles follows from the existence of the urban agglomeration in the close vicinity of forests, from the high density of population and related civilisation stress. This is a whole set of issues spanning from direct stress of buildings at the forest rim to ever growing vandalism, which is not directed to recreational equipment in the forests only but also on young stands and cultures. Because there are over 2,400 pieces of various wooden pieces of recreational equipment (for instance 850 baskets, 1,040 benches, 50 arbours, 45 sandpits, etc.), as the property of the City of Prague mere maintenance of the equipment requires annually over CZK 500,000. The forest cleaning from common litter and disposing of uncontrolled dumpsites annually demand over CZK 2 million.
Now the objective of all stakeholders is to persuade the public (by words and implemented actions) that leaving the suburban forests without tending and regenerative actions just performing the maintenance of roads, collections of litter, and emptying baskets and mowing meadows would be simpler and even cheaper to both the sides yet unfortunately with easily predictable results, which would be a reduction in recreational potential of the forests. The suburban forests represent a very specific one, but still merely a forest type where all generic principles on life and existence of forest remain valid.