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Peat bogs – islands of the north in the Jizera Mountains

In 2012, a large part of the Jizera Mountains peat bogs were incorporated into wetlands of international significance known as Horní Jizera within the framework of the so-called Ramsar Convention (The Jizera Peat Bog, the Jizerka Peat Bog, the Black Pond (Černá jezírka), the Fish Meadows (Rybí loučky), the Kleč Meadows (Klečové louky), U Posedu, Na Knajpě, the Wolf Meadow (Vlčí louka) and Na Čihadle). As such, they have been included alongside, for example, the Třeboň Fishponds, the Camargue in France or Lake Titicaca.

Peat bogs – islands of the north in the Jizera Mountains

Where did the peat bogs in the Jizera Mountains come from?

They formed at favourable sites; around springs, in depressions and on the impermeable bedrock between the forests which arose after the last Ice Age in the territory of the former Nordic tundra. Plant species which can now be regularly found in Scandinavia remained here from that period.Long before the arrival of people in the Jizera forests, the peat bogs hidden in the forests and protected against external influences occupied a much greater area than they do today.

The Jizera Mountains peat bogs include so-called upland bogs, for which the mountains provide ideal conditions:

- an undulating, highly positioned surface (with an altitude above 800 metres) with flat peaks and shallow valleys which are typical for the Jizera Mountains

- poor in nutrients, acidic soil created by the breakdown of the granite mountain rock

- exceptionally large amounts of groundwater bubbling up on the surface in a dense network of springs (the outflow of water from the mountains is 6x greater than the average for the Czech Republic)

- high rainfall (up to 1200 mm per year) and frequent fog and significant air humidity (dew, hoar frost).

Peat bogs are established in such environments from the dead parts of peat moss and other plants decomposing without the presence of air in the lower layers (an average speed of 1–2 millimetres a year). The living part of the peat moss grows constantly, while the lower matter dies off and forms layers which are several metres deep. Some peat bogs are only fed by rainfall, while others are also fed with surface and ground water.

Why are they so rare?

They are the most natural and untouched areas of the Jizera Mountains, but for all that many of them were destroyed in the past either directly by drainage or indirectly by means of the construction of forest tracks in the vicinity, the deforestation of the environs and desiccation. Despite that, a number of rare plants and animals have been preserved in them and they now represent unique islands of Nordic nature in Central Europe.

In 2012, a large part of the Jizera Mountains peat bogs were incorporated into wetlands of international significance known as Horní Jizera within the framework of the so-called Ramsar Convention (The Jizera Peat Bog, the Jizerka Peat Bog, the Black Pond (Černá jezírka), the Fish Meadows (Rybí loučky), the Kleč Meadows (Klečové louky), U Posedu, Na Knajpě, the Wolf Meadow (Vlčí louka) and Na Čihadle). As such, they have been included alongside, for example, the Třeboň Fishponds, the Camargue in France or Lake Titicaca.

Peat bogs are the landscape’s memory; their layers have preserved plant pollens throughout the thousands of years of their existence and it is possible to ascertain from them that hazelnuts, lindens and oaks grew here for almost 5000 years in the past. The current vegetation only arose in the last millennium.

What grows there and what lives on them?

The main plant is peat moss which is known to have tens of species, albeit that only a few of them grow in the Czech Jizera Mountains. Peat moss is capable of collecting a large amount of water within its body and it is actually the best of all the mosses at doing this. We also regularly come across it in waterlogged areas outside peat bogs.

However, the most interesting plant species are those which are rare in our latitudes:  the bog cranberry bushes with pink-red flowers and red berries or bog rosemary which looks like a miniature rhododendron, the rare wild rosemary with its spicy aroma and white flowers and the delicate black crowberry with its round black fruit. The carnivorous common sundew plant which catches insects in its leaves is a symbol of the peat bogs, while the cotton grass which covers large areas like a white carpet is also impressive.

Peat bogs are usually inhabited by a large number of invertebrates; the most attractive, for example, include dragonflies, beetles or butterflies. Vertebrates are most commonly represented here by birds which require clear treeless areas and a calm environment. The common snipe or the rare Eurasian crane nest in the peat bogs after their return from their wintering grounds in Africa. Nowadays, a significant peat bog species is the black grouse, one of the protected species in the Jizera Mountains Bird Sanctuary. It seeks out open areas with sparse tree growth and abundant food in the form of various berries and buds. The grouse winters over here and it especially requires significant peace and quiet in winter and during the breeding period. It is gradually leaving the high-traffic peat bogs and looking for more peaceful areas in less forested areas.

Where can we find them?

The most valuable peat bogs are protected in the Jizera Peat Bog and Jizerka Peat Bog national nature reserves, the significance of which extends beyond the borders of the Czech Republic. The extensive Jizera Peat Bog lies on the border with Poland, it is closed to walkers and it is one of the few remaining peaceful areas in the highly popular Jizera Mountains. The Jizerka Peat Bog covers the area at the spring of the Jizerka River above the settlement of the same name and it is open to hikers via a plank path and a platform with a view of the Viewing Meadow (Vyhlídková louka) with its small lakes and the dominant feature of Bukovec in the background.  

Other significant peat bogs are also protected as nature reserves and natural monuments. Here are but a few examples. The very old Černá jezírka Peat Bog lies at the spring of the Beautiful Stream (Krásný potok) under the Český vrch peak and its northern section is traversed by a red-marked hiking trail. The Kleč Meadows at the spring of the Bílá Smědá River between Smědavská hora and the Jizera can be visited using a plank pathway with a view of Mount Jizera. The Na Čihadle peat bog is located at the watershed on the spring of the Jedlová a Černý potok streams near a well-known hiking trail intersection and it is easily accessible along a groomed trail which leads to a peat bog lake – the largest natural body of water in the Jizera Mountains can be seen from above from a wooden lookout point (the fencing is used as protection against wild animals and not against visitors). The New Meadow (Nová louka) Peat Bog with peat which is up to 4.5 metres deep was intensively drained in the past and it is gradually drying out.

There are also two living peat bogs outside the reserve with limited access. Despite significant damage by land reclamation, areas with the common sundew have been preserved on the Červený Potok stream, above the Josefův Důl reservoir. It is possible to see a small lake between Holubník and Ptačí kupy with similar vegetation in its environs to that in the peat bog at U Širokého kamene near Bedřichov.

Despite the fact that you would only expect to find peat bogs on the mountain plateau of the Jizera Mountains, peat bog meadows are also located at lower levels, for example at Malá Strana or on the Quiet River (Tichá říčka). However, that is part of a different story – the one about the Jizera meadows.

What is harmful to peat bogs?

In the past, peat bogs were admittedly feared places shrouded in many legends and ghostly stories, but for all that people made as much use of them as possible. Peat was extracted on the Small Jizera Meadow (Malá jizerská louka) in the Jizera Mountains for the purposes of the spa at Lázně Libverda until 1965 – the scars have gradually healed over. During the course of the 19th century, peat was also cut at the Klikvov Meadow (Klikvova louka) near Bedřichov – there is no longer any sign of the fishpond which was created at the extraction point and drove the local grinding plant.

A far greater impact was caused by the land reclamation ditches which cut through many peat bogs due to the drying out of the soil and the improvement of the conditions for cultivating spruce plantations. This led to the destruction of a number of small peat bogs which were not protected by law, but even the larger and more valuable peat bogs (for example the Jizera and Jizerka Peat Bogs or the Nová Louka Peat Bog) were not left untouched by drainage.

Deforestation in the second half of the twentieth century also destroyed the peat bogs, especially in those places where the forest was felled right up to the edge of the peat bog meaning that the moors were not protected against the desiccating wind and there was nothing to prevent the removal of snow or to slow down the spring thaw.

Many denizens of the peat bogs have been harmed by the excessive traffic of visitors – disruption during the nesting period and when leading young from the nest and in winter when they need to save their energy. They often do not have anywhere to escape in the Jizera Mountains.

What is beneficial to peat bogs?

Peat bogs benefit from raised groundwater levels, the protection of the surrounding forest growth, the removal of non-original dwarf mountain pines from artificial plantings and non-forestation is also of importance. It is best not to intervene wherever the peat bogs are in good condition. The rare bird inhabitants benefit from a peaceful environment without any excessive disturbance.

Things began to change for the better at the beginning of the new millennium. Inspired by the example of their colleagues from the Bohemian Forest, Jizera Mountain conservationists started building dams on the deep land reclamation ditches in the most valuable sections of the peat bogs. After thorough preparation in 2009, the first 47 wooden dams raised the water level in the ditches in the Jizerka Peat Bog and slowed it down. Surfaces with an increased water level began to grow over with peat moss more quickly, the water flowed more slowly and this enabled the renewal of the living part of the peat bog. Three years later, two hundred dams had been established in the Jizera Peat Bog and the construction of others in the Nová Louka Peat Bog is planned for 2016. It would seem that this step is gradually bearing fruit.

The fact that we are healing the peat bogs means that we are not simply saving a unique environment for rare flora and fauna, but we are also returning their ability to retain water during heavy rains and to slowly release it during times of drought, which is something that the people living under the mountains are sure to appreciate.

Moreover, a further bonus involves the good feeling that comes from preserving wonderful pieces of nature, as well as their mystique and inaccessibility. It is often better to remain on a comfortable track than to sink in a deep peat bog.

Author: Jana Mejzrová, the Administration of the Jizera Mountains Protected Landscape Area, www.nature.cz 

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