Dispute over the Soutok PLA
Heart of the case
The area of riparian forests at the lower reaches of the Morava and Dyje rivers is one of the most valuable parts of the Czech Republic. It consists of a dense network of water canals, brooklets, oxbow lakes, pools and small lakes, complemented by old broadleaf forests and alluvial meadows with huge solitary trees. All the biotopes are home to many rare animal, plant and fungus species. Together, there are hundreds of endangered species, this being their only site in the country or their core habitat.
The landscape of the so-called Moravian Amazonia has born traces of human settlement and agriculture since times immemorial. Fortified settlements were built as early as in the 11th century. However, the first floods as a consequence of deforestation in the Bohemian-Moravian Highland and the Jeseníky occurred in the 9th century.  The hardwood riparian forest, characteristic of the area since the Holocene, was gradually superseded with softwood forest. This area, too, saw the culmination of the forest devastation in the 18th century, with large tracts of the forest disappearing to fuel the industry. From the 18th century onwards, floods made impossible the natural rejuvenation of the riparian forest, which is why the Lichtensteins had to plant it. The extent of the floods increased, forcing a transformation of some of the fields into meadows. Today, wood is harvested in most of the forest stands.
Canalisation works proceeded on both the rivers from the 19th century onwards, but the construction of the Nové Mlýny reservoirs in the latter half of the 20th century had the most devastating impact on the South Moravian riparian forests. An area of 1184 hectares of forest was destroyed, and the alluvial geobiocoenoses dried up and disintegrated as a result of the water table decrease. The disastrous consequences of the water resources management measures began to manifest themselves in the late 1980s.  An artificial irrigation system was built throughout the following decade, contributing to an improved vitality of the remaining forests.
Actors of the dispute
Advocates of declaring a protected area
All the advocates are united under the statement of inadequate protection of this highly valuable area. The threats include inconsiderate logging, the existence of the largest game preserve in the country (the early 1960s fencing has isolated two of the most important primeval forest reserves: Ranšpurk and Cahnov-Soutok national nature reserves), inappropriate or inadequate management of outstanding sites, as well as potential natural gas and shale gas extraction.
- The Ministry of the Environment of the Czech Republic has authored the plan to declare the Soutok Protected Landscape Area (PLA). The plan is derived from the priorities set by the Ministry in 2008 based on the declaration of Sites of Community Importance and Special Protection Areas as part of the Natura 2000 network.
- Nature Conservation Agency of the Czech Republic has been commissioned to develop a management plan for the Soutok PLA proposed. It has also been involved in promoting the plan in the region.
- The Pálava PLA and its management are perceived by the opponents as one of the greatest proponents.
- Hnutí DUHA has also become involved via its Brno local action group.
- In addition, Veronika association of Brno, represented chiefly by Mojmír Vlašín, has endorsed the plan. Other natural scientists belong to the advocates.
Opponents of the declaration
All of the opponents queried are united under arguments for refusal of declaration of a specially protected area. They argue chiefly with adequate protection of the area, a threat of restrictions for inhabitants in the area, poor experience of governmental nature protection (particularly the management of the nearby Pálava PLA), and also the opinion that the present values were created by foresters, not conservationists.
- all the mayors of municipalities in whose cadastral territories the protected site should be located according to the declaration plan;
- Lesy ČR, particularly Židlochovice Forest Enterprise, which is the manager of most of the forests in the area;
- management of the Lower Morava Biosphere Reserve led by Jan Vybíral;
- members of Břeclav unit of the Czech Union for Nature Conservation;
- local entrepreneurs associated in the District Economic and District Agrarian Chambers, featuring notably Michaela Cibulková (the owner of MyHotel Lednice and founder of the Facebook initiative “We oppose the declaration of Soutok PLA”) as well as the owner of the Obelisk game preserve and director of Alcaplast, s.r.o. Břeclav František Fabičovic;
- the citizens’ association Soutok Lanžhot a lesní úsek Tvrdonice, established as a response to the Ministry’s efforts to declare the Soutok PLA.
Role of science
Natural scientists have played an important role in discussions in journals and dailies. The majority express their opinions in favour of declaring the Soutok PLA. The most important roles have been played by experts of the Pálava PLA, the Nature Conservation Agency and the Ministry of the Environment commissioned to develop the proposal to establish the new PLA a preliminary management plan as well as negotiate with local self-governments.
The key issues of the dispute are largely associated with the past efforts to declare the Soutok PLA, the extension of the Pálava Biosphere Reserve, the construction of the Nové Mlýny reservoirs, and the declaration of Natura 2000 Sites of Community Importance. Negotiations taking place in 2009 to 2012 face to face between the self-governments and the plan authors showed that local supporters would be difficult to find. Natural scientists and NGO staff are perceived as strangers, so-called “green ones”. Local press was also involved in the negotiations.
The proposed Soutok PLA, to cover 139 km2, is V-shaped, extending along the Morava and Dyje rivers up from their confluence (hence the name, “soutok” meaning confluence in Czech). It extends to Lužice on the Morava arm, and follows the Dyje upstream to the town of Břeclav, which is not included in the scope, and continues past it over the Lednice-Valtice Grounds to the Lower Nové Mlýny reservoir, where it adjoins the existing Pálava PLA. The proposed boundary runs outside the built-up areas of any villages. The protection should concentrate chiefly on preserving the characteristic landscape type in the alluvial valley of lower reaches of the great rivers and representing riparian forests in a mosaic with meadow, wetland and aquatic habitats.
Several types of specially protected areas and reserves have been declared within the proposed PLA territory, including the Niva Dyje and Soutok – Podluží Sites of Community Importance, Lednické rybníky and Soutok – Tvrdonicko Special Protection Areas, Ramsar wetlands and 9 small-scale specially protected areas; the whole area has been part of the Lower Morava Biosphere Reserve since 2003.  In addition, the territory includes the Lednice-Valtice Grounds, included on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List since 1996. In contrast to that, advocates of the PLA continue asserting that the PLA is the best option for protection of the area of the confluence of the Morava and the Dyje. Their goal is to change the forest management, which in their view is transforming the valuable area into a forestry plantation. In their opinion, the institutions that are supposed to provide adequate protection for the area are insufficient.
The parties of the dispute have agreed that the Ministry of the Environment chose some inappropriate negotiation strategies and presentation of the plan: the locals were not offered any compensations, benefits of the proposed PLA were not presented to them, and some of their exaggerated fears of restrictions – such as a threat of high unemployment – were not effectively refuted.
Nevertheless, the Soutok case is exceptional in the Czech context: there has never been such a massive wave of resistance to the declaration of a large-scale protected area. The currently tense situation at the Šumava National Park has probably contributed to it. The lasting blockage in the communication between the proponents and the opponents was temporarily loosened by then Minister of the Environment Tomáš Chalupa in the summer of 2012, who announced after a meeting with the involved mayors that the Soutok PLA would not be declared if the local self-governments did not wish it. Instead, the Nature Conservation Agency has been assigned to develop a list of small-scale protected areas, because declaration of a large-scale protected area at the confluence of the Dyje and the Morava is infeasible under the current regional and national power constellations.
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- Vrška, T., eds., 2006: Dynamika vývoje pralesovitých rezervací v České republice II: Lužní lesy – Cahnov-Soutok, Ranšpurk, Jiřina. Academia, Praha.
- Miklín, J., 2012: Soutok Moravy a Dyje - promarněná šance ochrany přírody? In: Romportl, D., Chuman, T., eds.: GEO/BIO DIVERZITA - Management chráněných území. Univerzita Karlova v Praze, Přírodovědecká fakulta, Praha
- AOPK, 2010: Návrh na vyhlášení zvláště chráněného území CHKO Soutok. AOPK, Praha
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- Klepač, V., 2010: CHKO Soutok nebude. Vláda ho kvůli odporu veřejnosti nevyhlásí. Ekolist. 18 Sep 2012. Available at: http://ekolist.cz/cz/zpravodajstvi/zpravy/chko-soutok-nebude-vlada-ho-kvuli-odporu-verejnosti-nevyhlasi [Retrieved 1 April 2013]
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Link to dissertation thesis
- Dyje Triangle, at cswiki