History of the landscape

The last glacial period ended in Central Europe more than 14,000 years ago. Man was forced to live in territories with a more favourable climate and richer in terms of living resources while the peripheral parts of Šumava were visited only occasionally. The answers to what Šumava used to look like in those days must therefore be searched for within the nature itself. Not much is known yet. Much of the knowledge we have is probably explained incorrectly. However the various natural science departments are able to put together a fairly compact jigsaw of the findings and knowledge of how our landscape used to look.The climate used to be much colder but also much drier than today. However, basic climate grading applied even then. If we are to compare the landscape in the Šumava foothills to today's harsh, forest-free northern continental tundra, Šumava used to have the character of some of the mountains in today's not so distant north. Bare rocks, boulder detritus, fern, scant vegetation of accommodated bushes and herbs. Even the hardiest trees were most probably completely missing. The origin of this mountain flora is to be searched for in the Alpine massif rather than in remote northern Europe, although movements of European flora in various stages of the glacial period were complicated and cannot yet be fully explained.

At the end of the last Ice age and long after, Šumava remained an open, forest free landscape. The following periods gradually brought changes to the climate and natural conditions, which allowed for greater development of the forest even in the Šumava landscape. This development reached its peak when the entire territory, the mountains as well as the valleys, were covered in forest. The forest with its rich mosaic of trees and herbs, with species composition and spatial stratification depended solely on natural conditions. There were no humans living in Šumava in those days. There was only an insignificant human influence in the lower outskirts of the territory.

However, human influence gained importance over time, particularly in the foothills of Šumava. Although we cannot describe a continuous and permanent colonisation of this territory, the emergence of pastoral cultures marked the local deforesting which was often long lasting or even permanent. However, the higher altitudes of Šumava at this time remained completely free of human influence. It is highly likely, that humans occasionally surpassed the Šumava mountain ridge. At the turn of the Prehistoric age and for us, a closer historical period, a certain retreat of settlement occurred on the outskirts of Šumava allowing for repeated and spontaneous reforestation of the previously human deforested areas. However, it was only a relatively short period, considering the overall development of the Šumava landscape. The agricultural settlement of the early historical period soon significantly expanded the earlier settlement areas on the periphery of Šumava. The forest in this part of territory was gradually pushed back into places less suitable for agricultural use. However, the human influence, although only in the species composition and structure, had so far indirectly and unintentionally occurred even there. The favourable local climate in the eastern foothills caused the rapid penetration of the agricultural settlement even at higher altitudes. This is particularly noticeable in the territory of Český Krumlov, Prachatice and Sušice. This was the beginning of the development of a distinctive mosaic of agricultural landscaping with smaller forests, as it is known today, with only minor fluctuations.

However, the higher and the highest parts of Šumava remained covered by untouched virgin forest, even though these territories were visited by man more and more frequently while some narrowly defined areas had already been economically exploited.

At first, human incursion involved mining precious metals. In particular, gold mining from the stream sediments was the driving force behind the early seasonal incursion of humans up to the highest altitudes in the central part of the mountains. We presume that the extensive remains of gold mining in the highest altitudes of Šumava, for example at the very foot of Roklan, originate exclusively from the advanced Middle Ages. Despite the fact that in these cases the influences was strictly seasonal and local, it is obvious that human activity influenced the Šumava forest at the highest altitudes even then.

Besides mining precious metals, there were also other factors, which in turn led to undermining the integrity of the mountain forest and to local temporary and later, even permanent, deforestation. Seasonal grazing of cattle in the forests which was commonplace in the foothills from the beginning of colonisation was at first significantly advanced in the northwest and central parts of the higher Šumava altitudes. However it became a frequent activity throughout the entire territory at the turn of the Middle Ages and the modern period.

Glassmaking in particular had a major impact on the condition of the Šumava forests. Its roots can be traced back to the mid-14th century in the Vimperk and Horní Planá areas. However, the real expansion of the glass industry began in the 16th century. The glassworks were built in the intact Šumava forests at the beginning of the colonisation. Although the glassworks, especially in the early period of development, were only small businesses, their wood consumption was important. The existence of such a workshop, even for several years, has always meant substantial interference with the species composition and the structure of the surrounding forest. In addition, there were also influences associated with permanent and temporary settlements and many of today's Šumava settlements originated in the former glassworks.

With the development of urban settlements followed by industry in both the surrounding Czech and Danube territories, the consumption of wood for fuel and development purposes increased during the Middle Ages and in particular during the early modern period. Using the nearby forest, the major local settlements - Český Krumlov, Vimperk, Sušice and others were able to cover their wood consumption for fairly long periods although their condition was proportional to the degree of exploitation. Only in certain territories, with traditionally developed ore mining, in particular in the area of Kašperské Hory, was the shortage of timber already apparent in the early stages of the Middle Ages and the local forests have been in a relatively poor condition ever since. During the peak phase of the Middle Ages, when these issues were having a particularly hard effect (while the interest of the land owners to maintain the integrity of the border forests had declined), the wood harvesting and further-colonisation of the Šumava uplands was restricted only by the unavailability of transport for the huge timber reserves. Long distance transport was not possible due to the cost of building and road maintenance in the virgin mountain terrain. Floating on the Vltava and Otava rivers was impossible due to the rocky river sections. The most restrictive sections of the River Vltava were Čertova stěna (Devil's Wall) and below Vyšší Brod and on the River Otava, and on the Vydra it was the Schachtelei pass below Antýgl. Small streams could have been used with slight adjustments for floating shorter wood, particularly firewood.

The late 17th century and especially the 18th century became the period when the colonisation of Šumava was accomplished. The aim of this colonisation wave was primarily timber utilisation at the highest altitudes of the mountains.


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