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The kingdom of beech trees, cliffs and silence

Souvislé bukové lesy se skalami na severních svazích, author: CHKO Jizerské hory

Jizera Mountains

Despite the fact that the Jizera Mountains are predominantly an Eldorado for cross-country skiers in the winter, walkers can also discover places where skis cannot go (where there is no snow or where the terrain is unsuitable) and where it is possible to enjoy the silence and calm, but also to actively climb the steep slopes with a great elevation in the same season.

Despite the fact that the Jizera Mountains are predominantly an Eldorado for cross-country skiers in the winter, walkers can also discover places where skis cannot go (where there is no snow or where the terrain is unsuitable) and where it is possible to enjoy the silence and calm, but also to actively climb the steep slopes with a great elevation in the same season. And that is precisely where near-natural mixed forests, which offer countless experiences in nature, are located. We can summarise this simply with the term “beech wood”, even though it is clear that other deciduous trees grow among the predominant beech trees depending on the local conditions: sycamores, elms, ash trees, lindens, rowans, hornbeams and others. The most common coniferous trees are spruces, while there is also the occasional yew tree.

The events before the arrival of man

If we were to go back several tens of thousands of years, to the last Ice Age, we would not find any trace of forests in the Jizera Mountains. Thanks to the harsh winters and short summers, the mountains were covered with tundra similar to today’s Nordic tundra. About 15,000 years ago, the Scandinavian glacier to the north of us began to melt and soon after (within several thousands of years) birch trees, pines and aspen began to spread into the area of the Jizera Mountains. After another few thousand years of gradual warming, oaks, lindens, elms and rowans were added along with a significant number of hazel trees. Later still, in the period when the first farmers appeared in Central Europe, the mountain forests were enriched with spruce trees, alders, maples, rowans and yew trees. The younger “settlers” were the beech and fir trees, which were so suited to the higher temperatures and significant that they forced the spruce into the harsher higher positions in the mountains. The hornbeam arrived last of all, approximately 3,000 years ago.

And so, it happened that three tree species were dominant here before the arrival of man and the start of intensive tree felling: the Norway spruce, the European silver fir and the European beech. Other species complimented them and as such the natural forest is highly diverse and colourful.

The Jizera Mountain beech woods and their smaller relatives

The largest self-contained area of beech wood (27 km2) covers the steep northern slopes of the Jizera Mountains from Špičák in the west to Tišina in the east and is known as the Jizera Mountains Beech Wood. The woods under the reign of the European beech stretch from an altitude of 350 m above sea level under the Šolc Fishpond and up to 1000 m above sea level on Polední kameny.

Beech woods with a smaller area are also found on the slopes above Oldřichov v Hájích, Fojtka and Kateřinky, where they stretch from Poledník to Dračí and Javorový vrch. They continue with the Harcov beech wood to the east above Liberec and up to Rýnovice. The most extensive beech wood can be found above Antonínov and Mariánská Hora, in the valley of the White and Black Desná and on Dlouhý kopec.

A natural wood is no ordinary wood

There is almost no completely natural wood (primeval forest) left anywhere in the world, but woods which best approximate natural growth do grow near to our homes. We can discover in them places full of colours and varying shapes, where natural power (at least partially) is currently winning without the participation of mankind. It differs from a regular wood in that the trees there grow and die of their own accord. There are small, medium-sized and large trees next to one another. Small trees grow from thousands of seeds in the shade of the larger ones, they fight for their place in the sun, but only one or two survive. They may then live for more than two hundred years before they die and provide a habitat and soil for other trees. Whatever emerges from a natural forest, is taken care of by the forest. Dead trees, the bodies of animals or dry leaves all have a place in a natural forest and their nutrients are exchanged for new plants and animals.

The terrain is a limiting factor

The question arises as to why the beech woods have been preserved in these places and why they have not been transformed into the usual spruce monoculture. The difficult accessibility of the slopes, the steep terrain and the cliffs and boulders have limited the intensive felling of the trees from the distant past until today. Earlier, the wood for construction, mine struts, heating (in homes, hammer mills, iron foundries and glassworks) was felled in summer and stored directly at the edge of the forest. In the winter, brave woodsmen then took the felled trees down steep sledge runs to the rivers, along which they were then floated to the villages and towns in the foothills. This dangerous work cost many lives, monuments to which can be found in the deep forests in the form of crosses and memorials.

The extreme viability of the beech ensured the renewal of the woods on the less accessible slopes over the centuries. It was not necessary to artificially plant new trees and this was understandably cheaper for the estate owners. As such, species which are less proficient at self-propagation, such as the yew, practically disappeared from the forest growth. Other formerly common species were only partially preserved, for example lindens, fir trees, elms, sycamore and cherry trees.

The edge of the woods stabilised beneath the slopes where the terrain is more moderate and enabled the woods to be transformed into agricultural land suitable for farming.

There is no beech wood like a beech wood

Even though we are talking about beech woods, the composition of the wood changes, especially according to the altitude, the soil and the availability of water.

At the lowest point at the edge of the beech woods, it transitions into the remnants of an oak wood with pedunculate and sessile oak, sycamore maple and Norway maple, the common hornbeam, the small-leaved and large-leaved linden, wild cherry, common hazel and the European beech. Their crowns blaze with all the shades of orange and red in autumn.

Beech trees are disappearing from the deep gorges along the streams, while the European ash and the European alder are becoming more dominant along with maples and the European aspen.

The greatest area of the slopes is occupied by acidophilic beech woods with a predominance of European beech, which likes the shade, a damp climate and soil which is rich in nutrients, accompanied by the rowan and the sycamore maple. Beeches shine bright green in spring, but before the winter they transform into shades of gold and copper with the grey of their silver trunks flashing through.

There are only small areas of flowering beech wood with the European silver fir, the Scots elm and an abundance of herbs in the growth and mountain beech woods with a greater share of the majestic sycamore with its coarse scaly bark. The rocky slopes and rubble which is rich in nutrients are inhabited by ash, maples, elms and lindens.

At the upper border of the deciduous woods, where there are few examples of beech trees, at approximately 900 m above sea level, somewhere around the Štolpiš Trail, the beech wood transitions into the artificially planted spruce growths on the mountain plateau. The highest point where beeches can be found in the Jizera Mountains is at Ptačí kupy. They are accompanied by the Norway spruce and the hardy, light-demanding common rowan.

A wood is not only trees

Natural and near-natural woods are difficult to access, not only due to their steep slopes and complicated terrain. The area under the trees belongs to other plants (shrubs, herbs, mosses and lichens) which combine to form an environment for varied fauna ranging from large mammals through to microscopic invertebrates.

In the lower location, curative hawthorn and poisonous spindle tree thrive, while highly aromatic bird cherry, alder buckthorn with its laxative effects and various species of willow grow in the wet areas and elderberry with its red berries or honey suckle grow in the rubble. February daphne with its very fragrant blossoms appears only rarely. Shrubs fade away higher up the slopes and are replaced with ferns.

From spring to summer, some parts of the beech forest bloom with colourful flowers – blue liverwort, white lily of the valley or yellow pilewort at the lower edge of the forest. You will be sure to see the attractive Turk’s cap lily or “perennial honesty”, the King Solomon’s seal with rows of white bell-shaped flowers or the delicate arctic starflower in the upper reaches of the beech forest.

The cliffs, boulders and tree trunks are overgrown in mosses and lichens in various colours

The occupants

Beech forests are home to a large number of animals, of it is only possible to name a few. The soil and water, bark, wood and leaves of the trees conceal millions of tiny organisms ranging from those invisible to the naked eye through to remarkable red-brown longhorn beetles, carabus coriaceus beetles, Ceruchus chrysomelinus beetles and the graceful Purple Emperor, saturniid and European Peacock butterflies.

The inaccessible cliffs and the wild forest provide peace and quiet for rare birds to nest: the black stork, the Eurasian eagle owl and the peregrine falcon. The white throated dipper flies along almost every stream, while woodpeckers, stock doves or Boreal owls inhabit the hollows in old trees, but there are also smaller birds such as jays, nuthatches and spotted flycatchers or mammals such as common dormice, hazel dormice and bats. Predators such as the European honey buzzard and the red kite also fly into beech forests. On the ground, it is possible to come across the fire salamander or the tiny insect-eating common shrew.

Large predators such as the lynx and the wolf, which are searching for new territories, but at the same time avoid humans, have also recently moved into the inaccessible forests.

Beech woods deserve protection

The woods on the northern slopes have been protected in the Jizera Mountains Beech Wood National Nature Reserve since 1999. The reserve has an extensive protective zone and at the same time it is the first and most naturally valuable zone in the Jizera Mountains Nature Reserve. This is because it is truly unique in Central Europe and it represents an unbroken island of “wilderness” in a densely inhabited and recreationally used area.

Beech woods are beautiful in every season thanks to their diverse colours, shapes and fragrances which you will find nowhere else. They are attractive areas for family walks in all seasons. And if you set off into them, please be sure to stay on the marked trails, as it is easy to get lost in the protective zone.

Photos of the Jizera Mountains Nature Reserve:

1. Continuous beech woods with cliffs on the northern slopes

2. The birth of a new forest

3. Golden autumn in a beech wood

4. the Scots elm

5., 6. May snow in the beech woods


Images gallery

Souvislé bukové lesy se skalami na severních svazích, author: CHKO Jizerské hory

Souvislé bukové lesy se skalami na severních svazích

Zrození nového lesa, author: CHKO Jizerské hory

Zrození nového lesa

Zlatý podzim v bučinách, author: CHKO Jizerské hory

Zlatý podzim v bučinách

Jilm horský, author: CHKO Jizerské hory

Jilm horský

Květnový sníh v bučinách, author: CHKO Jizerské hory

Květnový sníh v bučinách

Květnový sníh v bučinách, author: CHKO Jizerské hory

Květnový sníh v bučinách