Saxon-Bohemian Switzerland

A landscape of sandstones and rivers, Bohemian Switzerland National Park (CZ) © Václav Sojka

Four protected areas, two countries, one landscape

Saxon-Bohemian Switzerland, also known under the geographic name Elbe Sandstone Mountains or Elbsandsteingebirge in German, is the largest sandstone rock region in Europe. This landscape always inspired visitors, romantic artists, including famous Caspar David Friedrich, and in recent decades photographers and also nature conservationists across Europe. Today, the Saxon-Bohemian Switzerland becomes a real nature highlight in this part of Central Europe visited by a growing number of tourists from all parts of the world.

A rich history of conservation
The history of conservation dates back to the early 20th century when first nature reserves have been declared. However, the real transboundary work begins after World War II when a landscape protected area was established first on the German side (1956) and later on the Czechoslovak side (1972). A new chance for conservation came with the political changes in the 90’s of the past century: In 1990 a new national park in Saxon Switzerland was declared, together with other new national parks in former GDR, followed by Bohemian Switzerland National Park on the Czech side in 2000. With this landmark the most important period of conservation work was completed: today the Saxon-Bohemian Switzerland, consisting of two transboundary national parks and two Landscape Protected Areas certified within the EUROPARC’s “Transboundary parks – Following nature’s design” programme is a firm part of the European protected areas family as well as of the Natura 2000 network.

Bizarre rocks, wild gorges
The famous sandstone rocks of Saxon-Bohemian Switzerland have their origin in sediments of the Cretaceous (Mesozoic) sea, formed during the Tertiary and Quaternary by water and wind erosion into current landscape. The main important landscape feature is the Elbe River with a spectacular Canyon, up to 300 m deep. Other landscape forms include table mountains, such as Vysoký Snezník (Hoher Schneeberg), Lilienstein or Königstein, deep gorges with climatic inversion (Kirnitzsch, Kamenice) as well as isolated volcanic hills rich in biodiversity, e.g. Ruzák (Rosenberg).

Nature & Culture
It is not only the fascinating nature which attracts millions of visitors per year. It is also the beautiful cultural landscape with typical architecture of old timber houses in small villages, unique historical monuments, such as e.g. rock chapels, the monumental medieval fortress of Königstein as well as the Elbe River with historical steamboats. Therefore, one of the most important tasks of conservation authorities is not only to conserve the wilderness in the core zone of both national parks with very valuable biodiversity including lynx, peregrine falcon or black stork, but also to protect the cultural landscape as a result of a very long interaction between nature and men.

Working together for nature across the border
The current transboundary cooperation between the conservation authorities is based on several formal documents, such as the 1991 agreement between the ministries, a joint vision (2012) and joint strategy (2004) and annual work plans elaborated in four joint working groups.

However, the most important precondition for good transboundary work is a traditionally very friendly relation between conservationists in both countries. This enables a really wide range of transboundary activities from joint scientific projects (digital terrain model, mapping of rare animal and plant species, reintroduction of Elbe salmon and peregrine falcon) to joint PR work (bilingual visitor centres, junior rangers, guided tours for general public, transboundary corporate design).

Text by Handrij Härtel