Podyjí-Thayatal Transboundary Parks

Autumn colours, Thayatal National Park (AU) © D.Manhart

A cooperation emerged despite dark times of the Iron Curtain

When Winston Churchill spoke about tearing down the Iron Curtain in his famous speech, he also referred to the 42 km long picturesque Dyje/Thayatal river valley. Situated at the border between Moravia (CZ) and Lower Austria (A), it was a lively area with a number of mills and hotels until the beginning of World War II. In only a few years, the region once enjoyed by summer visitors from Vienna and Brno, turned into no-man’s-land. Little human interference along the border for decades preserved a small piece of wilderness in the heart of an area known for intensive agricultural use. This green jewel is now protected and attracts many visitors from both countries.

Helping each other

In the middle of the 1980s, nature conservationists from both politically and physically divided countries, joined forces to protect this unique area of an impressive valley with steep cliffs and gentle meadows, natural forests and a fascinating fauna. Back then the communist planners on the Czech side, decided to build a third dam in the valley. This would have destroyed most of the area of the current national parks Podyjí and Thayatal but thanks to a strong public opposition in Austria, the project was dropped.

Podyjí National Park was created shortly after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1991. This step might have given an impulse to nature conservationists and the interested public to start a debate about protecting the area also on the Austrian side of border. Nine years later Thayatal National Park was finally established. Since then both national parks have been working together to achieve the best possible protection of this natural habitat and jointly reach common objectives.

Joint activities to phase out borders in mind

An important field of cooperation are research activities. Over the past years the joint project “Nature without borders” covered several research areas. Austrian and Czech scientists gathered information on birds, bats, snakes, butterflies or sparrows in both national parks. In the focus of this project was also the return of wild cats or the function and potential risks of deadwood in Dyje/Thaya river.

Both parks also cooperate on other levels, for example joint offers for visitors. Bringing people from both sides of the border together also helps to tear down the “iron curtain” in minds. Nowadays, local people are still learning how to approach their neighbours after what was for them a turbulent twentieth century. Therefore removing communication barriers is also one of the goals of our joint ranger service.

There are certainly some disputes between the managements of both parks, but they share common views on the area after all. Their common goal is to protect the beauty of this natural and cultural landscape for the future. Patience and understanding are at the heart of transboundary cooperation and joint efforts to fulfil the agreement, is a sign of good partnership. The nature and region of Podyjí/Thayatal National Parks certainly benefit from these efforts.

Text by David Grossmann