A few years ago, something special happened on the outskirts of Maříž, a tiny village in a region called Czech Canada.
Beavers moved into a shallow valley made up of wet meadows, alder carrs, springs, and streams.
They settled on a long-abandoned tri-state area on the border of Bohemia, Moravia, and Austria, where the Iron Curtain once stood 35 years ago. Although long torn down, an embankment still crosses this landscape. The beavers discovered two culverts in it and sealed them, accumulating water in the valley.
In doing so, they breathed new life into this historically valuable site, which, unfortunately, has been badly affected by human intervention. We would like to remedy these errors and restore the damaged habitats through sophisticated means in order to fulfil their innate potential.
The site, consisting of a shallow valley, lies in the floodplain of the Maříž Brook. It’s home to several springs and historical records reveal that it’s always been full of water.
Under Communism, however, it was decided—in the name of collective farming—that the site would be drained using a network of drainage pipes and throughs.
Shortly thereafter, the site found itself behind the wire fence of the Iron Curtain and remained unused for several decades.
Long-term neglect hasn’t been good to the land. The meadows require regular mowing or they become overgrown. Another main problem, eutrophication, hasn’t been helping. The site is bordered by fields to the west and east, whose runoff floods the site with a huge amount of nutrients, insecticides, and herbicides.
The result was and continues to be the gradual degradation of most of the valuable vegetation, which is either disappearing due to the advancement of invasive plants or expansive types of grasses, herbs, and reeds. The overgrowth of Himalayan balsam is another problem that has come up in recent years.
All of this inspired us to develop an extensive revitalization project to complement the recovery efforts commenced by the beavers in order to save this rather fragile, emerging wilderness.
In 1973, the site was included in a drainage project for the agricultural land around Maříž. As a result, it’s now crisscrossed by drainage pipes and open drainage ditches (in addition to the alder carr in the northwestern section).
In some places, the site is being unnecessarily drained, while in others runoff from the fields spills into the beaver wetland or encroaches into the area where we are planning to create pools. The project involves excavation work, the removal of the drainage pipes, and the filling of drainage ditches. The goal is to restore the natural flow of water through the site.
We’re planning on filling in the man-made drainage ditch that currently functions as an artificially straightened stream and creating a new revitalization channel next to it. It will be full of meanders and flow roughly through the historic route of the original stream, which will support the self-cleaning abilities of the environment and revitalize the stream overall, creating valuable habitats for a variety of animals along its course.
Another of the artificial drainage ditches will be filled in with soil in three places to create three smaller pools.
We are well aware that we can't manage the wetland better than the beavers. That is why we would like to keep it in the same size and shape. But one thing we can do in order to help is to stabilize the embankment that retains the water.
In the future, we would like to extract nutrient-soaked deposits from the wetland. The goal of this endeavor is to reduce the level of eutrophication, a leftover from the land's previous intense agricultural use, which leads to the overgrowth of plant species that don't belong in the wetland. This will improve the conditions for the site's more valuable vegetation and the survival of many animals.
The project also calls for the construction of four excavated earthen pools. Before any work can begin, we’ll strip the sod in and around the flood zone to remove organic matter and the seeds of the highly invasive Himalayan balsam.
The pools will have an irregular shape with deeper areas alternating with shallows and islands. Importantly, the slope up to the banks will be gentle, creating a transition between the water and the land. This will aid in the proliferation of wetland vegetation and multiple species, as well as the creation of a diverse range of habitats.
Before the Communist era, practically the entire site had been a wet meadow for centuries. Its main habitats were pine and sedge meadows. Today, the species-rich territory with endangered plants is reduced to only a fragment of the site. Our goal is to expand it to cover the entire territory of the land.
Measures that should lead to a gradual increase in valuable vegetation include regular mowing, the reseeding of meadows, and the removal of sod which accumulated nutrients that promote the growth of expansive plant species. The eradication of fast-spreading invasive plants such as the Himalayan balsam is also important.
We had the entire area monitored in great detail. Entomologist Petr Hesoun focused on aquatic invertebrates, Kateřina and Lukáš Poledník from ALKA Wildlife monitored birds and mammals using camera traps, and we’re investigating the presence of reptiles and amphibians. We’re also eagerly awaiting the results of the ornithological research conducted by Filip Hruška (Czech Society for Ornithology).
Based on the results so far, we already know that we need to focus on trapping the invasive American mink. Our next task will be to install bird boxes to replace the site’s missing den trees.
“We’re not pursuing any economic goals with this project. We want to improve the site’s biodiversity, enhance its environmental stabilization functions, and help with the retention of large amounts of water in the environment. To do so, we’re deliberately choosing solutions that are respectful of the natural values that have been preserved on the site and creating opportunities for their future development.”
Filip Lysák, ecologist
Filip is the author of the Maříž wetland project and Refugium’s chief ecologist.
“My specialization can best be summed up by the phrase ‘restoration ecologist.’ Ecosystem functioning and landscape restoration have interested me ever since I was a young boy, when I was ‘virtually’ designing changes to the streams around the village where I grew up.
Since then, I’ve worked on a number of restorations, but I’m proudest of three of them: the restoration of the peatland in the Loučeň Ponds Site of Community Importance, the South Moravian Dobré pole and Novosedly salt ponds, and the peat bog in the Chvojnov Nature Reserve.”
Filip’s role in Refugium is to select and assess natural sites. Our decision whether or not to purchase them is made in consultation with other experts. Filip then proposes minor changes, draws up management plans, and designs entire restoration projects.
Significance of the site
The roughly 10-hectare area is already a rare slice of landscape. The wetland provides a number of valuable ecosystem functions—it retains and cleans water and also cools the surrounding area. In addition, the site is now a source of exceptional biodiversity.
It’s home to nearly twenty protected plant and animal species, from the highly endangered European beaver through the Eurasian otter and the black stork to the water rail and Eurasian woodcock. Evidence of this is provided by the camera traps’ photos taken by ALKA Wildlife in 2022.
Black stork, Eurasian woodcock, European honey buzzard, water rail, common buzzard, Eurasian otter, European pine marten, beech marten, tawny owl
Did you recognize all of the species?
Sanctuary of biodiversity
Reptiles also thrive here (confirmed by the presence of the slow worm, the viviparous lizard, the smooth snake, and the grass snake), as do amphibians. A total of ten species already inhabit the site, including three species of newts, the European tree frog, the agile frog, or the Pelobates fuscus toad.
In the future, the flagship species of the Maříž wetland could be the moor frog (rana arvalis).
Its sighting close to the boundary of the area has been confirmed and we believe that this iconic species, whose males acquire a deep blue color for only a few days a year, has and will continue to have the ideal conditions for living here.
We began our investment in the Maříž wetland complex by purchasing the land, which we now own 100% of. We then prepared a restoration project, the total cost of which is CZK 4,000,000. The budget calls for 75% of this amount to be covered by European subsidies.
The remaining quarter is gradually being acquired from private investors who want to contribute to nature restoration and companies that want to both help the environment and build their green image.
Our green credit system is the ticket to enter the project’s network of partners.
Financing the project
We’ve issued a total of 100 greencredits for revitalization worth a total of CZK 1,000,000.