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Watch out, alley! Over 100 thousand trees have disappeared from the Czech countryside

Prague - 24 August 2011

Should you be walking or passing through a tree lined avenue during your summer wandering of the Czech Republic, you better take pictures. Next time you come back the trees might be gone. During the last seven years more than 100 000 trees at district roads have been cut down by the roads´ maintenance. This shows the statistics of environmental NGO Arnika based on data of regional roads administrations. A tree avenue (trees on both sides of the road) of this amount of trees would stand for a distance Prague –Rome.

Arnika surveyed the regional roads administrations to find out that between autumn 2003 and the end of 2010, 106 670 trees along the roads had been cut down and only 63 196 planted. Substantial part of the trees were planted elsewhere but in tree avenues – for example in municipal parks. The replacing plantations do not have to be automatically set in the place of the cut down.

“This numbers are a clear evidence of disappearing of tree lined avenues of Czech landscape. The cleansing proceeds two times faster than the plantation. Moreover, the creation of tree avenues at roads is complicated by many financial and bureaucratic obstacles. As tree lined avenues have disappeared, the typical feature of our landscape formed since the time of renaissance has been altered. I see it as our commitment to preserve this heritage for the future generations.” Ing. Jakub Esterka, the leader of campaign Save the Trees, says. 

As the detailed summary presents, the most cut down occurs in the Central and South Bohemia regions. On the other hand, Central Bohemia is one of the three regions to plant more trees in replacement than had been cut down. The least replacing plantation is made by Karlovy Vary and Plzeň region. No tree in seven years had been planted in the Liberec region.

Ministry of Transport drafted a law alteration lately, introducing an exception for road maintenance, which would enable them to cut down without permission. The current state would thus be even deteoriated, according to Arnika. The exception for road maintenance was canceled two years ago. The petition to save the trees was signed by 35 thousand people.

Tree lined avenues are a typical feature of Czech and Central European landscape. Their origin dates back up to the end of middle ages, they flourished during the time of renaissance and mainly baroque, yet in 1828 a rule to plant the trees along the newly build kaisers´ roads was established, for the economical, esthetic and landmark reasons. Nowadays, the trees along the roads have many others functions: a single tree can capture up to the half of the dust parts of the air and a grown up tree consume 24 million m3 of CO2 during its life, the gas being responsible for the climate warming. The trees along the roads facilitate orientation in the countryside. Especially in summer, they protect the travelers- conductors, bikers and pedestrians as well – from the solar heat. Not the least the biological value should be mentioned – every tree is a biotop of hundreds of species.

Trees along the roads have disappeared since the end of 20th century, when neither state nor municipalities practically looked after them. Many tree avenues were cut down due to the widening of roads because of increased transport. The situation was alarming in 2006, when district roads administrations of all regions started to cut down tree avenues globally. Mild winter was a reason for spare funding which was decided to be spent in this way. Hundreds of healthy trees passed away during this winter. The situation repeated in 2008. Finally, the 2009 approved law amendment was a relief, as it cancelled, among others changes, the exception for road maintenance to cut trees without permission. This spring an attempt to regain at least partially this authority for the road maintenance appeared. Moreover, a stricter regulation for cutting trees is still missing – trees up to 80 cm of a perimeter can be cut without a replacement.

Many tree lined avenues that are a real pride of Czech landscape are to be found in our country. View of an treeavenues of honorable trees lining a road is definitively much more pleasant than to a road lined with billboards. If the trees are marked well – white stripes and reflection on the trunks, traffic signs and guardrail in dangerous parts are helpful – they are not a danger.

Neighboring Germany, where tree avenues had been destroyed massively since the mid 20th century, can be inspirative for the restoration of tree avenues – in Federal Republic of Germany 50 thousands km of alleys were cut down between 1949 - 99. Nowadays, several programs of protection of trees along the roads have been run. In 2002, the Federal Ministry of Environment initiated a campaign to support civic initiatives and to protect alleys. If you travel to Berlin by car, watch the new trees at roads – there is an obligation in Brandeburg to plant a new tree for every one cut down. Protection of historical alleys was made a resolution of the most populated German state and industrial center Nordrheinwestfalen, too. A campaign to plant 100 new tee avenues was initiated and seventy new alleys has already arisen since 2006. Several states are conjunct trough an “tree avenues road” co-created by a German automobile club ADAC. The automobile transport fans themselves advocate the protection of trees along the roads.

Further information:

The cut down in Czech tree lined avenues (brief table)
Region Cut down Planted Region Cut down Planted
South Bohemia 17850 5738 Olomouc Region 5882 2085
South Moravia 10160 9153 Pardubice Region 11080 6584
Karlovy Vary Region 3586 910 Plzeň Region 14991 2223
Hradec Králové Region 4199 106 Central Bohemia 19025 21099
Liberec Region 1651 0 Ústí nad Labem Region 4314 2429
Moravia-Silesian Region 3633 4327 Vysočina Region 3928 3883
Zlín Region 6371 4659
Total 106670 63196

Imaginary tree avenue Prague - Rome

In 20 meters spaces, that is 100 trees per 1 km, 106 670 trees would stand in an imaginary tree lined avenue (trees on both sides) 1 026 km long, corresponding to air distance between Prague and London. Measured on road, that many trees would create a coherent tree lined avenue e. g. from Prague to Rome.

The number of planted trees (63 196) stands for a tree lined avenue only 628 km long, being less than air distance between Prague and Brussels; a tree lined avenue that long would terminate at Strasbourg already.

Road administration

The IInd a IIIrd class roads are under the regional administrations, the highways and “A” roads under the Directory of Roads and Highways. It is not possible due to the high speeds to restore tree avenues along the “A” roads and highways, as it is feasible along the regional roads. These are also the most valuable, the most lovely and the oldest tree avenues.

Conception of preserving alleys in the Czech Republic

Arnika in co-operation with experts created a publication Roads´Alleys In the Czech Landscape – the conception of their preserving, restoring and maintaining at http://arnika.org/publikace-stromy/koncepce-stromoradi-v-ceske-krajine

Additional Info
Arnika: Center for Citizens' Support