Hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to North Bohemia's Krkonose or Giant Mountains and their valleys (55,000 hectares of land) every year to enjoy the best that nature has to offer. But not all of them show respect for the environment and, in their enthusiasm to make extra money, plunder the area, causing serious damage to protected flora and the wildlife.
For the past five years, the Giant Mountains National Park Administration has been fighting a long and hard battle against blueberry pickers. By limiting access to blueberry areas during the season, it has finally convinced locals to go elsewhere. But the number of blueberry pickers coming from abroad, mainly from neighbouring Poland and from Ukraine, is on the rise. Radek Drahny is the national park's spokesman:
"They are professional pickers and use damaging tools to collect vast amounts of blueberries quickly. The tools - special combs - get caught in the flora and tear out the roots. We have nothing against those who pick blueberries simply to bake them in a pie or make fruit dumplings. They pick them by hand, are careful and do not harm the natural environment."
The national park wardens have little time to do their usual work, as they are so busy combing the area for blueberry pickers from the early morning. Once caught, blueberry pickers that harm the area face an on-the-spot fine ranging from 1,000 - 5,000 Czech crowns (an estimated 40-200 US dollars). If they are not Czech citizens they are often handed over to the border police.
"With the massive scale of blueberry picking, people not only deprive birds and mammals of their food but often destroy protected flora and scare away wildlife because they enter the protected areas."
In the Pec pod Snezkou area alone, wardens have caught fifty blueberry pickers this season, but there are plenty more still out there. But they may be digging their own grave. If they continue to destroy bushes at the current rate, they'll have no more blueberries to pick next year.
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