The theoretical basis of the legal protection of nature has been formed since medieval times. In those times nature protection was predominantly for aesthetic, historical and cultural purposes, but the first scientific attempts were also made to justify the protection of landscape and its appearance. The first legal acts were mostly concerned with property, which included natural resources and game animals. The aim was to legally protect landowners’ property from poachers etc., and mostly took the form of edicts to protect forests as well as forest game and aquatic animals which were hunted by the landowners. These first legal norms came into effect between the 12th and 14th centuries. The Conrad Statute was issued by the Bohemian Prince Konrad Ota in around 1189 and the Book of Rožmberk in 1360, both of which mention protection of forests, even if the aim was to prevent the theft of wood. Emporer Karel (Charles) IV’s Maiestas Carolina proposal also included elements of nature protection. This proposal contained a detailed system of feudal forest administration and set out strict punishments for breaking the codes, but was never implemented due to opposition from the nobles.
The first deliberate efforts to protect certain natural and landscape elements and territories began in the early 19th century during the early period of Romanticism. Individuals began to establish the first protected areas and this was usually done by enlightened nobles. The first protected area on the territory of the Czech Republic – the Žofínský prales primeval forest was established on 28th August 1838 by Count Jiří Augustin Langueval – Buqouy on his Nové Hrady estate. He also established the Hojná voda protected area in the same year. Both of these protected areas still exist today as the Žofínský prales National Nature Reserve and the Hojná voda National Nature Monument. In 1858 Prince Jan Schwarzenberg established the Boubínský prales primeval forest reserve, which is also a National Nature Reserve today. These private protection attempts began to be reflected in the legal activities of state bodies and in the introduction of binding laws, an example of which is the “Prügelpatent” from 1854, which was used for many years to protect nature monuments.
Laws on nature protection in the modern sense date from the early 20th century, with the founding of the independent Czechoslovakian Republic in 1918. Thirty State Protected Areas were declared in 1933 and 142 Nature Reserves had been established by 1938. It took until 1956 before the first Protected Landscape Area (Český ráj) was established and the Krkonošský National Park was declared in 1963 as the first national park on the territory of the Czech Republic.
The founder of modern nature and landscape protection in Czechoslovakia was the natural scientist and educationalist Rudolf Maximovič, who held the function of General Commissioner for Nature Protection from 1922 to 1948, making him the highest representative of state nature protection. He also participated in the preparations to establish the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (World Conservation Union – IUCN). His work was continued in the post-war years by Dr. Jaroslav Veselý, the first director of the State Institute for the Care of Historic Monuments and Nature Protection, which insisted on the continuity of our participation in nature protection activities on an international basis and maintained high professional standards in the field.
Czech experts and politicians had been calling for a seperate law on nature protection since the beginning of the 20th century and a number of proposals were put forward before 1956 but none were passed as laws. In 1956 the first law on state nature protection on the territory of today’s Czech Republic was passed, Act No. 40/1956 Coll. on State Nature Protection. The subjects of the protection were protected areas, protected natural formations and protected nature monuments as well as protected plant and animal species, minerals and palaeontological findings. When this law was passed it made a significant contribution to nature protection. However, in the early 1970s it became clear that nature protection according to the principles of this law (only protecting selected territories) was quite inadequate. This conservationalist approach to nature protection, which had been followed on the territory of the Czech Republic since the 19th century, was unable to prevent widespread degradation of the nature and landscape. This law also did not allow for the dynamic development of natural localities and ecosystems.
The woeful state of the nature, even in the specially protected areas, demonstrated that protecting nature in selected areas is insufficient and that it is essential to protect it on the whole territory of the state. One reason for the poor condition of nature and landscape was that the socialist state often put economic interests above conservation. The year 1989 brought widespread political, economic and cultural changes and the first moves were also made to pass a new legal framework for nature and landscape protection.
In 1992 the currently valid Act no. 114/1992 Coll. on Nature and Landscape Protection was passed. This law is based on the principles of prevention, precautionary measures, sustainable usage of natural resources, integrated protection etc.
The 1992 act complemented the existing “conservational” approach to protecting preserved nature, but also promoted an active approach by the state as well as private citizens (often landowners) and NGOs in nature protection. A whole range of other laws are closely related to nature protection have also been implemented in the Czech Republic.