The Šipka NNM was declared in 1960 on an area of 29 hectares in the parish of Štramberk in the Moravskoslezský kraj – Moravian–Silesian Region to protect important archaeological sites and a locality with relict flora.
The impulse to protect this area came from the efforts of local inhabitants and the museum community to save the remaining part of the Kotouč mountain and the “National Orchard” from the rapid advances of limestone quarrying in the first half of the 20th century. The first attempt to save the rapidly disappearing mountain was the opening of the “National Orchard” on a part of Kotouč, which was conceived as a sculpture park with busts of important personalities from Czech national history and culture.
The geological basement under the great majority of the protected area is built of extremely pure and partially karstified Jurassic limestone. Only the northern foot of the main peak is built of sandstones of the Těšín – Hradiště Formation. The Štramberk limestone is one of the richest sites for fossils in Europe and more than 600 marine animal species have been found here.
During archaeological research in the Šipka cave in 1888 K.J.Mašek discovered a fragment of the jawbone of a Neanderthal child, which was more 30,000 years old, at the edge of a fireplace. Several hundred stone tools and around 80,000 bones from 130 animal species including cave bears, lions, hyenas, mammoths and woolly rhinoceros have also been discovered here.
The Kotouč mountain was settled by the people of almost every Prehistoric culture and all of them left evidence of their stay here. The greatest wave of settlement came in the Bronze Age, when a fortress with a 20 hectare acropolis could be found on the summit plateau. This fortress was probably destroyed by the invading Scythians at the turn of the 6th and 5th centuries BC. Kotouč was settled again by the Celts around 2000 years ago. Some of the evidence found here documents the existence of trading routes between the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, and shows us the importance of the fortified power base, which was built to guard one of the branches of the “Amber Trail”. During the period of Medieval colonisation in the 13th century a settlement was built near to the present day Studánka Míru (Peace Spring) and two small Medieval castles stood on the Jurův kámen and Panská vyhlídka summits. Human settlement gradually moved to the territory of the current town of Štramberk and Kotouč was only a sanctuary in times of danger. The money forgers´ workshop which was found in the Čertova díra – Devil’s Hole cave when it was quarried dated from the middle of the 15th century.
In 1880 a limestone quarry was opened on the southern slopes of Kotouč by the Guttmann brothers, which soon became the largest in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Limestone extraction reached its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, when the Psí Kostelík – Dog’s Chapel cave, the whole plateau with the fortress and the botanically valuable western slope of Kotouč were all removed.
As a consequence of quarrying and other land use changes unique organisms such as the weevil Hypera libanotides, hoary rock-rose (Helianthemum rupifragum), shining cranesbill (Geranium lucidum), lesser meadow-rue (Thalictrum minus) and downy woundwort (Stachys germanica) all became extinct in the area. The endemic subspecies of the Apollo butterfly (Parnassius apollo subsp. strambergensis) also met the same fate in around 1930.
This territory is still of high botanical significance and many plant and animal species have their only locality here in the Czech Republic at Šipka NNM. These include the meadow-grass Poa crassipes and the shining scabious (Scabiosa lucida subsp. calcicola).
The majority of the protected area is currently forested. Part of the forest stands were negatively influenced in the past by the planting of non-native tree species such as the Norway spruce and Austrian pine. The more natural forest stands are predominantly beechwoods, herb-rich beechwoods and small areas of talus and ravine forest. In these near-natural stands we can find the Alpine arum (Arum alpinum), martagon lily (Lilium martagon), pellitory-of-the-wall (Parietaria officinalis), St. Bernard’s lily (Anthericum liliago), the helleborine Epipactis microphylla, early purple orchid (Orchis mascula), greater butterfly orchid (Platanthera chlorantha) and white helleborine (Cephalanthera damasonium).
In addition to the vascular plants we can also find remarkable mosses and ferns in the monument. Perfect examples are the tiny hart´s tongue fern (Phyllitis scolopendrium), beech fern (Phegopteris connectilis) and the moss Timmia bavarica, which only grows at three localities in the Czech Republic.
The forests in the protected area are also a sanctuary for many animal species which are bound to old deciduous stands, including the black woodpecker (Dryocopus martius), stock dove (Columba oenas) and the noble chafer (Gnorimus nobilis). Several unique Dipteridae which are bound to warm limestone areas have also been recorded at Kotouč. These include Dicranomyia transsilvanica with four localities in the Czech Republic and Elliptera hungarica, which lives in large numbers on the damp rocks at Jurův kámen and nowhere else in Czech Republic.
In addition to the valuable forest communities on the territory of the NNM we can also find remnants of the vegetation of xerophilous grasslands and vegetation of rocky crevices, which were previously typical on Kotouč.
On these grasslands we can find the fescue Festuca palens, the melic grass Melica ciliata, common rock-rose (Helianthemum grandiflorum), self-heal or woundwort (Stachys recta), white mountain saxifrage (Saxifraga paniculata), rue-leaved saxifrage (Saxifraga tridactylites), the crucifer Biscutella laevigata. The miniscule fern - moonwort (Botrychium lunaria) grows on the edge of the quarry. The foodplants for butterflies such as the red-underwing skipper (Spialia sertorius), silver-spotted skipper (Hesperia comma) and swallowtail (Papilio machaon) also grow here.
We may be lucky and see sand lizards (Lacerta agilis) or its predator the smooth snake (Coronella austriaca) on the grasslands. Eagle owls (Bubo bubo) and several pairs of ravens (Corvus corax) nest on the inaccessible cliffs at Kotouč.
In 1986 the Apollo butterfly was re-introduced to the fringes of Šipka NNM. Thanks to the efforts of the local group of the Czech Society for Nature Protection we can again admire this beautiful butterfly at all of its traditional localities in the Štramberk area. The current Štramberk population was bred from butterflies from several localities in Slovakia.