Váté písky National Nature Monument

The Váté písky – Air-blown Sands NNM lie in the parishes of Bzenec and Vracov in the south-west of the Jihomoravský kraj – South Moravian Region. The monument covers a narrow, non-forested strip (up to 60 metres wide) but stretching for 5.5km along the railway line between the stations at Rohatec and Bzenec – Přívoz with an area of 94.5ha at elevations of 180-190 metres above sea level. The Váté písky NNM contains the most important examples of plant communities growing on a non-forested bed of air-blown sands in the South Moravian Region. The locality is especially rich in psammophyte (sand-loving) plant and animal species.
 
In the past the locality formed a part of the original oakwoods with an admix of Scots pines. Forest grazing and gathering of animal bedding up to the 18th century led to extensive deforestation and open areas were left behind, where sandstorms gradually built dunes. For this reason the area became known as the “Moravian Sahara”. Ing. Bedřich Bechtl prepared a land-use plan for the wider area at the beginning of the 19th century, and according to this plan, almost all of the area was planted with Scots pines. The construction of the railway line from Vienna to Krakow in 1840 was the next step in forming the current character of the landscape. An anti-fire belt was cut from the pine forest and carefully maintained for as long as steam locomotives ran along the line (until around 1970). After the end of the steam era this belt has gradually been colonised by pine seedlings from the neighbouring forest and also false acacias in places. These opportunist trees are removed on an irregular basis.
 
The extensive area of air-blown sands around Bzenec and Vracov formed in the Postglacial period (9-12000 years ago) when the smallest grains were blown out of the Tertiary and Quaternary undersea sediments from the terraces of the Morava river. These sands are acidic, have a high quartz content and are covered with Arenic Cambisol, with Arenic Regosol also found in places.
 
The territory along the railway line is covered with thermophyte communities which are bound to the acidic, sandy conditions. The vegetation cover is sparse and low-growing, which reflects the extreme growing conditions found here – high permeability and extreme temperatures of the soil profile. A typical feature is the abundance of lichens of the Cladonia order. As a result of the biotope character and the geographical position the vegetation in the protected area has a unique species composition and the characteristic plant species include grey hair-grass (Corynephorus canescens) and the fescue Festuca vaginata subsp. dominii. Other protected plant species which grow on the sands include the decorative feather-grass Stipa borysthenica, purple mullein (Verbascum phoeniceum), Morison’s spurrey (Spergula morisonii), and the yellow-flowering “straw hat” of the dwarf everlast (Helichrysum arenarium), baby’s breath (Gypsophila paniculata) and the velvet-grass Hierochloë repens.
 
On the territory of the national nature monument we can find an exceptional fauna of insects which are bound to sandy localities and a large number of rare psammophyte (sand-loving) and thermophilous ground beetle species have been recorded here. The fauna of heliphilous (light-loving) beetles is characterized by the presence of many beetles such as the chafer Melolontha hippocastani and the pine chafer (Polyphylla fullo). The air-blown sands also play host to a rich fauna of hymenoptera, especially cuckoo bees, cuckoo wasps, bees and digger wasps, including the very rare bee Bombix rostrata. Eight species of bumble bees and three species of cuckoo bees were recorded here during inventory research in 2000. Other notable insect species in the protected area include four species of ant-lions, rare grasshoppers and locusts, the praying mantis (Mantis religiosa), the mantis fly Mantispa styriaca and the owlfly Ascalaphus macaronius. Typical butterflies which can be seen over the sands include the southern festoon (Zerynthia polyxena), tree grayling (Hipparchia statilinus), the clearwing moth Chamaesphecia leucopsiformis and thrift clearwing (Synansphecia muscaeformis).
The monument is also home to an exceptional range of spiders, which have only been studied here in recent years. Several dozen species have been recorded here so far and many of these are thermophilous rarities on a Europe-wide scale. An example is the striking ladybird spider Eresus cinnaberinus. Three spider species were first observed in the Czech Republic at Váté písky NNM and the spider Alopecosa psammophila is a new species for science.
 
Notable bird species which live on or around the sands include the woodlark (Lullula arborea), nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus), hoopoe (Upupa epops) and the wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe). The hobby (Falco subbuteo) regularly hunts along the railway and nests in the surrounding pine forests. Abundant populations of emerald lizards (Lacerta viridis) and smooth snakes (Coronella austriaca) also live on the sands.
 
Fires were very frequent on this belt of land along the railway line in the past but the paradox is that the fires had a mostly positive effect on the species diversity. Small and frequent fires helped to maintain the balance between the various vegetation types and the rare fauna was never forced out of the area completely. After the railway line was modernized the fires are much less frequent and now the main management interventions in the protected area are aimed at removing invasive trees such as pines and false acacia (Robinia pseudoacacia) and plants such as wood small-reed (Calamagrostis epigeios) and Canadian goldenrod (Solidago canadensis).