50 years later: the largest Soviet base after the occupation of former Czechoslovakia in 1968 has changed into a wild horse and wisent paradise

2018 - 08 - 21
50 years later: the largest Soviet base after the occupation of former Czechoslovakia in 1968 has changed into a wild horse and wisent paradise

A military area, taken by occupation units after the Soviet forces invasion into the former Czechoslovakia on 21st August 1968, had various fates after the soldier’s departure in 1991. A former military area in Central Bohemian Milovice has come through a huge transformation. It has changed from the largest Soviet base in Czechoslovakia into a world unique reserve with wisent and wild horse herds.

The military training area in Milovice had a strategical meaning for the Soviet army. It established the headquarters of the Central army group in Czechoslovakia here. According to official data, there were 16,500 soldiers, 1,500 civilian staff, and 10,000 family members at the base. It was about the biggest Soviet military presence in our territory. As the soldier’s numbers were kept secret by the Soviet army, local historians estimate there 80, Soviets operated in total in Milovice, some statistics state even up to 160,000.

After the Soviet army’s expulsion in 1991, peripheral parts of the military area started to be used; there was a landfill for municipal waste, a motocross track, or a sports airport. The main area was, however, unused for decades. This changed in 2015 when in the first part of the military area, a 40 hectare reserve was created for wild horses brought from Exmoor in England. Still in the same year the reserve was enlarged by another 120 hectares. Another wild horse herd was added, plus wisents and back-bred aurochs. Nowadays the reserve covers 240 hectares of the former military area; it was enlarged by 80 hectares this year

“The use of the former military area in Milovice posed a problem for Central Bohemian region for years. That is why I am glad it managed to find this meaningful solution in the form of the large hoofed animal reserve. It not only helps save endangered animal and plant species, but it also represents potential for tourism development in the region,” said the Governor of the Central Bohemian Region, Jaroslava Pokorna Jermanova, In appreciation of the project

The former military area has become the first place in the world to have three species of original larghe herbivores in Europe within one reserve. In 2016 all three species also succeeded to reproduce in one reserve for the first time in the world. Also, thanks to media on five continents reporting on the reserve, it was written about in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the BBC, Science, Der Standard, and other media. It has become thus the most followed Czech project worldwide in the last few years.

The large herbivores, however, helped mainly to save and restore a number of precious plant and animal species. The total occurring in the reserve is, for example, 42 per cent of all Czech day butterfly species or two-thirds of all domestic bat species. There are also endangered bird species, a jackal pack, and a camera trap has caught the wolf in the reserve this year.

“It is symbolic that the place where soldiers trained how to kill is overflowing with life today. Tanks were replaced by wisents; instead of army drill, wild horse herds freely run around in the countryside. It is probably hard to imagine a better full stop point after the Soviet occupation,” stated Dalibor Dostal, the Director of European Wildlife preservation organisation.

The unique reserve will not remain alone in Central Europe. “During the four years since the reserve’s foundation, dozens of large herbivores young have been born. We are glad that from this year we can provide the young for free to other reserves where they help with a similar miracle landscape transformation as was managed thanks to them in Milovice,” added Dalibor Dostal.

The military training area in Milovice was established in 1904 when 3,500 hectares were taken by the then Austro-Hungarian army. During the First World War, Italian and Russian soldiers were interned in the camp. After an independent Czechoslovakia was founded, the Czechoslovakian army trained there. During the Second World War, it was occupied by the army of Nazi Germany. Besides training, the Wehrmacht also made propaganda films there. After 1945 the Czechoslovakian army returned to the area again; it was forced to leave the base after the Soviet army invasion in 1968. When the last Soviet soldiers left in 1991, the Czechoslovakian government decided to close the military area.

Photo: Michal Köpping

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