Saturday, 27 November 2010

History of ponds and pond-making

To finish off the pond-making strand, just a few additions.
First I want to go back very briefly to the time before Jakub Krcin and his contemporaries - see blog below - to the time of the Husite wars (largely peasant Protestants versus establishment Catholics, in the 15th century). The Husite's main centre was the South Bohemian town Tabor, and many of their campaigns were therefore fought in South Bohemia. The fact that they knew the landscape and understood its characteristics aided their strategy many times over. So for example the battle by the Sudomerice pond is famous because the Husites, dressed in peasant clothes and with light weapons, lured the heavy, suit-of-armour clad opposing army into the adjoining marshes, where the metal knights, even their horses, stuck in deep mud and so the Husites practically massacred the lot.

But back to pond-building itself. Thed Golden Age of pond-building and carp-farming ended by the 30 year war (17thC) when many ponds were turned over to farming, mainly for sugar beet and for sheep grazing. It was essential to farm more sheep apparently, because much wool was needed for soldiers' uniforms, and the decline continued well into the 19th century with the Industrial revolution, and so by 1886 an official count lists only 51 000 hectares of ponds. But the decline continued even beyond that, especially during the Communist times when large-scale, Soviet type agricultural methods were quite unsuitably used here: small fields were joined into vast, combine-harvester- friendly tracts of monocultures, which involved further drying out of peatlands and marshes, and diverting natural brooks and streams for underground amelioration. This helped produce more grain and sweetcorn, but changed the natural aesthetics and ecology of the region. Now, after many centuries, there are moves to restore some of the worst excesses of this agricultural method, some ponds are being re-filled, some amelioration has naturally stopped working and brooks are finding their way up onto the surface again. But we have no equivalent of the enlightened aristocrats of the Middle ages and Renaissance with their largesse and their long-term vision of carefully managed estates - after Communism came Market capitalism, and so much of the lanscape is being robbed of its produce without much thought to replenishment and the continuity of generations - be it forests, ponds or decisions as to what to best farm in this particular climate or conditions. Some hope for continuity rests on the regional Agricultural college whose Fisheries faculty is now joined with a research institute for ecology and countryside management. We hope they can have at least some good influence, this beautiful countryside deserves it.

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