Standing beneath a seemingly Biblical downpour on a grey, dusky evening in the Czech mountains, it could be hard to see what reason a person would have to smile and laugh. Yet on the evening of Friday 19th August, thirty hardy young climate activists from nine countries showed nothing but joy as their clothes soaked through in a special three-hectare paddock for a wolfpack in Srní, Šumava National Park. Holding the wolves in quasi-captivity at an educational centre for locals, the paddock aims to give the public reassuring insight into the behaviour and appearance of these carnivores, which have been returning to the area in the last few years after historic extirpation. The group that visited that night, or at least most of them, did not catch a glimpse, however: the pounding rain meant that those who managed to keep their eyes open for more than a second saw only swirling mist and the formless blobs of colleagues just metres away.
A torrential downpour met the 30 Game On! Young Climate Ambassadors who ventured to Srní in search of wolves. Can’t see? Neither could we! Photo: Elliott Cocker.
How were there such high spirits amid this apparent disappointment? The secret – this was the last night of the Game On! International Wilderness Camp held at Šumava, the second international Game On! camp of the year. and the largest to date. The 40+ Game On! Young Climate Ambassadors aged 16-30 gathered from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia; by Friday, they had completed a week-long array of volunteer work, educational hikes, and special lectures with regional experts, forging quite the community in the process. After the time spent supporting each other through intense days in the field, completing environmental restoration projects, and sharing insights about ecology, climate, and politics, a night spent together beneath a storm was, well, like water off a duck’s back.
Getting our hands dirty
A muddy high-five after some tough work in the mires. Photo: Patrik Gažo.
While the Young Climate Ambassadors attending the camp were not entirely sure what to expect upon their arrival, it immediately became clear that there was a common goal running through the week in beautiful Šumava: to put possibly our most valuable resource – our labour – to work in its ecological restoration projects. Šumava is the Czech Republic’s youngest National Park, having been established in 1991, and is still in the process of re-establishing ecological processes that were historically inhibited by human intervention for agriculture, resource extraction, and recreation. This extensive work often requires extra pairs of hands and the Game On! Young Ambassador team at this camp were a willing workforce.
Perhaps most significant in Šumava’s restoration work has been the effort to reverse the historical drainage of peatlands. Peat is an organic material formed by the slow, partial decomposition of plant matter in waterlogged conditions. Peatlands are entire areas characterised by the formation of this material and its associated ecosystems. While the ecological and climatic value of peatlands is now being recognised – globally peatlands store more carbon than the world’s forests for instance – historically the peatlands of Šumava were viewed as obstacles to agricultural production, so efforts were made to lower the water table and make the land suitable for growing crops. A study by Ivana Bufkova (who delivered a lecture at the camp) and colleagues found that as much as 70% of Šumava’s peatlands had been at least influenced by drainage, typically done by digging canals to transport water quickly away from the landscape. Drained peat degrades as it dries, emitting carbon, and leading to significant changes in vegetation, often to the detriment of biodiversity.