Many European mountains and highlands have witnessed land abandonment in recent decades with resulting substantial landscape changes (MacDonald et al. 2000). In our research we present that problem for Polish mountains with special focus on the Kłodzko region, which belong to one of the most depopulated in theSudety Mountains, SW Poland. The study area was subject to many changes within the last 150 years, which included political (i.e. state border), national, social, demographic, cultural and economic alterations (Ciok 1995). They resulted in large scale depopulation (up to 90-100% with almost 40 villages which disappeared completely) and land use changes. The socio-economic processes were mirrored in the changes of landscape pattern, such as decline of arable land and settlement network, and increase in forests and grasslands. However, the traces of former human activities are still visible in the contemporary landscape and can be regarded as witnesses of past cultural landscapes. These activities included: intense agriculture, mining, industry and water management. Also the remains of the old settlement network are preserved in the landscape as ruins of buildings, ruin mounds or settlement terraces. A large number of sacral monuments is another typical characteristics of the Kłodzko region. They include both pilgrimage centres and numerous examples of the small, roadside sacral architecture. The human-induced habitat changes, which turned out to be very persistent in spite of land-use changes, are another example of long-term transformations of cultural landscape in the region.
The aim of the study was to assess the type and extent of landscape changes in the Kłodzko region in the last 150 years on the one hand, and to assess the persistence and contemporary use of past cultural landscapes on the other hand. The study addressed the following research questions: (1) What was the scale and spatial distribution of depopulation?, (2) What are the landscape results of depopulation and land abandonment?, (3) What is left in the landscape after the vanished villages? (4) What is the present role of the non-existing villages? The study was based on pre- and postwar population censuses, on historical and present cartographic data and on detailed field work, including inventory of the remains of the past cultural landscapes and on the botanical survey.
Due to large amount of persistent traces of cultural heritage in the contemporary landscape, the study area represents a high potential for becoming a „landscape history laboratory” (Antrop 2005). However, for many years the cultural heritage of the area was neglected, as it was regarded as “foreign” heritage. In recent time the cultural landscape of Kłodzko region started to be promoted. If properly interpreted it can become a vital component of the process of rebuilding the regional identity, which was almost completely lost after the World War II. The educational paths and information boards make people acquainted with the complex history of the region by explaining its traces embedded in the landscape. Many of the historical buildings and monuments have been also renovated or reconstructed. However, the scale of these processes is still not sufficient and degradation of cultural heritage and landscape values still proceeds in many places.
Antrop M (2005) Why landscapes of the past are important for the future? Landscape and Urban Planning 70(1–2):21–34.
Ciok S (1995) Zmiany ludnościowe i osadnicze w Sudetach. Acta Universitatis Wratislaviensis, Prace Inst. Geogr. Ser. B 13:51–64.
MacDonald D., Crabtree J.R., Wiesinger G., Dax T., Stamou N., Fleury P., Gutierre, Lazpita J., Gibo, A. (2000) Agricultural abandonment in mountains areas of Europe: environmental consequences and policy response. J. Environ. Manag. 59: 47–69.