To experience nature up close – that is the idea behind nature teaching or adventure trails. But you quickly notice that the pedagogical idea is often more served than an actual encounter with nature. Not so at the Guttau ponds. On the nature trail, an astonishing biodiversity can actually be experienced in a relatively small area for the attentive observer.
The area is located between Wartha, Lömischau and Guttau in the southern part of the UNESCO Nature Reserve Upper Lusatian Heath and Pond Landscape, about 20 kilometers from Bautzen. The ‚House of a Thousand Ponds‘ visitor center with a large car park is located in Wartha. The ensemble of buildings also houses the administration of the nature reserve. In the middle of the courtyard there is a small pond in which the fire-bellied Toads can be heard honking at dusk in late summer. But grass snakes, small birds, edible frogs and mice can also be discovered in this tiny biotope.
Section of the overview map at the ‚House of a Thousand Ponds‘,
the visitor center of the biosphere reserve.
From the visitor center, the path leads over three routes with different thematic focuses through the pond landscape, past meadows and fields and through alluvial forest. The nature trail has a lot in store for visitors: a whole series of information boards about the habitats, the pond economy and ecology and its numerous inhabitants, hands-on games and several observation platforms and towers. The largest lap covers around eight kilometers and thus each of the three main topics.
From the ‚House of a Thousand Ponds‘ the tour starts first along fields and through an alluvial forest to the ponds. Red and black kites turn their circles over the extensively farmed arable land, which is planted with a purple flowering poppy variety and old grains.
A nutria (Myocastor coypus) in the Reed pond,
where a large footbridge enables the ‚water world view‘
At the end of April and beginning of May, a tour of the pond landscape is particularly beautiful. The croaking of frogs is mixed with the snarling and whistling of the great reed warbler or the crackling of the courting grebes. If you observe carefully, you will expierence coot, common tern, greylag goose, wryneck, Savi’s warbler, mute swan, cuckoo and even nightingale and bittern. For this acoustic spectacle, there are so-called silent sections on the nature experience route. Under the motto Breathe! Look! Listen! visitors are encouraged to walk the small paths along the ponds in silence and with sharpened senses. An extremely demanding exercise not only for children. But behind this is also the intention to keep certain parts of the routes quiet, as they are in areas populated with disturbance-sensitive species, especially during the breeding season. For this reason alone, you should travel quiet sections with the necessary calm.
What actually is a biosphere reserve??
The term is made up of „biosphere“ (living space) and „reserve“ (preserved) – that is, a protected habitat in which various forms of life shall be preserved. This includes people, farm animals and wild animals and consists of both natural and cultural landscapes. In contrast to pure nature reserves, a biosphere reserve combines cultural and natural areas and aims to preserve and promote both.
Sustainability, nature conservation, research and education
The aim is that nature conservation is implemented with and through the local people. There are different zones to take into account nature and people, in the Upper Lusatian region exist four such zones.
The nature reserves are located in the core zone (total reserves with entry ban) and the maintenance zone (environmentally friendly management)
The development zone represents the main area of human life and economy.
A special feature in Lusatia is the regeneration zone in which the former opencast mining areas are located. Here nature has largely free run.
The rural Upper Lusatia is dependent on sustainable, nature-friendly ways of life and economy. In the connection between the preservation of the natural landscape and the historically grown cultural landscape, there is also high quality tourism.
Part of the concept initiated by UNESCO, however, is also the cooperation and networking of the 741 biosphere reserves worldwide in order to share successful approaches on the sustainable development of nature conservation and the economy.
A new observation platform was set up on the reed pond in 2019. Coming from the visitor center, it is the first pond you see. It is surrounded by reeds and is a habitat for numerous amphibians, birds and mammals. The view goes to the south, which is a bit annoying on sunny days, especially since there is no shadow on the platform. Those who are not deterred by this and have a little patience can observe reed warblers, ospreys, common terns, nutria and, in late summer, even little bittern.
In the springtime, there are tons of tadpoles in the sun-drenched, warm pond bank zones. The development of the frog children made good progress in mid-May. Their large heads still resemble fish and apart from the long, fluttering tail there is still nothing to be seen of the limbs, but the tufts of gills have already disappeared and their mouths gasp for air at the surface of the water, which makes them easy to observe. At the village pond, the southernmost of the pond group near Guttau, my son hangs one foot in the water and lets the tadpoles nibble on him. He giggles because it tickles. I, on the other hand, marvel at the enviable mixture of childlike curiosity and courage. But the boy doesn’t know anything about etymology either. The german word for tadpole is Kaulquappe and it sends shivers down your spine. Quappe probably goes back to Middle German and means ‚wobbly, slimy‘, while the word part Kaul (which also occurs in Quarkkäulchen, a Saxon dessert made from curd and eggs) means ‚thick head or ball‘.
We make other discoveries in the village pond. In addition to numerous edible frogs, we see freshwater snails like the great ramshorn (Planorbarius corneus) or the great pond snail (Lymnaea stagnalis). In general, numerous species of dragonflies and butterflies can be observed in the pond landscape over the course of the year. A grass snake meanders through the water with its head stretched and disappears in the reed thicket. You can watch this from a tiny wooden hut that can be reached via a narrow footbridge. Tricky for adults but great fun for kids.
In July, the rare little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) can be seen on the reed edges of the ponds
The second route of the nature trail leads around the village pond and deals about the theme ‚From fishermen and carp‘. It explaines the history of pond management then and today. The term Lusatia (german Lausitz) goes back to the Slavic luzicy and means ’swamp‘. A thousand years ago, the region was known as a marshland with extensive wet meadows, moor and alluvial forests. Ponds were created for drainage, which allowed pasture and arable land. At the same time, the newly created waters were used for fish farming. In this way a unique natural and cultural landscape was created. There are thirteen ponds around Guttau, all of which are connected by overflows and ditches. Thus, the water level can be regulated well. The ponds have no inflow. The only flowing water in the vicinity is the Löbauer Wasser, which flows around the pond area in a western and an eastern arm and unites with the Spree not far from Lömischau.
The Wartha meadows from the observation tower at the Brösa pond.
The eastern arm, the so-called Altes Fließ, feeds the Warthschen Wiesen, an extensive wet meadow between the Brösa pond and the Olbasee near Wartha. From the village pond, the third route ‚Reshaping of the landscape‘ leads through forest and later along fields and meadows. We pass another quiet section through deciduous forest and arrive at Brösa pond. There is an observation tower with view over the water on one side and the meadows on the other.
The wet meadow is a breeding area for common snipe, corn crake, reed bunting, red-backed shrike and stonechat. Deer can be seen here regularly. In the late summer even bee-eaters pull through and rest in the meadow. There is a large, square wooden platform on the lake. Common terns cavort there in a breeding colony, while greylag geese chase away in the afternoon in the fringe on the other side of the pond. With a little patience, nutria, kingfishers and water rails can also be observed here.
In September, when the hops are ripe, the skilful Green finches (Carduelis chloris) gather at lofty heights to nibble the seeds from the umbels
It is thanks to the diversity of species in the pond landscape that not a moment seems to pass without a discovery. A visit to the Guttau pond landscape offers nature that can be experienced throughout. Much of what is described in the brochures can actually be seen or heard for the careful observer.
In the visitor center an exhibition on the history and ecology of the ponds awaits the visitor. There is a small souvenir shop and a bistro. As a snack you can try, for example, pike and carp meatballs from the ponds, Viennese from Galloway from organic farming or cakes from regional bakeries, which, by the way, bake with the grain and poppy seeds that thrive on the farmland next to the visitor center. Behind the building there is an adventure playground that is second to none. A water and sand landscape with a pump, water wheel and metal buckets invites to damming ponds, creating canals and overflows and, above all, to splash around properly. Even “big kids” are not indifferent to this.
Water playground at the visitor center
As is often the case in other natural regions, it is advisable to stop by during the week, not only for undisturbed observation, but also for the sake of nature. As the centerpiece of the nature reserve, the pond area is of course a magnet for visitors. On top of that, the pond area is accessible to cyclists – which I cannot approve of everywhere, especially on the silent sections.
Even if the ponds are something of a nature-educational exhibit, their enormous biodiversity shows that it is above all a piece of nature and as such must also be perceived and respected.
To the PICKLE JAR
About the heath and pond landscape
Homepage of Nature Reserve Upper Lusatian Heath and Pond Landscape (partly in English) with a post about the Nature discovery trail ‚Guttau pond landscape‘ (German) including a map (German)
Homepage of visitor center ‚House of a Thousand Ponds‘ (German)
About the biosphere reserve
Website of the German UNESCO Commission: Biosphere reserves in Germany and Centuries-old fish farming and Germany’s most beautiful meadow
Libellula quadrimaculata at the pond ‚Schiedesteich‘