Happy Birthday Swiss National Park

05 August 2014 | Article

 Swiss National Park - Graubünden, Switzerland

Background

One hundred years ago, Switzerland chose its very own national day as the inauguration date for its first - and only – national park. Fast-forward to 1 August 2014, the centenary of the Swiss National Park testifies to the continuing pride of the country in one of its remotest natural landscapes.

Since its foundation, the Swiss National Park has maintained an outstanding reputation for practice, research and education in conservation and biodiversity. IUCN has categorised the park as a strict nature reserve (1a), the highest protection level attributed to any protected area, taking account of its full protection, as well as research and monitoring in various fields of its ecology, geoscience and more recently socio-economic aspects. UNESCO declared the park biosphere reserve in 1979. Thanks to its 80km of hiking paths and nature trails, visitors can experience the beauty of nature in its purest and most spectacular form and support sustainable tourism in the whole Engadine valley.

To reflect the precious value of the park in its 100-year jubilee, numerous organisations have honoured it in various ways. The Swiss Mail launched a special stamp, Swiss Mint created a limited edition of a gold coin with the engraving "Parc Naziunal Svizzer", the official name of the park in the ladin language of the area. Others published special journal issues, and well-known companies from the private sector sponsored the various celebration activities in 2014. They all recognised the importance of the vision brought by the pioneers in 1914.

Their intention was to create an “open-air laboratory” where a part of Switzerland’s mountainous landscape could run free from human interference. But some nature restoration was also achieved during the first century of the park's existence: with the reintroduction of ibex and bearded vultures within the park perimeter, major gaps in the species' occurence in Switzerland were closed in the last decades.

View images of the park

 

Size and Location:

The park boundaries spread across 170 km2 (17,030 hectares) of rugged peaks and coniferous forests from the Eastern valley of Engadin to the mountains of Val Müstair in the canton of Graubünden, scraping the Italian border along the way.

Flora and Fauna:

The park is home to over two thousand species of flora and fauna. This includes the already mentioned bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), as well as some endemic species such as Draba ladina or Ranunculus pygmaeus.

Challenges (and threats):

Although the Swiss National Park is a success story, there were setbacks in the past, and there still remain challenges for the future. For example, the introduction of a waterpower system in the area dramatically changed the water regime of the river Spöl, which flows through the Swiss National Park. However, a cooperation between the waterpower agency and the national park allowed to reinstate a near natural water flow with several floods during the summer season.

A road crossing the area with 800’000 vehicles per year is a major problem, too. It reduces the impression of wilderness dramatically. In this case, the future must bring new approaches and solutions. On the other hand, with 150’000 visitors annually – all during the summer from June to October, the park is far from visitor numbers in other national parks of the world, and visitors thus have no major impact on the ecosystem.

Large predators became extinct in the area with the exception of the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), but some have recently returned. Their survival depends on a common management far beyond the national park, necessitating close collaboration with neighbouring organisations. This will be a major challenge for the future, along with ensuring ecological connectivity for many other species suffering from ongoing fragmentation around the best protected area of the Alps.