"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent."

Thus spoke Sir Winston Churchill, in the company of President Harry S. Truman, on March 5, 1946, at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri.

But this Iron Curtain was not a single boundary, but two fences (mostly) separated by a furlong or so (5 furlongs = 1 kilometre) with a no-man’s-land in between.

As the map (based on one from http://europeangreenbelt.org/) shows, the Iron Curtain, which actually stretched from the Artic Ocean to the Mediterranean and Black Seas, did not stop at the limits spoken of by Churchill. In Germany it moved west as the eastern part of that country was assimilated by the Stalinborg, leaving Szczecin (formerly Stettin) far inside. As Albania and then Yugoslavia fell out with Uncle Joe in the Kremlin, more no-go zones were created. No-go for man, but a corridor for wildlife which could still migrate from north to south as the seasons changed. This strip had some special features about it:

No agriculture: only a bit of ‘gardening’ required to stop trees from growing up so as to allow the border guards to see across.

No herbicides or pesticides: this allowed all sorts of wild flowers typical of meadows to grow, and the insects that fed on them, and the birds that fed on the insects and the seeds.

Landmines: these left craters which became wildlife ponds.

Unmanaged stretches of river which coincided with borders were allowed to develop in their natural meandering way.

As a young man, a doctor named Kai Frobel lived very near the German part of the Iron Curtain, on the west side, near Coburg. He saw how that security zone along the Iron Curtain had become a de-facto wildlife reserve. After the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, he threw his energies into getting these wildlife reserves preserved, and now runs the Ribbon of Life project which seeks the continuation of these areas. He is associated with BUND (Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland) who are the German branch of "Friends of the Earth".

Recently there was a BBC Television programme in the Natural World series called "Iron Curtain, Ribbon of Life". I can only outline a few of the highlights.

Starting in the north, in the forest between Finland and Russian, we saw a European Wolverine in action. And I thought wolverines were strictly North American animals.

Coming to Germany, there were so many beautiful songbirds. These might have been shot and eaten in southern Europe!

Still in Germany, farmers who had taken over some of the land were persuaded to allow Great Bustards to continue to thrive. These are Europe’s biggest bird, distinct from the fluffy yellow species found on Sesame Street.

One strange thing is that between Bavaria and the Czech Republic, deer that were prevented from crossing the border at the wire fences still do not cross it, nearly 20 years later.

In Slovenia, wild white daffodils thrived along the border. These are highly poisonous, and so farmers would have liked to eliminate them so that they could graze their cattle there. However, since they attract tourists, they have been spared, and have become part of the local economy.

Between Hungary and Croatia, the river Drava was allowed to go its own way. Besides creating oxbow lakes in its meanderings, it also ate away its banks creating sandbanks which are ideal condominium sites for sand martins. (Note: martins are birds, martens are small carnivorous mammals.)

Between Bulgaria and Turkey there is still a border with controlled crossing. However, the border guards there have also become wildlife wardens, looking after the Imperial Eagles which thrive there, as well as between Bulgaria and Greece.


Churchill’s speech: http://history1900s.about.com/library/weekly/aa082400a.htm

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