Nature & landscape in the Fichtelgebirge mountain range

Two natural habitats characterize the landscape

The landscape of the Fichtelgebirge can essentially be divided into two very different
natural habitats: as an open granite mountain wall, the High Fichtelgebirge with its
highest elevations, the Schneeberg mountain (1053 m) and the Ochsenkopf
mountain (1024 m), encircles the landscape of the Selb-Wunsiedler-Plateau, which is
also known by the name “Sechsämterland”. The entire mountain range forms the
shape of a horseshoe open towards the northeast.
The entire mountain range of the High Fichtelgebirge is covered by an almost
completely contiguous forest area that stretches from the Kornberg mountain in the
north-east via the Schneeberg and Ochsenkopf massif to the Kösseine mountain in
the south-west. The meagre soil and, most of all, the cool and wet climate were
unsuitable for agriculture. Thus, it had been difficult to found settlements on
mountains. Places in the High Fichtelgebirge, such as Bischofsgrün, Fichtelberg or
Warmensteinach were founded because of mining. Like islands in a sea of trees,
they lie as clearing islands in the large forests.
The countryside in the Inner Fichtelgebirge presents almost a reverse mirror image.
About 1000 A.D., stronger settlement started. Many of the villages and towns still
existing today were founded in what is called the “Sechsämterland”. The forest was
cleared for the largest part and meadows and fields were cultivated instead. It was
only where the soil was too poor for agriculture, on the higher altitudes or in the
region of the moors, that forests continued to exist which, however, were also
strongly utilized. Thus, it is the wooded areas that lie like islands in the cultural
landscape between villages and towns.

Two climatic zones ensure diversity

This shape also causes large climatic differences within the Fichtelgebirge. The
western part, in particular the mountains, are Atlantic in character. High precipitation
(up to more than 1200 mm) and, resulting from the high altitude, partly extremely cool
temperatures characterize this landscape (Schneeberg mountain: annual mean
temperature 3.7 degrees Celsius). One result of this extreme climate are the
numerous moors in the Fichtelgebirge and the natural mountain and alluvial forests in
the higher altitudes.
At the same time, however, the mountain range acts like a shield against the main
wind direction and thus protects the Inner Fichtelgebirge, as the Selb-Wunsiedler-
Plateau is also called, from the westerly winds and rain. At the same time, the
opening towards the east allows influences from the continental climate. As a result,
very different and diverse habitats could develop in close proximity in the

Important connection for habitat connectivity and biodiversity

This large number of different habitats give home to a correspondingly large
multitude of plants and animals. The large diversity of species (biodiversity) is even
increased by the fact that the Fichtelgebirge represents a mountainous connection
between the Franconian Forest, Franconian Switzerland, the Upper Palatinate Forest
and the Bavarian Forest as well as the Ore Mountains. Especially the Ice Ages forced
animal and plant species to migrate to ice-free regions. Even today, you can still find
ice-age relics in the Fichtelgebirge; those are animal and plant species which
survived in the Fichtelgebirge after the Ice Ages whereas they have long disappeared
in other areas.
As at that time, the low mountain ranges are still important retreats as well as
migration and distribution axes. The extensive and quiet woodlands offer protection
from humans to shy animals and sensitive plants. Animals living in or near water are
dependent on rivers and streams to migrate or spread. The Fichtelgebirge as
headwaters of many watercourses is connected with the North Sea and the Black
Sea via the large rivers Main, Eger, Saale and Naab as connecting axes. Added to
this, there are many species which find their human-made habitats in a richly
structured cultural landscape.
So, no matter whether by land or by water, the Fichtelgebirge forms a crossing of
migration and distribution paths of the flora and fauna and connects the habitats from
all over the central European region. There are first scientific indications that, as a
result, the flora and fauna of the Fichtelgebirge might show a greater genetic diversity
than those of other areas. This could all contribute to the fact that so many rare
animals and plants were able to survive in the Fichtelgebirge until today whereas
they have long become extinct in other natural habitats.