Šimonka National Nature Reserve, Slovakia

The reserve on the highest mountain of the region, Šimonka, extends from 980 m to the summit at 1092 m comprising the east, west and south-facing slopes of the summit area. Of the reserve’s 34 ha, 29 ha are virgin forest1. On the south-facing slope and on the southeastern ridge, there is younger even-aged beech forest that has probably been in the past a part of the meadow to its south (outside the reserve). However, most of the reserve – the gentle east-facing slope and the steep west-facing slope – meets all the characteristics of old-growth forest, having trees of all ages, windthrow gaps here and there, plenty of dead wood in all degrees of decomposition without traces of human activity1 (photo below).

Plenty of dead wood in European beech (Fagus sylvatica) – sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus) forest on east-facing slope at 1010 m

The reserve consists of beech – sycamore maple forest, the uppermost forest type in eastern Slovakia. There are also a very few wych elms (Ulmus glabra) and European ash (Fraxinus excelsior) in the forest. A few Norway spruce (Picea abies) can be seen near the trail but they are probably planted. Both beech and sycamore maple reach in this high elevation forest around 30 m (the tallest beech measured by me was 31.8 m and maple 29.3 m). The trees do not become as thick as at low elevations either. Around the summit trees reach only slightly more than 10 m in height. The summit is below the natural forest limit but a small viewpoint has been made by felling the trees on the summit.

Beech’s impoverishing influence on the undergrowth is easily visible here as sycamore maple is about as abundant: where several maples grow side by side, the undergrowth is much lusher than under beeches. However, the herbivore pressure is severe: there are no maple saplings more than 20 cm tall and even many beech saplings have been damaged. If the herbivore population remains dense the forest will develop towards pure beech forest. The shrub layer mostly comprises beech saplings.

A much-used and well-marked hiking trail passes through the reserve, leading to the summit of Šimonka. The trail begins at approx. 670 m elevation from a place called “Temný les” heading first directly east. The trailhead is at N49°00’20.4”, E22°19’48.4”. The trail is marked in green, then in yellow. First it runs over 3 km through managed forest with only the last 400 m in the reserve. The reserve is small and surrounded by cultural landscapes with distant human noises, thus any “wilderness feeling” is lacking. From the lookout point there is a gorgeous vista to the north to nearby mountains and cultural landscapes. In clear weather one can also see the over 2500-metre peaks of the High Tatras, about 100 km northwest. The summit is at the northern boundary of the reserve, so old-growth forest canopy cannot be seen from the lookout point.



  1. http://www.pralesy.sk/