Wilderness in Germany

In the last decade the Wilderness become an integral part of the German National Strategy on Biological Diversity. This strategy envisages that Wilderness cover 2 % of the German land area by 2020 and forests with natural forest development account for 5 % of the wooded area.

To meet this Wilderness target, the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) launched in 2012 a research and development project. The project formulated criteria for Wilderness in Germany within the meaning of the German National Strategy on Biological Diversity. Applying those criteria, potential Wilderness and Wild Areas  (woodland, coastal plains, moorlands, alpine areas) and potential Wilderness (former military exercises zones, former open cast mining landscapes) were identified by Prof. Rosenthal of the University of Kassel.

This process is supported by sophisticated marketing and communication. This, for example included also an online campaign to protect more Wilderness in Germany including a number of articles – Wildness in Germany,  approaching the general public and explaining the importance of this decision and showcasing wonderful shots of some of Germany’s most natural areas – from the Alps to the Wadden Sea.

The main objective of this approach is to disseminate Germany´s  Wilderness strategy to the society as much as possible. For example, the  films were targeted  at nature conservation events and festivals. The experience from this approach provides an excellent motivation and encouragement to the other European countries. The practical  outcome is that a large majority of Germans are in favour of protecting Wilderness.

As we can see Germany is taking a pretty serious approach to the protection of Wilderness. We congratulate Germany on this decision. Nevertheless, it is obvious that not all of the proposal areas will immediately fulfil all of the criteria of the European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System. Nevertheless, several areas representing some of the best Wilderness in Germany can join the European Wilderness Network almost right away. We are glad that Germany is going to play a significant role in the European Wilderness Movement and help us increase the total area of certified Wilderness from currently 313.993 ha to 500.000 ha in Europe by 2020.

Summarised this process Max A E Rossberg, Chairman of the European Wilderness Society.

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5 thoughts on “Wilderness in Germany

  1. Hi,

    this is a great map showing the status quo of Wild Areas according to the European Wilderness Definition. It shows the potential that exists, but also highlights between the lines the challenges. If you read the descriptions, you quickly see that almost all areas still allow hunting even in the Wilderness Zone. It also shows nicely the typical tourism pressure that Nationalparks category IUCN II have to master. Important information concerning “Habitat Fragmentation” and specifically issues like “Invasive Alien Species management” and “Fire Suppression regulations” are still missing. We already visited several of these areas in the last months and witnessed a good starting basis to quickly modify the respective management plans to comply with the European Wilderness Quality Definition and therefore officially including them in the European Wilderness Network.

    We are glad that Germany, with the support of the BfN and Wilderness Advocates like Dr. Fink, Prof Riecken, Dr. Klein, Dr. Scherfose und Dr.Ssymank and their team, has pushed for Wilderness for such a long time, that we now have a great basis to build upon. The fact that most of the areas are currently primarily Wild Areas is perfectly okay considering that over time they will move along the Wilderness Continuum as the human intervention and extraction is continuously reduced.

  2. Hello,

    the status of Wilderness is Germany is the following: Germany pledged to commit 2% of its landscape as non-intervention and non-traction wilderness. To identify these areas, they started a biographical process in 2012 and discovered a total of 1,2 mil ha of potential wilderness, more than then 714.000 ha Germany wants to designate. Most of those areas are defect wild areas, but given time the degree of human impact would be reduced. A backbone of this list, are the National Park core zones which will cover 75% of the areas of National Parks. In addition, several ex military and mining areas are included in this list as well.

    The European Wilderness Society audits Wilderness areas to see if they comply with the European defined standard. This has been done with the areas listed on our Website, including one in Germany: Königsbrücker Heide. We are aware that there will be several areas calling themselves Wilderness, but in fact they will barely meet the criteria for Wild Areas. During the next few years, several potential Wilderness in Germany are keen to see if they can meet the European Standard and preliminary analysis has shown that we will have a few German Wilderness going the European Wilderness Network as audited and certified Wilderness.

  3. Wildernessin Germany:
    It would be so nice if I could see at once WHERE a specifiec wilderness area (in Germany for instance) IS with the specific name of it!
    Now it remains very unclear.
    By clicking on a symbol on the article of “wilderness area Germany” I get a map of Europe with more “areas” (red symbols) and when I click on one to look for the specific name, details and location there is not showing any information.
    Quite unhandy.

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Join more 100+ forest experts demanding a radical change in German forestry management.

Sign the Open Letter to the German Federal Minister of Forestry and Agriculture

Open Letter to the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture

Federal Ministry of
Food and Agriculture
Minister Julia Klöckner
11055 Berlin

Dear Minister Klöckner,

The current situation of the forest in Germany is worrying. It is a forest crisis not only driven by climate change. The current crisis management of the forestry industry is backward-looking and harmful to the forest. The declaration announced at the meeting of ministers in Moritzburg can be described as a `Moritzburg declaration of bankruptcy´. We call on the state forestry industry to, instead of expensive rushed actions, finally carry out an expert analysis of its own work and to involve all stakeholders in this process. What is called for is a consistent departure from plantation forestry and a radical shift towards a management that treats the forest as an ecosystem and no longer as a wood factory.

On 1stAugust 2019, five forestry ministers of CDU and CSU-led states adopted a so-called “master plan” for the forest in Germany, which was affected by heat, bark beetles, fire and drought. As of 2020, the federal government is to make 800 million euros available as a reaction to climate change. This money is to be used to repair the damage caused, reforest the damaged areas and carry out `climate-adapted´ forest conversion – including the use of non-native tree species that have not yet been cultivated in the forest. Research should therefore focus on on tree species suitability and forest plant breeding in the future – keyword: `Climate-adapted forest of the future 2100´.

Remarkably, the damage caused primarily by the extreme drought of 2018 is attributed solely to climate change. Climate change is meeting a forest that is systemically ill due to the planting of non-native tree species, species poverty, monocultures, uniform structure, average low age, mechanical soil compaction, drainage etc. A healthy, resistant forest would look differently! The master plan emphasizes: sustainable, multifunctional and `active´ forest management remains indispensable – and thereby means that its unnatural state cannot be changed. Reference is made to the `carbon storage and substitution effects´ of wood products. The use of wood, e.g. in the construction industry, should be increased and thus the demand for wood should be further fueled – while knowing that the forest in Germany already cannot meet this demand. In fact, forest owners are suffering from poor timber prices due to an oversupply of trunk wood on the world market.

All these demands make clear: the current forestry strategy, which has been practiced for decades, should not change in principle. The concept is simple: cut down trees – plant trees. At best, the `design´ of the future artificial forests consisting of perfectly calculated tree species mixtures, that are believed to survive climate change without damages, can be changed. In all seriousness, the intention is to continue selling the public a so-called `future strategy´ to save the forest. This strategy seamlessly follows the model of a wood factory, that is met with general rejection and must be regarded as a failure in view of the coniferous plantations that are currently collapsing on a large scale. An essential part of the forests that have currently died is exactly the part that was reestablished in 1947 as coniferous monocultures on a much larger area than today. There is only one difference to the situation at the time: considerable amounts of money are to be made available from taxes for forest owners this time.

Climate change is progressing, and this, without a doubt, has massive impacts on all terrestrial ecosystems, including forests. To pretend that the last two years of drought alone caused the disaster is too cheap. On closer inspection, the disaster is also the result of decades of a forestry focused on conifers – in a country that was once naturally dominated by mixed deciduous forests. People do not like to admit that for more than 200 years they have relied on the wrong species of commercial tree (spruce) and have also created artificial, ecologically highly unstable and thus high-risk forest ecosystems. A whole branch of business has become dependent on coniferous wood. And now the German coniferous timber industry is on the verge of bankruptcy.

It would only have been honest and also a sign of political greatness if you and the forestry ministers in Moritzburg had declared: Yes, our forestry industry has made mistakes in the past, and yes, we are ready for a relentless analysis that takes into account not only purely silvicultural, but also forest-ecological aspects. Instead, you have confined yourselves to pre-stamped excuses that are already familiar to everyone and that lack any self-critical reflection.

Clear is: We finally need resting periods for the forest in Germany, which has been exploited for centuries. We need a new, ecologically oriented concept for future forest – not a hectic `forest conversion´, but simply forest development closer towards nature. This gives the forest as an ecosystem the necessary leeway to self-regulate and react to the emerging environmental changes. We need a systemic forest management that is no less profitable than the present one, but must be substantially more stable and resistant to foreseeable environmental changes. The aid for forest owners that all citizens are now required to pay through their taxes is only politically justified in the interest of common good, if the forests of the future that are being promoted by it, do not end up in the next disaster, some of which is produced by the forest management itself.

That is why the signatories request from the the Federal Government, and in particular you, Mrs Klöckner, a master plan worthy of the name:

On disaster areas (mainly in public forests!) reestablishment through natural forest development (ecological succession), among other things with pioneer tree species, is to be brought about. In private forests, ecological succession for reestablishment must be purposefully promoted. Larger bare areas should be planted with a maximum of 400 to 600 large plants of native species per hectare in order to permit ecological succession parallelly.
To promote ecological succession, the areas should no longer be completely and mechanically cleared; as much wood as possible should be left in the stand (to promote optimum soil and germ bed formation, soil moisture storage and natural protection against browsing). In private forests, the abandonment of use in disaster areas should be specifically promoted for ecological reasons and in order to relieve the burden on the timber market.

Regarding the promotion of reestablishment plantings in private forests: priority for native tree species (of regional origin); choose wide planting distances in order to leave enough space for the development of pioneer species. For the forests of the future: Minimize thinning (low-input principle), build up stocks through targeted development towards old thick trees, protect the inner forest climate / promote self-cooling function (should have highest priority due to rapidly progressing climate change!), prohibit heavy machinery, refrain from further road construction and expansion, permit and promote natural self-regulatory development processes in the cultivated forest and on (larger) separate areas in the sense of an compound system; drastically reduce the density of ungulate game (reform of hunting laws).

Like in the field of organic agriculture, which has been established since the 1980s, the crisis of our forests should be the reason today to transform at least two existing forestry-related universities. They should be turned into universities for interdisciplinary forest ecosystem management. This is a contribution not only to the further development of forestry science and silviculture in Germany, but also of global importance! The goal must be to produce wood through largely natural forest production and to start with it here in Germany, the birthplace of forestry.


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