Youth exchange on World Heritage Beech Forests

In the European Wilderness Society’s BEECH POWER project, an expert consortium is working to improve the management of UNESCO World Heritage Beech Forests in Europe. In line with this, an exciting event took place in Angermünde, Germany with pupils from the locality and Starigrad-Paklenica, Croatia. From the 27th of September to the 2nd of October 28 young Germans and Croatians learned about the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe”. This is what connects the two groups: both live near the site. Two of the 94 Beech Forests of the UNESCO World Heritage site lie within their municipal areas, namely the Grumsin Beech Forest close to Angermünde and the Paklenica National Park in Starigrad-Paklenica. The ‘Beech Academy 2021’ exchange, which was about the Beech Forest and its importance to humans, had a key purpose:

With this meeting we’d like to give young people an international experience, where they can get to know people from different backgrounds, develop an interest in new languages and encounter a positive approach to diversity. The youth exchange is part of a town twinning we are striving for between the two World Heritage municipalities. In line with this, the exchange should take place regularly following this trial run.

Maren Michaelsen
Exchange organiser from Angermünde

Experiencing the Beech Forest

After some short presentations, the Croatians were able to discover Angermünde through a town rally organised by participating pupils from the Freie Schule Angermünde. The next day, they went on a hike from the Geopark-Centre in Groß Ziethen, past Grumsin Forest to Altkünkendorf, where they visited the info-point about the World Heritage Site and the lookout from the village church. 

Following a trip to Berlin, an especially unmissable experience for the Croatians, everyone took the World Heritage bus to the Angermünde Municipal Forest. Here the pupils learned about the state of the forest and forest management firsthand. Forestry service providers Peter Specht and Rafael Eckmann, responsible for the forest and tree inspection on the town council, brought the woods to the pupils’ doorsteps and closer to forest life with a guided hike. A joint tree planting initiative completed the forest experience. After that everyone enjoyed game sausages straight from the grill at the Adlerquelle.

From there the group drove to the NABU wildlife centre Blumberger Mühle, where a ranger greeted them, and celebrated in the evening with pizza from a clay stove. On Friday they had a farewell dinner organised by the parents at the Freie Schule Angermünde. The next day, it was finally time to say goodbye to the Croatian pupils. However, they will hopefully meet again at a reunion in Croatia where, with the help of Frederik Bewer, pupils will get to know the local Beech Forest area and build connections for a future town twinning and further student exchange programmes. Unfortunately the reunion planned for October was cancelled due to Covid restrictions. More information on the new date will follow.

A successful exchange

Despite some struggles and lost sleep, the week was well-received by the young people from Angermünde and Starigrad-Paklenica. They found the new environment and people particularly exciting. The pupils are also taking plenty of knowledge about the forest and nature home with them. 

I really enjoyed this week, as I got to meet new people, visit interesting places and learned new things. For example, I learned that stinging nettles are indicators for nitrogen. So when nettles are able to grow in a wooded area, it can mean that excess nitrogen from farming has spread into the nearby forest.

Arvin Geschorek
Pupil at Freie Schule Angermünde

More information on BEECH POWER can be found on the project website.

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