62 sites in Germany with a total surface area of 31,000 ha will be returned to nature. This decision was taken by the federal budget committee of the Bundestag yesterday. The sites in question are government-owned derelict military sites which will not be put up for privatisation but dedicated to nature conservation purposes.
Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks explained: "By transforming areas of the former exclusion zone along the German-German border, no longer used for military purposes, into nature conservation sites, we are making use of a historical opportunity. Today we are fortunate to be able to complete this transfer. We want to preserve this natural heritage for future generations."
The 62 sites add up to a total of 31,000 ha, thus corresponding approximately to the surface area of three national parks. This brings the nature conservation area permanently under management of the federal government up to 156,000 ha. While the last two transfers to nature conservation during the last two terms of government concentrated in particular on areas in the eastern part of Germany, this third reallocation covers areas throughout the country.
The highest nature conservation standards will apply to these sites. As a general rule bogs and alluvial meadows will be developed to a near-natural state. Heath moors will be preserved as habitat for rare plant species and a large number of endangered animal species. Forests, making up the lions-share of the sites, will be left to their natural development and thus returned to the wild. With this last initiative the federal government is making an important contribution to achieving the goal of leaving five percent of German forests to their natural development.
"Forest areas free of any intervention are indispensable for the preservation of biological diversity. Certain bat and woodpecker species, the lesser spotted eagle and beetles such as the stag or hermit beetle rely on these intervention-free areas. However, our national natural heritage also includes open range habitats such as sand heaths, which require a specific plant regime and are habitat in particular to species such as the hoopoe, the nightjar and several heather varieties. In total this is a major contribution to preserving biodiversity in Germany", Beate Jessel, head of the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, commented.
Management responsibility of the areas will be transferred to different organisational units such as the federal constituent states, the Federal Environment Foundation and NGOs. The federal government is also stepping up its efforts in managing and developing national natural heritage sites. In future approximately 18,000 ha will be managed by federal government-owned institutions. The allocation of sites to these new institutions will be made by the budget committee.
A large number of these new natural heritage sites is located close to cities and will offer the local population opportunities to enjoy nature and provide recreational space. The new nature conservation institutions responsible in future for the derelict military sites intend to open them to the public while keeping sensitive areas free from intervention.