Our second visit was a personal one for me (Jonas). My first ever job in nature conservation was at the Naturpark Taunus, a nature park located in the Central Upland range of the Taunus mountains in Central Germany with an area of 1348 km2. I did a voluntary year called “FÖJ” here after I graduated from high school. Shortly before starting our trip, we decided to visit the Naturpark again and talk to the vice general manager Carolin Pfaff.
The term nature park or “Naturpark” in German is used in many different countries. However, nature parks can be vastly different constructs. In Italy, we visited a “Parco Naturale” a few years ago, which was a strictly protected area similar to a national park. However, the Naturpark Taunus is not a protected area. It is a public organization established in 1962 by the municipalities that is contains. Nevertheless, it does have a mission that is defined by the German environmental law to promote sustainable tourism, land use, regional development and biodiversity. In reality this means the main task of the Naturpark Taunus is to provide sustainable services to visitors, through creating and maintaining hiking and cycling trails, developing nature experience offers, youth educational activities and guided tours, as well as actively marketing regional products.
A disaster created a chance
For our visit, Carolin wanted to show us a special project that the Naturpark has recently implemented. Unfortunately, like much of Central Europe, the forest in the area has suffered massively from 2018 to 2020. These three dry and hot years have created perfect conditions for the spread of the bark beetle, which has wreaked havoc in spruce stands in the Taunus. Because of the drought, the spruces that normally grow in higher, wetter and colder areas were weakened and could not resist the bark beetles. Millions of larvae started feeding on the trees and cut their water and nutrient supply. The left-overs were hundreds of dead spruces that were then cut off and removed to stop the further spread. This is an ecological catastrophe and will have dire consequences for decades to come.
Nevertheless, it does create some opportunities for new approaches in forestry and nature conservation. Only a few days before, we saw how Trinkwasserwald and Hessen Forst (Hessen State Forestry) use the damaged areas to plant new mixed forests that are more suitable for the location. The Naturpark implemented a project that is just as important together with Hessen Forst. On a previously severely damaged forest area, they created a wetland biotope with three small ponds and picturesque little stream. This has several advantages:
- During rain, water flowing down the hill slopes is is now retained. Previously, this water regularly flooded basements on the foot of the slopes. Moreover, as on the bark beetle-hit areas the trees have been removed by the Hessen Forst, the ground dries out quickly and slows down the regeneration of the forest.
- A new wetland biotope is created. The ponds, streams and their banks provide new habitats that can be home to great biodiversity. To aid this, the Naturpark planted wetland trees and shrubs, like alder trees, elders, and Viburnum. In addition, they piled up tree material when they cleared the area for digging, which are perfect shelters for many species like the European wildcat that is currently reclaiming the Taunus.
- Visitors have a new beautiful educational natural sight. The new wetland biotope is right next to popular hiking trail, which now has a dynamic wetland instead of a sad patch of felled forest. It will also feature an information board in the future to explain visitors the processes they see and inform them about the project.
This is a great example of applied nature conservation and cooperation. Carolin cooperated with the local forester and the owner of the area Nassauischer Zentralstudienfonds to realize the project and got financial support from the German Ministry for Environment.
I hope this project will be an example for other locations. I already received many requests about it and I hope that the Naturpark will do more projects like this in the future.Carolin Pfaff, Naturpark Taunus
Valorising the region´s sustainable potentials
This cooperation is kind of the essence of a Naturpark. Even though it is a body that established in the federal law for nature conservation, its core mission, tasks, powers are quite open and the reality depends on local conditions. It is a link between the public department of nature conservation, the tourism board, municipalities, districts, forestry service, land owners and many other stakeholders.
In the Taunus, the Naturpark is characterized by its immediate connection to the metropolis of Frankfurt. One of the metro lines of Frankfurt ends right in front of the gate and headquarters of the Naturpark. People searching for activities and leisure in nature flock into the Naturpark by the thousands each weekend. This was especially crazy on snowy days in the last two Corona winters. From 7AM on, parking lots were packed and people started parking in the middle of the road. Eventually, the authorities had no choice but to shut down whole roads and areas of several km² to prevent the collapse of traffic and guarantee everyone´s safety.
While the Taunus is literally spilling over from too many tourists in frequented times, other, more remote Naturparks in Germany work hard to create attractive offers to draw in tourists and improve regional development. What unites them is the struggle for more recognition. Naturparks enable regions, with their traditions, culture and regional products, to continue developing, and thus the management bodies of Naturparks have to coordinate closely with local authorities and local interest groups and engage people in their work. In fact, many people are not even aware that they exist or that live / visit in the area of a particular Naturpark.
And of course, politicians, interest groups and stakeholders all have their own ideas, which Naturparks as middlemen have to conciliate. Unfortunately, this often does not leave much space (and money) for actual nature conservation. But with enthusiastic people like Carolin in charge, the Naturpark Taunus and other Naturparks can become important players to protect landscapes and nature on a large scale.
Get involved at home
Are you aware of nature parks, regional parks and landscape areas in your own country? And do you know if there are any in your vicinity? You can find out more country-specific information in Living landscapes by the Association of German Nature Parks and the Europarc Foundation. Nature parks need support and often have multiple opportunities for locals to support their efforts through volunteer activities. So, find out more about where can you get active at your doorstep and be an integral part in buiding a sustainable future for your region!