Germany’s last wild forests
Ancient Beech Forests of Germany, World Heritage site
The European beech (Fagus sylvatica) is one of the most important forest trees in Central Europe, constituting forests that once covered 40% of Europe. The serial site Ancient Beech Forests (ABF) of Germany, which was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 2011 as an extension to the site Primeval Beech Forests (PBF) of the Carpathians, protects some of the most beautiful and pristine of these forests.
The ABF site combines five component parts in the northern half of the Federal Republic of Germany that are representative of the colline-submontane (Kellerwald, Hainich) and planar (Serrahn, Grumsin, Jasmund) altitudinal zones: Kellerwald in the land Hessen, Hainich in Thuringia, Serran and Jasmund in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania as well as Grumsin in Brandenburg.
The PBF of the Carpathians, which is a serial property as well, includes some of the oldest beech forests with the greatest amount of biodiversity because they were the first to return after the retreat of forests during the last glacial period. The five German sites are much younger than the ones in the Carpathian. They are not “primeval”, but have small (5-50 hectares) primeval segments within them that have remained free from exploitation. The German sites are the best conserved, most natural and closest to beech-dominant primary forest sites remaining in Germany and have not been exploited for many decades and in some parts, over a century. They represent examples of on-going post-glacial biological and ecological evolution of terrestrial ecosystems and are indispensable to understanding how one species, the European beech, came to absolute dominance across a variety of environmental conditions.
All of the individual site components are surrounded by larger forested buffer zones and lie within larger national parks or biosphere reserves. They are subject to national law and are governed by the respective länder, with varying percentages of land under private ownership.
Hainich National Park, Kellerwald National Park and Jasmund National Park are managed as Category II protected areas according to the IUCN Protected Area Management Categories, whereas Grumsiner Forst and Grosser und Kleiner Serrahn Nature Reserve are Category IV protected areas.
View images of the World Heritage site
Size and Location
The component parts of the site are Jasmund and Serrahn, in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania; Grumsin in Brandenburg, Hainich in Thuringia, and Kellerwald in Hessen. They are distributed from the low mountains to the Baltic Sea. The other part of the serial World Heritage Site, the Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians, is located along the common boundary of Slovakia and Ukraine and is comprised of ten serial components.
The German sites cover a total of about 4,400 hectares, with buffer zones adding up to about 13,700 hectares. The World Heritage property PBF of the Carpatians extends to a size of almost 30,000 hectares, with buffer zones covering 48,700 hectares.
Flora and Fauna
The 11 species of the genus Fagus (beech) are restricted to the northern hemisphere – they are found only in the temperate nemoral zone of eastern North America, Europe, and Asia.
The European or copper beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) is not found outside of Europe and west Asia. The European beech represents the main climax tree species in the temperate zone of Central Europe and historically is a significant forest constituent in an area extending from the north of Spain and the south of England and Sweden, to the east of Poland, the Carpathian Arc and south of the Balkan and Apennine peninsulas.
Primary European temperate forests are rare, due to their long history of continuous exploitation by humans. Forests have long been used both directly for wood products and fuel, and indirectly through conversion to agriculture and settlement, as population increased. For all beech species only small refugia of undisturbed locations persist today and for more than half of the species it is even unclear whether there are any undisturbed areas remaining. Germany, being in the centre of the natural distribution of this forest type and having some of the largest areas of this forest type left, has a globally important role in the conservation of European beech forest ecosystems.
Natural European beech forests are often mono-dominant stands of this single species, yet they display an enormous spectrum of different plant associations (and associated biodiversity) underneath their canopies. However, many plants that constitute the ground vegetation are early bloomers that disappear once the foliage is developed, owing to the fact that only small amounts of sunlight penetrate the dense canopy of a beech forest. Typical species of the ground vegetation include oakforest woodrush (Luzula luzuloides), dog’s mercury (Mercurialis perennis), lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) and pendulous wood carex (Carex sylvatica).
The five components of the World Heritage Site reflect the spectrum of beech forest plant associations and their biodiversity, but are markedly different in base soil content, from the acidic in Serrahn and Kellerwald to the high lime soils of Jasmund and Hainich. They belong to two terrestrial ecoregions, Western European Broadleaf Forests and Baltic Mixed Forests. While these sites are not primeval, they do include small old-growth, previously unexploited areas within the larger nominated parts. They constitute forests that were never fully exploited, or have not been exploited or managed in recent decades. These sites are species-rich, especially with species indicative of old-growth, even undisturbed, deciduous and/or beech forests. However, unlike the PBF of the Carpathians, they are lacking the large mammals (bison, bear, wolf, etc.) indicative of primeval forests in Europe.
At present the five serial components are not subject to any proposed development or factors that may have a direct impact on their integrity. However, the small size and relative isolation of these remnant forests raises some concerns about their ecological resilience and viability. Increases in temperature related to climate change should not be a factor that will effect theses sites in a major way, but stress by dryness may be a concern in the future.
Dealing with the threats
None of the five components are subject to any forest exploitation or other development pressure and neither are the surrounding buffer zones.
A thorough monitoring of environmental parameters, visitor use impacts, and other resource issues such as managed control of wildlife impacts is in place, as well as management and spatial plans by the länder. Cooperative management agreements with local groups and tourism agencies contribute to the achievement of management goals. All five components have well-established, qualified and experienced professional and technical staff in place and visitor management is of a high standard.
Ecological research, monitoring and science programs are on-going. Various programmes and initiatives are in place to ensure local community engagement.
Hunting is used as a form of management intervention, notably in limiting the impact of deer on tree rejuvenation to protect the natural values of the sites.