Under Pressure: Germany’s oldest Beech Forest

In Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Heilige Hallen, the oldest beech forest in Germany is under threat. Despite being part of a strict nature reserve, Totalreservat (an area free from human intervention and influence) the beech forests of Heilige Hallen suffer from excessive felling and thinning in the neighbouring Natura 2000 site.

Abuse of Protection Status

Although it has a long history as a protected area, having been assigned its status as a Totalreservat by the Grand Duke Georg of Strelitz in the 19th century, recent developments have resulted in a deterioration of these ancient forests. Since the 1950s, there has been no management taking place in the core area in Heilige Hallen. 

However, components outside of this core area are the parts being negatively impacted by irresponsible activities. In some Natura 2000 areas, legal opinions have been released that suggest felling without the carrying out of an environmental impact assessment occurred. This has become a contentious issue, with the Forstamt Lüttenhagen (Lüttenhagen Forestry Office) refusing to provide information in accordance with the German Environmental Information Act. Too much felling and thinning of areas surrounding the Totalreservat led to a drop in the resilience of the ecosystem, resulting in the death of trees during the extreme weather events that occurred during the summers of 2018 and 2019.

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Creating and maintaining functional Ecosystems

The BEECH POWER project seeks to address these issues, ensuring that beech forest management takes into consideration an ecosystem-based approach. A current focus of BEECH POWER is the improvement of management quality and its potential influence on ecosystems surrounding beech forests that are part of the UNESCO World Heritage site ‘Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe’. In course of a series of online workshops, international experts are currently working together to develop a Code of Management Quality to support the managers of World Heritage Beech Forest component parts.

As shown by the example of Heilige Hallen, management of areas surrounding the protected beech forest areas also must be considered. The sound interaction between strictly protected beech forest areas and their surrounding areas is crucial for maintaining their ecosystem functionality and integrity. Particularly due to changing conditions brought about by climate change, the need for an ecosystem-based approach in the context of management quality and effectiveness is required to improve the resistance and resilience of strictly protected beech forests and to ensure their value continues to be preserved. 

Research on this issue was conducted by the Centre for Econics and Ecosystem Management, based at the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development.