In large areas of the Siebengebirge we leave nature be, and we give a lot back to her and also to ourselves. “A home for sister beech and brother woodpecker”, as Francis of Assisi might have put it.
Beech forests, our natural heritage
Once, the beeches covered large parts of Germany, but today we find them on only seven percent of their possible area, and little more than 5% of these beech forests are older than 160 years (source: Verschönerungsverein für das Siebengebirge, VVS). However, the European beeches exist in Western Europe only, and they are our natural heritage.
The more joy I feel when I see all the old beeches that have remained here in the Siebengebirge, and it is so important that we preserve them. There are 140-150 year old beeches at Mount Nonnenstromberg, 145-165 year old beeches in the natural forest cell at Mount Petersberg. Our oldest beeches and also oaks stand at the mountains Ölberg and Nonnenstromberg, they are 185 years old (source: VVS).
The forests disappeared
Since the early Middle Ages, people cleared the forests for agriculture. Later on, they did so even more to make room for the steadily growing population. But all sense of balance got lost. In 1342, when the devastating St. Mary Magdalene’s flood swept over large parts of Europe, only 10-15% of the forests had remained. Despite the catastrophe, hardly anything changed during the following centuries, just think of the devastating quarries in the Siebengebirge.
A European concern
Today, Central Europe is a centuries-old cultural landscape, densely populated and densely built-up. Many animals and plants have disappeared forever, and we scarcely have primeval forests left. Today, it is a European concern to protect our remaining wilderness.
On 3 February 2009, the European Parliament adopted the “European Parliament Resolution of 3 February 2009 on Wilderness in Europe”. It called on the European Commission, among other things, to establish a European definition of wilderness, to list the potential areas and to support the European Wilderness Society in managing these areas.
The European Wilderness Society, based in Austria, is a non-profit European non-governmental organisation whose mission is to identify and certify Europe’s last wilderness, wild coasts, rivers, forests and islands and to support sustainable and eco-friendly marketing measures (nature tourism), in order to preserve the areas forever (source: German Wikipedia).
Also in the Siebengebirge many paths lead into the wilderness. “Wilderness Siebengebirge” is an important concern of the VVS and the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
By now have about 800 hectares of wilderness here, in the core area between Petersberg, Ölberg and Löwenburg and at the Dollendorf Hardt, Weilberg, Hartenbruch and Himmerich.
Here, we leave nature be, the forests can grow and decay in natural harmony. Mixed forests with conifers that are non-natives to these forests are gently converted into natural deciduous forests, but that’s all the foresters do. This is an adventure in which we humans can participate and grow ourselves. “We do not know what to expect but already we can see the first signs of new growth and decay and an emerging biodiversity. We do not want to interfere. Patiently, we observe selected wild forests while learning to understand them,” says the website Wilderness Areas NRW.
“A home for sister beech and brother woodpecker”,
as Francis of Assisi might have put it.
Back to the beeches. They can live to be 300 years old, and in the wilderness they can do so in peace. Here, the old trees can decay when their time has come. Dead wood is not removed, and woodpeckers can breed in their hollows in peace.
We human beings are part of creation, as are the animals, the plants and each and every being in nature. May we all live happily together, with care and respect for one another.