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Tribute to the beech on the Day of the Forest

Not all forests are the same: Germany’s beech forests are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a European treasure.

© picture-alliance/dpa

Its scientific name is Fagus sylvatica: the copper beech. For millennia it ruled the landscape undisputed. After the last Ice Age it conquered huge swathes of the European continent. Great beech forests grew from the Mediterranean to southern Sweden. That would still be the case today if it were not for humanity. The beech forest is a very stable ecosystem. It rejuvenates slowly but continuously.

Even so, more and more of these forests disappeared over the centuries as a result of deforestation and changes in land use – a great loss, because the biodiversity they contained was enormous. Their value was not recognized until it was almost too late. In 2007 UNESCO declared Europe’s last remaining primeval beech forests as World Heritage Sites. These majestic stocks on the slopes of the Carpathians – in Slovakia and Ukraine – have survived and are now rigorously protected.

Strictly speaking, there are no more primeval beech forests in Germany. However, extended, near-natural types of beech forest with varying age structures can still be found in some places. In the summer of 2011, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Paris declared five German beech forests covering a total of 4,400 hectares as World Heritage Sites: the Kellerwald-Edersee National Park in Hesse, the Hainich National Park in Thuringia, the Grumsiner Forest in Brandenburg, the Forest of Serrahn in the Müritz National Park and Jasmund National Park on the island of Rügen, both in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

Almost all these forests are in national parks and open to the interested public. The aim is that the old beech forests will continue unfolding their own natural dynamics without interference from forestry – so that future generations can also experience what a real forest is.

International Day of the Forest on 21 March