What happens in a rather intensively managed commercial woodland when nature is left alone and humans no longer intervene in natural processes?
The result of this experiment can be seen today in the Bavarian Forest National Park, the oldest national park in Germany which this year is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
The history of Germany’s first national park is also a story of nature conservation in Germany. A spark for raising awareness of nature conservation in Europe was the foundation of the Yellowstone National Park in the USA in 1872.
Soon afterwards in Germany, the Bavarian Forest, a densely forested low mountain range situated in southeastern Germany along the border with the Czech Republic, was considered particularly suitable for a nature reserve.
The planning was well advanced in the 1930s, but the Second World War thwarted the project.
We want a primeval forest for our children and grandchildren - Hans Eisenmann, former Bavarian Minister of Agriculture
After the war, the project was in great jeopardy of being abandoned. In the mid-1960s, the local and regional governments even planned to establish a new ski resort in the area between the Bavarian Forest’s mountains Rachel and Lusen. This was meant to attract tourism and thus guarantee income for the underdeveloped and structurally weak area.
The tide only turned in favour of the conservationists when the famous German wildlife filmmaker and celebrity conservationist Bernhard Grzimek, who was known worldwide for his commitment to the Serengeti National Park in Tansania, got involved in the discussion.
One day Grzimek talked about the Bavarian Forest on his TV show and called for donations for 300 brown bears. To promote this project he later visited the Bavarian Prime Minister in Munich.
When he left the State Chancellery, Grzimek spoke in front of all the TV cameras: "We have decided on a national park!".
In fact , they had not, but now Grzimek had turned it into a self-propelling political debate. In the end, the Bavarian Forest National Park was opened on October 7, 1970 without bears, but with lynxes, bisons and wolves.
Letting nature be nature - Guiding principle of the Bavarian Forest National Park
Today the Bavarian Forest National Park, together with the adjacent Šumava National Park (with national park status since 1991) in the Czech Republic, makes up part of the largest interconnected protected area of forest in Central Europe with 24,250 hectares, around 72 % of which is pristine natural zone .
The guiding principle of the national park administration is “Letting nature be nature”. This means in concrete terms that in the natural zone, wind and snow breaks are no longer cleared out, and the bark beetle is not combated. This has caused and today still causes disagreement among some people.
It has however been proven that the forest really does not need human intervention. Wherever it is allowed, nature regenerates all by itself.
In this way, the next generations will be able to experience a primeval forest in which expansive natural forests with wild mountain streams and bogs determine the landscape and where rare animals like lynx and capercaillie, otters and Ural owls, even sporadic wolves find one of their last refuges in Central Europe.
We must all work together to ensure that this amazing woodland is preserved for future generations. - Dr. Jane Goodall, primatologist and anthropologist on the 50th anniversary of the Bavarian Forest National Park
Have a look at the trailer of the cinema documentary film "DER WILDE WALD - 50 Jahre Nationalpark Bayerischer Wald” (coming out soon), which offers impressive glimpses into the untouched nature of the Bavarian Forest National Park.
With up to 1.4 million visitors a year, who can explore the park on 300 kilometres of hiking trails and 200 kilometres of bike paths, the Bavarian Forest National Park has nowadays become a tourist magnet and an important source of income for the region.
Please find more information on the park here.
The Bavarian Forest National Park was a milestone for nature conservation in Germany and to date another 15 national parks have been opened. The most recent of which has already been reported here.
Photo 2: ©Steffen Krieger, Photo 3: ©Reinhard Rauscher, Photo 5: ©Franz Leibl