Conserve diversity! Practical landscape management

An article of Josef Göppel in the publication "Full of Life" - UNESCO Biosphere Reserve - Model Regions for Sustainable Development

Until the 1980s the concept of “landscape management” in Germany was largely geared towards biotope conservation. The unification of Germany in 1990 resulted in a more comprehensive outlook: the focus of landscape management was no longer just small undeveloped areas, but also extensive cultural covering thousands of hectares.

At the same time, regional competition was flourishing and a close connection between intact landscapes and a general tendency to invest became apparent. Good opportunities for leisure and distinctive cultural characteristics were important locational factors. Over-exploited areas and those which had been neglected, however fell behind in a regional competition.

Turning attention to what was happening in the regional economy brought landscape management out of its niche existence. Building a network of natural living spaces was to be the main priority from then on and, alongside this, an increasing number of initiatives were taken to produce and market typical regional products.

The Landscape Management Associations provided a new direction in terms of organisation. Above all, they quickly gained a foothold in areas with poor agricultural profits. Today, around 140 Landscape Management Associations operate in twelve of the 16 German Länder. Their key feature is the parity they encourage in decision-making between local politicians, the different occupations that work with the land and the executives of nature conversation groups. In practice, this fair and balanced approach creates a lot of trust and helps to settle conflicts on the spot.

The groups that work with the land include farmers and foresters, hunters, fishermen, tour operators, typical regional tradesmen and also people pursuing leisure activities, such as climbing or white water rafting. The motto of the Landscape Management Associations is to include all good ideas and exclude no one.

As a rule, the private associations are welcome for helpers for the government authorities. Like the associations for voluntary social work, Landscape Management Associations help to carry out governmental tasks.

Fifteen years of experience show that considerably more initiatives can be implemented through such action alliances than by the government working alone. Landscape Management Associations do not draw up plans. Their responsibility is to prepare run, control and render the accounts of concrete projects. Plans are not in short supply in Germany– the bottleneck occurs when they are being implemented!

Besides building a network of habitats for creatures living alongside humans and strengthening the regional added value, a permanent task of landscape management is to introduce people to the nature on their doorstep.

Many people are so wrapped up in the civilised world today that they almost fail to notice their surrounding landscape. The average German spends less than one hour a day in the open air. Television and the internet lead children to believe in a world in which everything seems possible.

However, even the best films can not replace the smell of a meadow in summer, the coolness of a shady running stream or an apple picked directly from the tree. If adults haven’t experienced real nature as children, it will be difficult to inspire them with enthusiasm about its conversation. This demonstrates the broad and rewarding areas of responsibility confronting the Landscape Management Associations.

Practical landscape management faces particular challenges in biosphere reserves. On the one hand, more accurate and specialist material is available and as a rule, there are better principles for planning. On the other hand, action taken must satisfy higher quality standards.

There are also differences in the working. The management of a Landscape Management Association normally is left on its own. However, when cooperation with a biosphere reserve as pecialist qualified administration is working by its side. This leads to more intensive preparation and follow-up controls of all stages of work. In short, specialist landscape management is a task of prime importance for the Länder in Germany. In comparison, all other political matters only fulfil a complementary function. Unfortunately, during times when finances are limited, commitment to sustainable development can wane. With the exception of the Länder Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia, the Landscape Management Associations and Biological Centers still do not have a guaranteed financial basis.

In view of the uncertain professional financial future of many managers, their idealism is admirable. It is politically fair, however, to honour payments for the services provided by private associations that fulfil public duties.

For many men and women involved in the landscape and regional initiatives the political backgroundmust also be mentioned. They feel the pressure coming from globalisation to standardise all forms of life, language, clothing, food, building styles and leisure activities. People who have set themselves the goal of preserving the diversity of all living creatures are affected by this to the core. The ecological focus of the long-standing goal of landscape management to conserve diversity is suddenly taking on a cultural dimension. Is the balance between regional concerns and global economies successful?

The unlimited liberalisation brought about by world trade is increasingly criticised because it has broadened, not narrowed the gap between the rich and the poor. Regional initiatives counteract this to a certain extent. As a result of regional initiatives, people settle in well-defined cycles of life with an independent profile and thus contrast the people who live in the centralised industrialised word and are being deprived of their soul.

Josef Göppel

Goals of Landscape Management Associations

  • To build an extensive network of natural living spaces to preserve foundations of life in all cultural landscapes in Germany.
  • To provide agriculture with a reliable supplementary income form nature conversation and to support the marketing of typical regional products.
  • To provide initiatives for an ecologically focused economy development and an environmentally friendly use of land. These should bring out the exceptional qualities and activate the strengths of the individual regions.
  • To open eyes for the landscape on their doorstep and allow all levels of the population to experience real nature through targeted actions.

Source: German LandscapeManagement Associations (DVL),

Special Report of the Federal Government Advisory Council of Experts on the Environment in 1996:

Concepts for a Sustainable Use of the Rural Environment

“Landscape Management Associations have proved to be effective organisations for putting the goals of landscape management and nature conversation into practice. (…) Integrating all groups affected has been a successful way of promoting acceptance and taking advantage of the wealth of expertise of all participants. (…) The German Advisory Council of Experts on the Environment recommends that Landscape Management Associations be institutionalised and supported in the implementation of regional land use concepts an communal landscape planning."