Room for living landscapes

Josef Göppel, Member of the German Bundestag

Speech given on the 20th anniversary of the German Association for Landcare

Berlin, 6 June 2013

The three-part structure is proving its worth

Basically, the idea of landcare means cooperation on an equal footing between agriculture, nature conservation and local politics. This fair and balanced structure creates trust and pools forces.

‘That is the reason why I have promoted the idea of landcare associations from the outset, because it was robust enough to say that we are open to agriculture and to local politics. That is what convinced me of the idea of building up landcare associations’, as Klaus Töpfer, then Federal Minister for the Environment, said when the German Association for Landcare was founded here in Berlin on 4 June 1993.

This three-part social structure, organised on the basis of a one-third parity on the boards of the landcare associations, has proved its worth. All three groups will have to set out their concerns within this structure in future too. Then it will continue to be successful. The names make no difference. Whether we are speaking of local actions, land-conservation associations, biological stations or landcare associations – the deciding factor is voluntary cooperation on an equal footing between local authorities, agriculture and nature conservation.

That is the reason why landcare associations are mentioned specifically in Chapter 1, Article 3(4) of the Federal Nature Conservation Act as organisations which nature conservation authorities should engage, where possible, ‘for the implementation of landscaping and landscape-management measures’. At the time of this meeting, there are 155 associations operating in Germany with the objective of carrying out landcare measures on a cooperative basis, of which 140 are members of the German Association for Landcare. Of these, 92% employ full-time specialist staff trained in the fields of agriculture, forestry, landcare or biology. Across Germany, the landcare associations currently work together with some 10 000 farmers, of whom about 500 are transhumant shepherds. In response to a survey conducted in early 2013, 73 landcare associations indicated that they had won new farmers over to landcare in the past two years. Nevertheless, it is apparent that there is a visible process of concentration on specialist farmers in landcare too.

Areas of activity

Even after 20 years, traditional landcare remains the priority area of activity. Of the associations surveyed by our Federal party manager, Dr Jürgen Metzner, 94% plant new hedgerows and rows of trees, organise the care of species-rich grassland or tend orchards. Exactly 50% of landcare associations organise the marketing of regional products, in order to obtain more funds for biotope management. Meanwhile, 29% have begun to process landcare material in biogas plants and wood chip heating systems to generate energy. It is becoming increasingly important to carry out compensatory or substitution measures in a manner that is technically flawless. And 71% of German landcare associations are now involved in the organisation of compensatory measures. It has become clear that much can be achieved with what are known as production-integrated measures in normal agricultural areas. In terms of the survival of man’s fellow creatures in our country, however, that is still not enough. Where open, breathing soil is sealed, new habitats must be created elsewhere. That can also be done by opening sealed areas or improving other land. The key factor is to ensure that a variety of animals and plants can live there. The Federal Ordinance on Compensation must not become a soft touch. Those who call for compensation money instead of real compensatory measures must realise that the compensation money will also have to be used in a specific area at some point. Anything else would make a mockery of the polluter-pays principle and mislead the public. Over the past 20 years, the settlement and transport infrastructure area of the Federal Republic of Germany has risen from 12% to 14%. Without the obligation to pay compensation, land development would spread relentlessly. The only way for those who oppose the use of land for nature to be credible is for them to begin by also opposing intervention.

Agricultural reform 2014

Anyone who loves their home country cannot remain neutral in the debate about the future face of our land. We want to live in a land that is highly civilised and technically advanced, but in which the plant and animal species of our natural heritage also have room to survive. Here we have to face up to what is now the sorest point: since the 1980s, the number of bird species in Europe’s agricultural land has fallen by almost 50%.  The population of ground-breeding birds such as skylarks, lapwings and partridges has declined dramatically. That is a sign that the last decades really have led to the kind of intensification that is not consistent with the need for sustainable farming. That is why the landcare associations are calling for ecological focus areas. A level of 5% is not enough to halt the decline in the number of species, but it is a start. The landcare practitioners are deeply grateful to Commissioner for Agriculture Dacian Cioloş for his initiative to define binding ecological focus areas. Now it is important to raise the level to 7% in the middle of the funding period without a completely new legislative procedure, otherwise nothing will come of it. From the point of view of landcare, the structure of the ecological focus areas can be flexible depending on local conditions. For example, the German Association for Landcare has supported the cultivation of clover and alfalfa on environmental priority areas in every opinion for Brussels. It is crucial to create a binding link with agricultural premiums, to ensure the development of a real mosaic of areas in which a variety of species can survive.

The European landcare organisations have submitted three requests for the final weeks of the trialogue, the negotiations between Parliament, the Council and the Commission, in Brussels.

1.    Associations of farmers for the purpose of preserving the natural heritage must continue to be regarded as active farmers in future too.
2.    The definition of grassland must also include extensive rough pastures, meadows and moors, because otherwise their use can no longer be maintained.
3.    The ‘rural development’ programme and its rural environmental measures are clearly underfunded in terms of the aims it has set itself. The only way to resolve that problem now is by a limited restructuring from Pillar I to Pillar II and concentrating the programme on making public goods available.

Head of Cabinet Georg Häusler set out an important roadmap for all landcare associations in a letter to the German Association for Landcare dated 11 April 2013. He wrote: ‘If landcare associations open up new areas of activity, they can certainly be regarded as newly established forms of cooperation and therefore be eligible for the subsidies under Article 36 of the new Regulation.’ That opens up a broad new area of activity for landcare associations, namely the farm-level management of ecological focus areas on behalf of the relevant landowners. I call this natural value management, because the skilful siting of these areas increases the natural value of farmland while at the same optimising its integration into operational practices.

Landcare Europe

The new political context from 2014 onwards really calls for a network of European landcare organisations. For the past two years corporations from what are now six member states have been preparing for this. The objective is to create a platform in Brussels for landcare organisations that carry out practical work and feed their experiences into the European bodies on an ongoing basis. Luxembourg has already offered to set up a joint office.

There is enough to be done. One example is ‘simplification’ of the legislation on seeds that Health Commissioner Tonio Borg submitted in early May. Under the current text, regional varieties fall by the wayside. Relegating those varieties to mere hobbies would be counterproductive in terms of the diversity and genetic stability of European flora.

Foundation for German Landscapes

Our Foundation for German Landscapes (Stiftung Deutsche Landschaften) was set up 11 years ago. It now has funding of EUR 1.3 million, takes over the responsibility of individual landcare associations to invest their money well and securely and ensures that returns from the money go into the planning of project-related measures. That provides the German landcare associations with an instrument that makes them interesting to large organisations such as the Federal Network Agency (Bundesnetzagentur) or Deutsche Bahn as implementing partners for compensatory measures. What an individual association cannot manage on its own we can do by working together!

Partners with the authorities

Even when the German Association for Landcare was founded 20 years ago, landcare was described as a form of implementing organisation that would support the local and state authorities. That is still the case today. Landcare associations ensure the correct use of public funding and carry out the necessary area checks. That makes life somewhat easier for the Land authorities. Matters the landcare associations put before them are decided locally and meet with broad acceptance. In particular, the involvement of local politicians gives moral support to the rural and environmental administrations during budget discussions. The landcare associations are gradually creating the kind of climate of constructive cooperation in the environmental area that has been regarded as normal for decades in the social area between the administration and the associations of statutory welfare organisations.

The Federal Ministry of Agriculture grants the Association for Landcare basic institutional support, which currently accounts for 18% of our budget. For that, I am most grateful to the leadership of the ministry, Minister Ilse Aigner and Secretary of State Peter Bleser, as I am to my Bundestag colleagues in the Committee on Budgets. The Association for Landcare wants to justify their trust with the expertise of their work, especially by putting constant, ongoing practical experience at the ministry’s disposal. In the case of the Federal Ministry of the Environment, nature conservation has receded slightly into the background in terms of the public perception because of the controversial debates on the switch to renewable energy. Yet that ministry’s support for the associations and projects remains crucial to the introduction of technical innovations.


In conclusion, let me just say a special word to the board members and directors of the landcare associations represented here. When I visit our member associations, I am constantly impressed by the extremely high personal commitment shown by the men and women on the spot. Only idealists can do such successful development work over the long term. My warmest thanks go to them, the board members and directors of the regional landcare associations. Our good reputation is based on the high quality of their work! We will not stop seeking adequate funding for this work from political quarters. That makes it all the more necessary to enshrine our ideas among the many people who are prepared to do something for nature in their country. That is what the title picture on the invitation card to this landcare day is meant to express: 200 hands up for nature. In the world of social networks, such activities can also change politics, as 1.5 million electronic votes against the privatisation of drinking water have shown. Landcare associations are engaged in a great project. They are safeguarding the precious value of our earth. In our technological world, many people still yearn to protect what is natural, genuine and distinctive. If we keep that guiding principle in our hearts we will continue to be successful in coming decades too.