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[EXP] Landcare associations in Germany: civil society involvement in the management of ecologically sensitive areas

The exemple of Landcare Association Wendland-Elbetal

Rural topic(s): Civic engagement, local governance and dialogue, Conservation and management of natural resources

Type: Success story

Date of writing: June 30, 2010

Author(s) of this page: Titus Bahner

Organization(s): Landcare Association Wendland-Elbetal / Landschaftspflegeverband Wendland-Elbetal e. V.


The Landscape Association Wendland-Elbe Valley was founded in 1997 under tripartite participation of agriculture, conservation and communities in order to preserve ecologically valuable land, to increase the acceptance of nature conservation and to create new income opportunities for farmers.



In the 1980s the first German « landcare associations » were founded in Bavaria and since then have spread successfully into many regions. As local non-profit legal associations they organize the management of ecologically sensitive areas that depend on extensive farming, like wet meadows, dry areas or orchards with old fruit varieties. Typically they are run by a manager and have a board that consists of an equal number of farmers, ecologists and local community representatives to ensure the development of projects in the common interest. After reunification 1990 they became especially popular in Eastern Germany as carriers of large temporary employment projects in ecological restoration. The structure of Landcare Associations as a preferred means of ecological project management is meanwhile integrated in some regional laws.


Here is an overview of the projects organized by the local landcare association „Wendland-Elbetal“ in north-east Lower Saxony region in northern Germany:

- Herbal hay project in the Dummeniederung

In the early 90s, members of the Bund circuit group Lüchow-Dannenberg (Association for Environment and Conservation e. V.) engaged themselves for the maintenance of species-rich wetland meadows which are severely threatened mainly due to intensification. As part of an “testing and development” Project of the Federal Environment Ministry marketing concepts were developed together with the grassland managers in order to sell the species-rich hay from the grassland. As accompanying measures a seal of quality for « species-rich hay » has been developed, which is particularly of interest for horse owners and even zoos. Accompanying floristic and faunistic studies have been conducted. Different management methods and special machines for fen, a drying tower for the hay based on solar air heating, appropriate fertilization procedures and several methods for the dealing with problematic plants in the pasture have been tested. Great effort has been put into establishing a group of regular customers as well as the solution of logistical problems related to the transport of hay from a remote area to the market-regions. In order to increase the farmers responsibility for the in 1997 the landscape association Wendland-Altmark was founded, which operates in the regions of Saxony-Anhalt and Lower Saxony. Although nowadays a couple of further hay producers from other regions - which do not have to face the disadvantage of being remote - entered the market several farmers could build their own customer base and so the use of the species-rich meadows could be preserved for future generations. (Information: www.kraeuterheu.de)

- Route of old fruit varieties in Wendland

The project « route of the ancient fruit » has been developed in 2002 within the programme « Active Regions » supported by the Federal Department of Agriculture. The aim was to create public awareness for the surprising diversity of the rare old fruit varieties in rural Lüchow-Dannenberg. A tourist path was established, leading through remarkable fruit orchards, fruit tree lined avenues and magnificent individual trees. Since two regional managers are employed thanks to the support of the district Lüchow-Dannenberg, Lower Saxony and the European Union(ERDF). Meanwhile, several sites with remarkable fruit stands of trees are marked and made tangible. Furthermore 400 apple trees were planted and courses on planting, cultivating are offered which also communicate the value of old fruit varieties. A list of the best regional fruit varieties was published. The project also participated in events like the in orchards days and even national events (« Green Week » in Berlin) and by this could strengthen the regional identity. A flyer and a website are developed: www.route-the-old-fruit-in-wendland.de. In a second phase of the project beginning in mid-2010 to the value of old orchards for biodiversity will be discussed and promoted. Besides the planting and environmental education further public trails will be created.

- Tending sheep project

Some habitats, particularly sand grasslands lose their value for animal and plant life when they are not maintained by extensive use of forms, in particular by “Hüteschafbeweidung”. In 2002, with funding from the Funding Program « Active regions » pushed by the Federal Department of Agriculture the « Huteschafprojekt” could be put into practise. The Landscape Care Association supported the tending of sheep on specific areas, preselected by a botanist. For optimal grazing an especially adapted breed of sheep (Coburg Fox sheep) was used. Extensive public relations activities were carried out, flyers and a website were set up and excursions have been organised

The importance of “Hüteschäferei” as an important measure to conserve landscape features worthy of protection has become known and appreciated in the region. The shepherd is able to expand although however he has switched to a more productive breed of sheep. For the future a mobile herd of sheep is envisaged in order also to offer the grazing of small plots belonging private persons.

- Care for endangered habitats, animal and plant species

Taking care for endangered animals and plants and their habitats is one option for members of the Landscape Care Association to create additional income. Due to the special situation in the region of Lüchow-Dannenberg (climatic, and political (intra-German border until 1989) a lot of plants have their most western occurrence in this place (kitchen bells, sand and straw flowers (Helichrysum arenarium), Barred Warbler (Sylvia nisoria), Ortolan (Emberiza hortulana). Furthermore many areas are protected by European law (Natura 2000, habitat areas, EU bird protection areas) so that the region has a special responsibility for the survival of some species. Therefore, funds for conservation and care in consultation with conservation agencies are directed to the region.

Farmers have machines (tractors, trailers, mowers, chain saws, …), they are experienced with their use. In addition, they are networked through various agricultural institutions, and know how to make contacts. As they are not so familiar with nature conservation interests there are accompanying measures like training, unfortunately this kind of activities is not supported.

The measures are usually accompanied by a press work in order to communicate and show to the outside world, that agriculture and conservation can work together in many areas.

- Implementation of compensation and replacement measures

Building measures in the open countryside which cause deterioration of nature and agriculture must be compensated with special regard to result-oriented subsidies for the management of extensive grassland. Due to Germany law, the landscape care organization supports and accompanies such compensation measures e.g. by planning and consulting.

« As part of the EU funding period 2007-2013 the region Lower Saxony implemented, among other things, a new approach: the result-oriented the management of extensive grassland. Its up to the farmer to decide about management strategies however they have ensure that certain key plant species are found in their plots. This new approach has been accompanied since 2006 by a special training for farmers. On their own plots they are taught about indicator species. A high demand for advice became obvious, as farmers normally are quite unsure about identifying plants and have misconceptions about the program. Public relations activities, several information sessions have been offered and quite some farmers made use of the offer of a free in the field consultation Also In the future, the association will try to offer nature conservation advice for the scenic and faunistically and floristically rich county.


The work of the Landscape Care Association is manifold and interesting, is however demanding with regard to good social skills and a good basic knowledge in agriculture, nature protection and management processes. Since the association has only limited internal resources, it is currently unable to develop its own projects, which would require a high input of time and financial resources. Actually interested person may propose topics for project and the association and the board will decide about the sponsorship. The expectation of institutional support – which is promised by political institutions since years now, motivates people to go on. As the CEO, however, must be performed by volunteers, managers meet regularly to their limits. The more the landscape care association Wendland-Elbetal can be proud that we could manage to bring more than 500,000 € to the under-developed region of north-east of Lower Saxony since 2002. Moreover our region gained supra-regional publicity mainly due the projects “herbal hay”, “tending sheep” and “route of old fruit varieties”.


Source: personal experience of the author


Heinke Kelm, Dannenberger Straße 7, 29484 Langendorf (1. Vorsitzende des Landschaftspflegeverbandes Wendland-Elbetal e. V.)


Scale of intervention : Regional

Keywords: conservation and management of natural resources, Biodiversity, land stewardship, public-private partnership, ecosystem friendly methods, orchard, organic farming, natural habitats preservation, concertation, landcare

Places: Germany

Actors: association, environmentalist, farmer, local community

Methods: partnership, support to project, intermediation and facilitation, voluntary work, resources mobilization