Conservation and Sustainable Use of the Biosphere - WBGU

Conservation and Sustainable Use of the Biosphere - WBGU

Integrating conservation and use at the regional level E 3.9


Box E 3.9-4

The Rhön biosphere reserve

The Rhön biosphere reserve was recognized by UNESCO

in 1991 and is located in the three German states of Bavaria,

Hesse and Thuringia. It represents the Central European

cultivated landscape type and is characterized by diverse

habitats, such as woodland, hedges, orchard meadows, matgrass,

highland heaths and dry grassland. The specific target

species of the protection efforts is the black grouse, whose

habitat is in the open landscape of the heaths and matgrass.

Historically, the matgrass and dry grassland came about as a

result of sheep grazing and the constant removal of nutrients;

today they are important refuges for rare animal and

plant species. However, their continued existence depends

on extensive forms of use, such as sheep grazing or late


Small farm structures in Hesse and Bavaria led to a great

breakdown of the landscape characterized by villages,

whereas in the Thuringian part the landscape are characterized

by large farms. The previous marginal location on the

inner German border, the low economic power and the

sparse settlement made the Rhön into a poorly developed

area, which, for example, received EU funding.Agriculture,

the manufacturing industry and tourism characterize the

economic structure. Agriculture mainly provides a second

income. However, many farmers are giving up their farms,

meaning that the maintenance and conservation of the

ecosystems dependent on extensive use is at risk.

The basis for the development of the biosphere reserve

is a framework concept drawn up by a planning office that

contains proposals for zoning the landscape and, thus,

linked concepts for the conservation and maintenance of

the different habitat types (Grebe and Bauernschmitt,

1995). The sponsors of the framework concept include the

nature parks of the individual German states (Länder), the

Rhön Club, landscape maintenance associations and local

authorities. For example, various marketing strategies were

tried to make the care of the cultivated landscape economically

attractive.This includes the ‘Rhön sheep’, a regionally

adapted breed of sheep whose meat is marketed together

with restaurants as a regional speciality, or the conservation

of orchard meadows by a merger of farmers, fruit pressers,

innkeepers, mineral water companies and nature conservationists

called ‘Rhön Apple Initiative’. The proportion of

regional produce in catering in the Rhön is 10 per cent and

is thus more than twice as high as the national average of

4–5 per cent. The proportion of regional drinks in catering

rose within five years from 30 per cent to over 50 per cent

(Popp, 1997). Farms, including former collectives, are supported

in the conversion to organic farming and new

tourism opportunities, such as farm holidays, are being

developed. Further training courses, such as ‘training

women for rural tourism’ offer further prospects for second

incomes in farming.Alternative sources of energy are being

promoted, eg on the basis of regenerative materials from

the region.

Within the biosphere reserve there are some considerable

conflicts of use: after German reunification the region

became attractive as a transit area for long-distance transport

routes; hunting, sport and tourism as well as the desire

for economic development and the settlement of industry

are in conflict with the objective of conserving the diverse

cultivated landscape. There are some acceptance problems

among the population, which fears that the biosphere

reserve will curtail their traditional rights or future income

opportunities (Cramer von Laue, 1997). Within the context

of a study, it is currently being examined how nature conservation

and sport can be brought into harmony in the ecologically

sensitive areas of the slopes and hills. With the

involvement of the stakeholders, sites are to be sought for

flying model planes, hang-gliders and gliders that are

acceptable both to the sport of flying and other people seeking

recreation as well as to nature conservationists. What is

interesting here is the fact that the project was called into

being on the initiative of Deutsche Aeroclub e.V. (German

aeronautical club), which actively sought the dialogue with

the nature conservationists.

A decisive question for the application of the

bioregional approach is the institutional relationship

to existing plans. The starting points in the various

countries are very different administrative role allocations,

ecological circumstances and social framework

conditions. For this reason, using the examples

already shown in Section E 3.9.1, here we will show

how the ideas and approaches of bioregional management

can be integrated in the existing structures.

There is already a well-developed planning system

in many industrialized countries. In Germany, for

example, this extends from framework Federal Government

legislation in the form of the Federal Spatial

Planning Act to the various systems of federal state

planning right down to local authority planning. Setting

up a parallel nationwide system of planning

relating to the biosphere with the appropriate institutions,

sanctions, connections to the democratic representative

bodies, etc would be inefficient, especially

since the trend in recent decades has been to

incorporate environmental protection and nature

conservation and participatory elements into these

planning systems.

However, the scope for action to promote the integration

of conservation and use objectives should be

improved, even in countries with planning systems

that work well in principle (Gruehn and Henneweg,

1998). Particularly in the case of areas which do not

coincide with administrative boundaries and the

planning systems that relate to them, there is a risk

that the peculiarities of an ecologically defined

region such as the North Sea mudflats or the Rhön

region receive insufficient consideration. For this

reason, it has proved expedient to define special

regions with different boundaries and to give them

their own, albeit limited, scope for action (Box E 3.9-


For the most part, the existing system of regional

planning in industrialized countries has the nature of

administrative law. In Germany this problem has

been countered in recent years with approaches of

‘regional management’, which is charged with imple-

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