- How many beech forests are there in Germany?
By nature, the Beech would be the most common tree species in Germany. Two thirds of Germany (66%) would be covered by beech forests if it were not for significant human intervention since the Middle Ages. Today, only a mere 32% of Germany's national territory is covered with forest. The distribution of tree species no longer corresponds with their natural distribution. Spruce and pine are the most common tree species in Germany (together approx. 50 %). In Germany's forests, the beech now only accounts for 15 percent of stands.
Old-growth beech forests are particularly valuable for biodiversity, as old trees and dead wood provide habitats for many species. There is, however, only a small proportion of beech forests older than 160 years (6%).
- Where else in the world does the Beech occur?
There are 11 species of the genus beech (Fagus) altogether, which grow on Earth's northern hemisphere in temperate climate zones: In addition to our European beech (Fagus sylvatica), there are seven species in East Asia, two in North America, and one in the Middle East. However, most of the natural beech forests on this planet have been cleared to make space for settlements and agriculture, or they were converted to coniferous forests. Only the European Beech still occupies larger areas of Central Europe, especially in Germany, France, Romania, and Slovenia.
- Why is it that the beech forests in Europe are globally unique?
Since the ice age, the beech has managed to colonise large parts of Europe. This dominance has developed within the last 4,000 years – an extremely short period of time, in geological and evolutionary terms. This ecological process still continues on, the beech is still expanding its range. This is a globally unique example of how a single tree species can assert itself and dominate a large area.
- What belongs to the World Heritage Beech Forests?
All beech forest areas of the World Heritage Site have so-called core zones. Core zones are those areas and their ecosystems in the forest interior that are unaffected and undisturbed by human use. These core zones are the World Heritage property. Nature here is so precious and fragile that visitor access may be restricted in some places. The core zones are usually surrounded by substantially larger buffer zones, which ensure the protection of surrounding areas. In the buffer zones, the respective rules for nature conservation apply, if the beech forest area is open to the public at all.
- What are planar beech forests?
Planar beech forests are those in the lowlands. Their altitude limit is below 400 meters. In Germany they are found in Schleswig-Holstein, in Lower Saxony, in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, and in Brandenburg (World Heritage areas Serrahn, Jasmund and Grumsin). Over the past centuries, they have been severely diminished, as the relatively flat relief made them easily accessible for agricultural use. Hence, the remnants of these forests are particularly worthy of protection.
- Why are old-growth, unexploited beech forests so precious?
It is only with increasing age that the trunk of beech trees becomes stronger, the bark more cracked, that branches break off and tree hollows appear. Here, fungi and lichens, small mammals, insects, and birds find their habitat. Dead trees or fragments of them are colonised by specialised species and ultimately returned to the natural cycle in a decomposed state. When an old tree dies in an uncultivated beech forest, it makes room for new life. The small-scale coexistence of old and young woodland sections is what makes these forests so diverse.
- Why is the Beech called a "young" tree species?
The beech was the last of our current native tree species to return to Central Europe after the last ice age. Their refuge areas were located beyond the Alps, in the Apennines, in the southern Balkans, and in the Pyrenees. Their arrival occurred about 7,000 years ago from present-day Slovenia via the Eastern Alps, the Danube valley and Bohemia, to the North German lowlands and from there via Denmark to southern Sweden. The migration of beech has not yet been completed and will continue in the course of climate change.
- Why can the Beech be so dominant in the forest and how many Beech trees are there on one hectare?
In beech forests, the beech is the dominant tree species and can occupy over 90% of the tree layer. On most sites, the beech barely tolerates other tree species next to it, which makes it the winner in the competition for light. Unlike almost any other tree species, it is able to close gaps in the stand by canopy space-filling within a short period of time. It closes the canopy again and other tree species wither away from lack of light. The beech itself can tolerate a lot of shade, especially when young. Young beech trees lurk in the shady understorey for a very long time and bolt upwards when thinning occurs. Another reason for the success of the beech is that it has a wide range of habitats. They can grow almost anywhere here, except in very wet, very acidic, or very dry soils. There can be between 300 and 400 beech trees on one hectare, as well as several thousand saplings.
- How old are the beech forests in Germany, and in particular the five World Heritage areas?
- What is the maximum age of a beech tree?
In managed forests, the beech is usually harvested, i.e. cut down, at an age of 120-160 years. However, its natural age limit is much higher, at 250-300 years (in some cases even over 400 years).
- What is the difference between the ancient and the primeval beech forests?
The World Heritage areas in Germany are, with the exception of very small relict areas of primary forest, near-natural old-growth forests.
The beech forests of the Carpathians, however, are referred to as primeval forests. In these areas, a natural forest development has taken place, undisturbed by human impacts.
- What types of beech forest are there?
The different beech forest regions are illustrated on the map you can find here.
- Who decides on the inscription on the World Heritage List?
The decision on whether a proposed cultural or natural property should be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List is taken by the World Heritage Committee at its annual session. The Committee comprises 21 elected members (states), representing all continents and cultures as far as possible. To be inscribed on the World Heritage List, proposed properties must meet the criteria set out in the Convention's Operational Guidelines. Prior to the decision, the advisory bodies IUCN (natural heritage) and ICOMOS (cultural heritage) submit a report to the Committee that comprises the outcome of the review as to whether the criteria have been met.
- Is it allowed to enter the World Heritage area, or do I have to expect further restrictions as a local resident?
There are no restrictions for local residents (and visitors) beyond those already in place. This means that if it was possible to enter an area without restriction or to traverse it on a hiking trail before it was inscribed on the World Heritage List, this will continue to be possible.
- Is inscription associated with further protected area designations, additional restrictions, or limitations on use?
No. The beech forests now inscribed already have sufficient protection as National Parks or core zones of a Biosphere Reserve and are no-use areas. A management plan was developed during the nomination process to ensure integrity and long-term protection. It defines measures to ensure the preservation and protection of the World Heritage Sites. This also includes the development of opportunities for visitors to get to know the areas.
- What are the benefits of the title for the region?
Recognition as a World Heritage Site means an enormous image boost for the individual areas and their regions. Domestic and international guests want to experience the World Heritage Sites and the region becomes more attractive for current and future residents. This will generally lead to an increase in nature-based tourism and thus add value for regional traders and the tourism industry.
- Does the designation as a World Heritage Site mean that you get money?
There is no monetary reward associated with the inscription, but a title and the award of a “badge of honour”. However, the effects of this award are so great (e.g. through increased tourism, increased appreciation, higher priority in funding programmes, etc.) that the designation also has significant indirect financial impacts.
- Can the World Heritage status be lost?
Yes. If a site no longer has the qualities for which it was inscribed on the List, the World Heritage Committee can initially place the site on the List of World Heritage in Danger and then - if no appropriate measures are taken to safeguard its values - withdraw the title (which to date has been done twice).
- Did each of the five component parts become a World Heritage Site with their entire protected area?
No. The most valuable parts of the five protected areas were inscribed on the World Heritage List. These are the parts that have been without use for the longest time and are well on the way to becoming "primeval forest". This is also where the oldest and largest trees grow.
- What is Criterion (ix)?
The basic definition of the term "World Heritage" was established by the World Heritage Convention of 1972. Its foundation is the outstanding universal value of a cultural or natural site.
When deciding on the inscription on the World Heritage List, the overarching conditions of authenticity (historical authenticity, for cultural properties only) and integrity (wholeness and intactness, for cultural and natural properties) are applied in conjunction with one or more of the altogether ten criteria for the determination of a site's Outstanding Universal Value. Criteria (i) to (vi) relate to cultural heritage sites, criteria (vii) to (x) to natural heritage sites.
Criterion (ix) describes “outstanding examples representing significant ongoing ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals."