Former German Military Bases Become Zones for Conservation

, June 24, 2015

Acting as one of the most symbolic and physical barriers during the Cold War, the 50-year tenure of the Iron Curtain helped conserve and land from the Barents to the Black Sea. Now known at the European Green Belt, the 12,500km buffer become a safe haven for rare birds and small animals during the conflict, a remarkable outcome that is now being protected by environmentalists.

In Germany, the heavily guarded barrier ran along the 870-mile border from the Baltic Sea to Bavaria. It’s along this that the government plans to convert 62 disused military bases just west of the Iron Curtain into nature reserves for eagles, woodpeckers, bats, and beetles.

Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said: “We are seizing a historic opportunity with this conversion — many areas that were once no-go zones are no longer needed for military purposes.” Together the bases cover an area of 31,000 hectares — equivalent to 40,000 football pitches. The conversion will see Germany’s total area of protected wildlife increase by a quarter.

The news comes in the wake of two wonderful pieces of writing which are well worth checking out. In February 2015, energy and environmental writer, Phil McKenna, published an essay, “The Boys Who Loved Birds“, following the story of two bird watches who made friends across Iron Curtain. Way back in April 2011, Christian Schwägerl wrote “Along Scar from Iron Curtain, A Green Belt Rises in Germany” for Yale’s Environment360.

Header image: The Green Belt in near Lower Saxony, Germany (Klaus Leidorf)