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Environmental Zones
Author: Rob Jongman
Facts and figures

Total area: 356,910 km2

Population: 81,337,541

Bio-geographical zones: Central European

Type: federal republic

Administrative divisions: 16 states, consisting of counties, districts, non-district cities and municipalities

Germany is a federal republic, consisting of 16 states. The states (Bundesländer) are relatively autonomous regions; many have been self-governing kingdoms in the past. In total, Germany identifies six layers of government: the Federal Authority (Bund), States (Länder), Counties (Bezirke), physical planning regions, Districts (Kreise), non-district cities (kreisfreie Gemeinde) and Municipalities (Gemeinden).


Germany is a large country, covering approximately 357,000 sq. km. It can be divided into several distinctive landscape zones: an extensive area of shallows along the North sea coast, the northern lowland, the secondary mountain ranges, the 'Alpenvorland' and the Alps. Germany is characterised by a high degree of climatic variabili­ty, caused essentially by its geographic position and its uneven topography.

Agricultural landuse is the main basis for the semi-natural landscape in Germany (heathland, dry grasslands, wet grasslands, hedges etc). The agricultural landscape however, has changed in the last decennia. Water-management, afforestation, altering gras­sland into arable land, intensive tillage and use of fertilisers are the reasons for the destruction of habitats and the decline of species in the agricultural landscape. Many hedges and small forests have been removed with the consequence of fragmen­tation of natural biotope sites and isolation of populations of all kind of species. Wet environments became rare because of drainage and improved water discharge.

Natural forests are rare in Germany although relatively natural wood­lands in larger areas have sustained within the forestry practice over 150 years. Although the woodland area has not changed really, its distribution, its compo­sition and its structu­re has changed strongly (Bischoff & Jongman, 1993). In the last decade, an average of 120 hectares of nature and landscapes has been lost every day to construction of houses and roads. Intensive agriculture and recreational activities also damage nature. In Germany, 50% of all vertebrate species and 30% of all higher plant species are endangered (FANC, 1997).


The roots of German nature conservation date from the end of the nineteenth century. Nature conservation was then focused on the care for the national unspoiled nature. The first three decades of the 20th century, nature conservation had the goal to protect natural areas and the development of areas to compensate the areas that were used for industry, urbanisation etc. Non governmental organisations have been established since the beginning of the twentieth century. The first federal law on nature conservation (Reichsnaturschutzgesetz) dates from 1935. This law reflected a growing importance of nature conservation in the context of political-ideological goals. After the Second World War, nature conservation developed separately in the western and eastern part of Germany. Despite the different government systems, the motivation and goalsetting of nature conservation in both parts showed similarities. From the 1960s, ecological movements have played an important role in nature conservation in both parts of Germany.


In the eastern part of Germany, in 1970 the Landeskulturgesetz was established. In 1976, the federal nature conservation and landscape management law (Bundesnaturschutzgesetz, BNG), that still serves as the framework for nature conservation in Germany, came into force in the western part of Germany. It defines the foundations of nature conservation and landscape conservation in the form of framework directions. Nature conservation is the responsibility of the Bundesländer. They determine the precise institutional forms of enforcement, while the framework is provided at national level.