Clearing the Ground for a Better Climate: Active Moorland Protection on the Große Moor

October 23, 2019

Volkswagen Financial Services has been supporting NABU (Naturschutzbund Deutschland e.V. - German Society for Nature Conservation) for more than ten years in the protection of moorland - for example by working in the Große Moor near Gifhorn.

It sounds slightly paradoxical, but cutting away, digging out and uprooting young pine and birch trees is a definite part of active moor conservation and climate protection. But, one might ask, don't trees help remove CO2 from the atmosphere? "That's totally correct in principle," says Felix Grützmacher, an expert in moorland protection at NABU, Germany's Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union, "but on the other hand, pine and birch trees, in particular, draw a great deal of water from the soil. One single birch can cause the evaporation of up to 100 liters of water per day – equivalent to a well-filled bathtub. This seriously upsets the water balance and hampers ongoing efforts to re-naturalize and rewet the Große Moor (literally the "Great Bog", near Gifhorn in Lower Saxony)." That's why regular work assignments carried out by volunteers in the moor, marsh and mire areas under the guidance of NABU staff are a welcome assistance. As Volkswagen Financial Services have been supporting Germany's largest organization for nature and environmental conservation in the protection and ecological restoration of moorland and peatland for many years, their employees are also regular participants in such initiatives to remove emerging trees, saplings and shrubs from the moors. In this process, called "Entkusselung" in German, the young woody plants are removed to protect the moorland and preserve the habitat over the long term. The goal is to prevent these valuable landscape areas from becoming overgrown, and therefore shaded, because they serve as important open biotopes for the specific animal and plant species living there. The typical peat-forming plants not only need a great deal of water, they also need a lot of light. That is the only way the moor can grow again and the carbon from the atmosphere can be permanently bound in the peat – a small bright spot for the benefit of the climate.

The call to help remove the scrub from the moors was also followed by 60 employees from the Human Resources department at Volkswagen Financial Services. Armed with special root spades, lopping shears and rubber boots, they headed out onto the Große Moor near Gifhorn. Mucking in for nature was the motto of the initiative. The idea was to use this highly worthwhile action as a teambuilding measure that had already been planned. "We in the team were unanimous in our conviction that we didn't want to engage in any classic kind of collaborative activity such as high-rope climbing or the like," said Anja Christmann, Head of Human Resources Germany at Volkswagen Financial Services AG, "so our decision quickly fell on NABU. The organization is, after all, represented here in Braunschweig as part of its regional network. What's more, moorland protection had been a rather abstract topic for most of us until we took part in the assignment, and we wanted to find out and experience at first hand what it actually involves.“

The reasons why moorland protection is so important were explained by Grützmacher at the beginning of the joint action: "Moorlands cover a mere three percent of the world's total land surface. Nevertheless, they store a third of the terrestrial carbon in their soil – twice as much as in all the world's forests put together.  The carbon bound there over the course of thousands of years then escapes from degraded moors, combines in large quantities with oxygen, and enters the atmosphere en masse as the climate-damaging greenhouse gas CO2." In Germany, 95 percent of the original 1.5 million hectares of moorland have already been dewatered, peat-exhausted, built upon, or used for agricultural and forestry purposes. A 15 cm thick peat layer contains approximately the same amount of carbon as a 100 year-old forest on the same surface area. Therefore, if a depth of one meter of peat is lost, six times the affected area would have to be reforested to make up for the loss and have to grow undisturbed for 100 years. In the re-naturalization of bogs and moors, the original water levels have to be restored in order to secure the permanent storage of the carbon in the soil and create suitable conditions for peat-building vegetation. This is the objective of the work on the Große Moor. "The nice thing about moorland protection is that we achieve a positive climate effect immediately through rehydration. However, moorland protection is not a theoretical construct, but requires a lot of continuous work in situ and the acceptance of the local population."

Despite the sweat and toil of pulling out trees, everyone was satisfied at the end of the day. "I never would have thought conserving our moors demanded such physical exertion," said Christmann after the work assignment was completed. "But it's especially good to see that genuine environmental and climate protection is taking place on our doorstep. It's tremendously motivating to realize that the money invested by our company is not just trickling away somewhere, but is being used directly and effectively." The moorland protection activities are beacon projects within the Corporate Responsibility (CR) strategy of Volkswagen Financial Services. Their objective is to make an active contribution to environmental and climate protection. A total of four million euros has been pledged alone for the period from 2012 through 2020, which will flow into both the German and International Moor Conservation Fund jointly established with NABU. With the newly launched "Blue Fleet" e-mobility program, the cooperation partners are not only maintaining their collaboration on moorland protection, but are also expanding it. The next beacon project addresses the Sulinger Moor near Bremen – the 14th German moorland to be re-naturalized with the support of Volkswagen Financial Services.

The Große Moor near Gifhorn

One of the projects financed through the German Moor Conservation Fund concentrates on the Große Moor near Gifhorn. This moor covers a huge area of around 1,600 hectares. Unfortunately, however, it has lost its original character as the result of human intervention. This influence and exploitation has been accompanied by the loss of habitat for many endangered animal and plant species. In order to halt the species decline, parts of the Große Moor have been designated a nature reserve since 1984. To start with, a project zone extending over 100 hectares is being extensively rehydrated. The studies carried out in the run-up to the project showed that more than 1,800 metric tons of CO2 escape every year from this part of the moor alone. The preparations for rehydrating the moorland were set in motion in 2011. Large quantities of greenhouse gas emissions are being prevented as a result and a vital habitat for threatened animals and rare plants is also being protected at the same time. Around 150 animal and 40 plant species at home in the moorland are seen as endangered, and no fewer than eleven of them are directly threatened with extinction. This demonstrates the direct link that exists between moorland conservation and biodiversity.

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