After the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, it was only a matter of time before Germany would be reunified and its internal borders redrawn. Over the following 10 months, one man, Michael Succow seized the moment to set aside large chunks of land as nature reserves.
Propelled into the East German government in its dying days, the peatland ecologist managed to get 4.5 per cent of the state's land set aside as national parks and biosphere reserves. These were East Germany's first protected areas... Succow's historic intervention has now been shown to be part of a general trend: countries tend to set aside vast tracts of land for conservation in "hot moments", rather than building protected areas slowly over time.
These hot moments often coincided with periods of dramatic social or political change. For many African countries, this was in the 1960s and 1970s, at the end of the colonial era; in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the peak of activity was in the early 1990s. "Both outgoing and incoming governments are prone to design new protected areas," [Volker] Radeloff told the meeting.
Succow, who had long opposed the East German regime, realised that he had the chance to change history only after he was appointed deputy to environment and water minister Hans Reichelt.
Reichelt, a convinced supporter of the regime, was devastated by its end, but seems to have seen in Succow a chance to correct its dismal environmental record. "He said: 'I have made many mistakes. You must make it better,'" recalls Succow, who was moved into offices in the ministry once occupied by the Stasi secret police and given freedom to employ like-minded colleagues. "In one week, I had a staff of highly motivated people."
On military land, security zones along the border with West Germany and hunting areas set aside for the amusement of the governing elite, Succow's team found that East Germany had jewels of undisturbed biodiversity. A huge chunk was set aside as one of the final acts of its government. And after reunification, other areas prioritised by Succow were also protected, bringing the total to 12 per cent of the land area of the former East Germany.
Radeloff warns that more work is needed to identify the precise combination of circumstances that create hot moments for conservation. He hopes other researchers will study the phenomenon, so that conservationists can effectively target the "when" as well as the "where" of protecting biodiversity. "We need to identify the right moment to strike," he says.Aldhous, P. (2010) Fall of Berlin Wall was a Hot Moment for Conservation. [Online] http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn19233-fall-of-berlin-wall-was-a-hot-moment-for-conservation.html?DCMP=OTC-rss&nsref=online-news [28/07/2010]