The 1954 Nature Conservation Act

The first draft of a new conservation law to replace the Reich Conservation Act was completed in 1952. Two years later, the RNG was superseded in the GDR by the Act for the Preservation and Care of Nature in the Homeland (Nature Conservation Act) of August 4, 1954.[1] It exerted considerable influence on conservation work for more than one and a half decades. The Nature Conservation Act of 1954 followed the Reich Conservation Act quite closely in its sections on nature reserves, natural monuments, protected animals and plants, nature conservation administration, honorary conservation officers, the designation of protected areas and objects, and sanctions.

Its overall aims tended to be traditional and preservationist, but it contained new passages reflecting recent developments in the objectives and practices of nature conservation, and in this respect was an improvement over the Reich Conservation Act. In its preamble, it emphasized the scientific aspects of nature conservation alongside ethical principles and reflected certain theoretical developments which came to play an important role in the designation of protected areas and objects.

The scope of the law was expanded to apply to both unpopulated and populated areas; in reality, however, it continued to be limited for the most part to the “free” (that is, unpopulated) countryside, and more specifically to protected areas and objects. Unlike under the Reich Conservation Act, it was now on the basis of scientific and documentary criteria that areas representing the various aspects of the country’s natural environment were selected for protection (Weinitschke 1980). While the Reich Conservation Act valued areas that were “rare, distinctive and natural (or considered natural), from 1954 onward, priority was given to those that were characteristic and typical. Areas were selected according to a scientific classification of the countryside, with particular attention paid to plant geography and vegetation. Priority was also given to preserving areas for research. In the wake of these developments, a principle emerged of preserving and developing fundamentally threatened areas and objects (as expressions of biological diversity) and expanding conservation practices to include the protection of natural processes, thereby integrating the principle of natural development into nature conservation” (Reichhoff 2010).

The 1954 Nature Conservation Act introduced two new categories in addition to the natural monuments, nature reserves, and animal and plant species protected under the Reich Conservation Act. These were landscape protection areas (Landschaftsschutzgebiete) and natural monument areas (Flächennaturdenkmale) of up to 1 hectare. The category of Reich nature conservation area (Reichsnaturschutzgebiet) was abandoned.

Not included in the new Act was the category of national parks. From the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, well-known public figures including Kurt and Erna Kretschmann, Reimar Gilsenbach, and Erich Hobusch fought (unsuccessfully) for legal recognition of this category and tried to get the areas of Müritz and Sächsische Schweiz designated as national parks. Another proposal had been made earlier to designate the area of Märkische Schweiz as a natural park (Naturpark).

Regulations concerning the protection of rare plants were also changed. The Reich Conservation Act had distinguished between three grades of protection and contained three corresponding lists: complete protection, partial protection, and protection from picking. In the case of partially protected species, only the rosettes and the parts that were below ground (for example, bulbs) were protected. In all, there were 93 protected species within the territory of the GDR, of which 35 were completely protected and 15 partially protected. Forty-three species were subject to a ban on commercial picking. “There cannot have been very many conservationists who perfectly understood these distinctions” (Militzer 1956, 16). This complexity was done away with in the Nature Conservation Act of the GDR, which placed all protected species—now totaling 108—under complete protection.


Militzer, M. 1956: Geschützte heimische Pflanzen. Leipzig, Jena.

Reichhoff, L. 2010: Brief vom 2. Januar 2010 an Behrens.

Weinitschke, H. 1980: Naturschutz gestern – heute – morgen. Leipzig, Jena, Berlin.

[1]     Gesetz zur Erhaltung und Pflege der heimatlichen Natur (Naturschutzgesetz), 4 August 1954, GBl. der DDR, p. 695.

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