Changes in the Organization of Conservation Work

There were also changes in the administrative organization of nature conservation. The term Naturschutzstelle (nature conservation office) was not used in the Nature Conservation Act in the context of volunteer conservation work, as it had been in the Reich Conservation Act. The independent expert advice which that office had provided and which had been mandated in Section 8 of the Reich Conservation Act and in Section 3 of the corresponding implementing order was thereby abolished. The Reich Conservation Act had stated that because nature conservation offices were advisory bodies, they were not part of the conservation authorities.

In all other respects, the new law adopted the administrative model outlined in the Reich Conservation Act. Nature conservation was assigned to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, later called the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Foodstuffs, and to subordinate agencies in the Bezirke and Kreise. For the first time, paid full-time positions were created in those agencies. As a rule, it tended to be a single position and the person who held it had several areas of responsibility. Nature conservation was just one of these areas and always had lower priority (compared to hunting, for example). Insufficient human resources were devoted to the administration of nature conservation and there were widespread complaints in this regard.

Ambiguities regarding authority over nature conservation were not resolved until 1956, when nature conservation was removed from the purview of the Central Office for Water Management, which had been responsible for it until that time. Georg Henkel, who was in charge of conservation at the Water Management Office, presented a dramatic picture of the Office’s personnel situation at the annual meeting of the Friends of Nature and Heimat, which took place June 1–6, 1956, in Berlin: “In the Department of Landscape Management and Nature Conservation—within the central administrative body for nature conservation—I have one employee for all work related to conservation. I am also responsible for landscape management and land improvement. Basically, as you can imagine, all we can do is put out fires and, what’s more, we often have to let some of those fires burn out in order to extinguish the big fires. [...] The situation in the Bezirke is similar. After a great deal of effort, ten Bezirke have managed to get a government employee assigned to landscape management and nature conservation, but they are usually extremely busy with other responsibilities. In four Bezirke, it has not yet been possible to get a government employee assigned to these matters. This work is currently being done by my coworkers at the Water Management Office, but only as time permits. What is it like in the Kreise? Even worse! We don’t have any people there at all. This work, too, is supposed to be done by staff at the Water Management Office. [...] We are very fortunate to have the honorary conservation officers in the Kreise, who have been an enormous help [...]” (Henkel 1956, 214).[1]

Government employees assigned to nature conservation continued to be overextended, and their workload grew as they dealt with the consequences of intensified land use. Not until 1964 was the system of forest administration changed and every Bezirk allocated a government employee with authority over nature conservation. This continued to be a “double-hatted” position, however, with shared responsibility for hunting. At this time, there were standing commissions for nature conservation in the district assemblies of some Bezirke, such as Frankfurt (Oder), and in East Berlin.[2] The head of the ILN working group for Potsdam, Karl Heinz Großer, called for such commissions to be established in the Kreis assemblies as well. He argued that they could help improve the lamentable situation in many Kreis administrations, where nature conservation “always took second place or indeed typically third or fourth place to other responsibilities, and rarely remained within the remit of any one person for very long” (Großer 1965, 4).

Starting in the 1950s, many Kreise had volunteer “conservation helpers” in addition to the honorary conservation officers whose positions were mandated by law. In some of these Kreise, helpers formed a nature conservation guard that had not been provided for in the law. In the early 1960s, a nationwide total of 3,700 nature conservation helpers was recorded. However, the rights and obligations of these helpers had not been regulated in the Nature Conservation Act of 1954.

The work of the honorary conservation officers was regulated by the implementing orders of the Nature Conservation Act. The first implementing order of February 15, 1955, established that the officers were to be issued photo IDs and given expanded powers. In addition to the right of trespass that had already existed under the Reich Conservation Act, these powers included the right to demand the identification papers of “wrong-doers” and to seize stolen goods (such as bird eggs or skins) or equipment used by the thieves (such as glue traps or other traps). The second implementing order of October 1955 regulated material compensation for the work done by the officers at the Kreis and Bezirk levels.

The Institute for Landscape Research and Nature Conservation (ILN) acted as a scientific coordinator and was responsible for advising and instructing the conservation officers and helpers. Together, the ILN and the officers did their best to fill the gap left by the closure of nature conservation offices and the shortage of staff in government administrations.

In addition to the regulations mentioned above, many more regulations[3] were enacted in the 1950s and 1960s to “efficiently exploit” and “reproduce” natural resources (in accordance with ecological requirements) (Oehler 2007, 102). “Drafters of legislation in the 1960s made use of detailed studies that analyzed the general state of the environment and looked at emerging trends. In particular, they relied on the conclusions and potential solutions elaborated in such studies, which incorporated technological, scientific, economic, pedagogical, organizational, and legal approaches. [...] The key issues were: the recycling of waste products to reduce negative impacts on air, water, soil, and landscapes; landscape conservation and management of agricultural landscapes; ecosystem complexity and interconnections; and the integration of issues including leadership, planning, self-regulation [of commercial and industrial enterprises], and economic stimulus into the ‘New Economic System’ (Neues Ökonomisches System, NÖS)” (Oehler 2007, 103).

Conservation work in the 1950s and 1960s consisted primarily of the following:

–     repeated revision of natural monuments lists in the Kreise; documenting existing natural monuments, and working to secure new ones

–     marking protected objects and areas with “conservation owl” signs

–     helping to regulate the extent and type of commercial land use in protected areas and the construction of buildings there

–     assessing landscape-altering activities as part of the review process for site permits

–     taking inventory and performing upkeep in manor parks

–     conducting biogeographic mapping of selected animal and plant species, and drafting the first “red lists” of endangered/threatened species

–     systematically selecting, designating, and signposting new nature reserves and landscape protection areas; drafting management guidelines for nature reserves and landscape protection areas

–     performing landscaping activities aimed at protecting fields from erosion (including a large-scale program for planting poplars outside woodlands), and assisting in Komplexmelioration (land improvement measures aimed at facilitating industrial agricultural production)[4]

–     public outreach in the form of presentations and excursions, as well as designing exhibitions, educational nature walks, hiking trails, and natural history collections

A new kind of public outreach program called Nature Conservation Weeks was started in 1957. The concept was tested in pilot projects conducted in the Bezirke of Potsdam and Karl-Marx-Stadt in 1956, and was later established throughout the GDR, together with the Week of the Woods. Each of the Weeks was dedicated to a centrally assigned conservation theme. In 1966, the tradition of Landscape Days was born. These events took place over several days and featured presentations and discussions. Initially they addressed problems resulting from the growing popularity of large recreational areas. The first Landscape Day took place in Neubrandenburg in 1966 and addressed the issue of the Müritz lake district. It was here that the idea of national parks was publicly debated for the last time.



Großer, K. H. 1965: Ziele unserer Arbeit. Naturschutzarbeit in Berlin und Brandenburg 1 (3): 3-10.

Henkel, G. 1956: Diskussionsbeitrag auf dem Kongress der Natur- und Heimatfreunde, 1.-3.6.1956 in Dresden. Aus der Arbeit der Natur- und Heimatfreunde 3 (9): 214-215.

Oehler, E. 2007: Zur Entwicklung des Umweltrechts. In: Institut für Umweltgeschichte und Regionalentwicklung e. V. (Hg.); Behrens, H. & Hoffmann, J. (Bearb.) 2007: Umweltschutz in der DDR. Analysen und Zeitzeugenberichte. Band 1: Politische und umweltrechtliche Rahmenbedingungen. München: 99-128.

[1]     See also BArch DK 1/3687 (MLF, Abt. Landeskultur und Naturschutz, Bericht über Naturschutzarbeiten, 1956), pp. 23–42, and (Stellenplan, u. a. Landschaftsgestaltung und Naturschutz), p. 42.

[2]     In East Berlin, this commission was called the Kollegium zur Förderung des Naturschutzes, or Council for the Promotion of Nature Conservation.

[3]     First Implementing Order of 15 February 1955 for the Nature Conservation Act of the GDR, containing a list of animals threatened with extinction; Regulation of 15 February 1955 concerning the Protection of Non-Game Wild Animals other than Birds; Regulation of 24 June 1955 concerning the Protection of Wild Plants; Regulation of 24 June 1955 concerning the Protection of Non-Game Wild Birds; Regulation No. 2 of 24 July 1958 concerning the Protection of Non-Game Wild Birds; Directive of the Central Nature Conservation Administration of 22 August 1955 regarding the Procedure for the Declaration of Landscape Areas (Landschaftsteilen) as Nature Reserves and Landscape Protection Areas, and of Individual Natural Areas as Natural Monuments, and regarding the Provisional Safeguarding of Unprotected Objects; Regulation of 24 June 1957 regarding the Declaration of Landscape Areas (Landschaftsteilen) as Nature Reserves; Regulation No. 1 of 30 March 1961 concerning Nature Reserves (in which final protection status was awarded to nature reserves provisionally protected by Bezirk councils in the period 1956–1958. It was followed by Regulation No. 2 of 30 April 1963 concerning Nature Reserves, Regulation No. 3 of 11 September 1967 concerning Nature Reserves, and Regulation No. 4 of 28 November 1983 concerning Nature Reserves.); Directive of 6 March 1956 und Regulation of 5 August 1959 regarding the Reclassification of Forests into Cultivation Groups, supplemented by the Directives of 8 July 1966 and 23 December 1967 regarding the Classification of Forests into Cultivation Groups; Water Act of 1963, mining regulations, land regulations, forest regulations, hunting regulations, guidelines for the protection of monuments, regulations for health cures and remedies, protection of the residential environment (municipal waste management, air pollution control, noise abatement); Directive of 5 September 1969 regarding Measures for the Protection and Care of Waterbirds in the GDR.

[4]     Komplexmeliorationen encompassed a variety of measures, including the drainage of wetlands, the creation of large fields that could be worked with heavy machinery, the planting of windbreaks, the planning of industrial farming facilities, and the development of rural infrastructure.

Literatur zum Weiterlesen

Wegener, U.: Ohne sie hätte sich nichts bewegt - zur Arbeit der ehrenamtlichen Naturschutzhelfer und -helferinnen. In: Institut für Umweltgeschichte und Regionalentwicklung e.V. (Hg.): Naturschutz in den Neuen Bundesländern - Ein Rückblick. Berlin 2001: 89-107.

Institut für Umweltgeschichte und Regionalentwicklung e.V. (Hg.); Behrens, H. (Bearb.): der Naturschutzbeauftragten. Band 3: Naturschutzgeschichte und Naturschutzbeauftragte in Berlin und Brandenburg. Friedland 2010: 218-245.