The First National Institute for Conservation Research in Germany

With the approval of the Presidium of the Council of Ministers and in consultation with the Central Office for Research and Technology, the Institute for Land Research and Nature Conservation (ILN) was founded as a member institution of the German Academy of Agricultural Sciences (DAL), effective April 1, 1953. The Institute had its headquarters in Halle and subsequently established five working groups for the areas corresponding to the five former states (Reichhoff and Wegener 2011). In terms of its mandate, the ILN followed in the tradition of such institutions as the Prussian National Office for the Management of Natural Monuments or the Reich Office for Nature Conservation. The ILN was founded shortly before the Nature Conservation Act was adopted. Both the founding mandate of the ILN and the Nature Conservation Act point to a specific development within the German tradition of nature conservation. The principal mission of the ILN, as defined by the Act and the ILN charter, was to generate and organize the knowledge of the landscape that was considered necessary for nature conservation and landscape management.

Section 13 of the Act sets out the role and responsibilities of the ILN:

“(1) All natural science institutions and government conservation authorities shall work together to ensure that nature conservation is practiced in accordance with scientific principles and knowledge.

(2) The German Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Berlin, Institute for Land Research and Nature Conservation, shall harmonize the research work performed by various institutions in the field of nature conservation; work with the Central Nature Conservation Office; provide expert guidance to the conservation officers of the Kreise and Bezirke, keeping them informed, during mutual briefing sessions, of the current state of scientific research; and maintain connections with all scientific institutions and organizations dedicated to nature conservation, both German and foreign.”

The ILN charter had previously defined three areas of responsibility for the Institute:

1.      perform regional landscape studies from biological, biogeographical, and site-specific perspectives

2.      study protected areas and objects, and provide expert advice regarding nature conservation practices in the GDR

3.      collect all previously published documents and maps for the various landscapes of the GDR

The mandate given to the ILN clearly gave priority to landscape-related research, which initially was aimed at areas either worthy of protection or already under protection and later increasingly concentrated on landscapes where agriculture and forestry were practiced or where mining had been conducted. This firm focus on research, with the mandate not only to organize and coordinate conservation studies but also to conduct independent research, was a new development in the history of national nature conservation institutions in Germany.

The first director of the ILN was Hermann Meusel, a botanist and university professor at Halle who held the position in a part-time capacity until 1963. He was succeeded by two full-time directors: Ludwig Bauer (until 1974) and Hugo Weinitschke (until 1991).

The first branch offices were also established in 1953: one in Halle (initially housed at the headquarters, then moved to Dessau in 1983), one in Potsdam (for the Bezirke in Brandenburg) and one in Jena (for the Bezirke in Thuringia). Additional offices were opened in 1954 in Greifswald and Dresden (for the Bezirke in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Saxony, respectively). Each of the branch offices conducted research for “scientific priority programs,” in addition to providing advisory and coordinating services. Initially there was only one part-time director, one to two research associates, and a secretary for each of the branch offices. The branch offices were headed by H. Bohnstedt in Halle, W. R. Müller-Stoll in Potsdam, J.-H. Schultze in Jena, K. H. C. Jordan in Dresden, and T. Hurtig in Greifswald. All five men were university professors who taught in the cities where their offices were located.

As at the headquarters, the branch offices later employed full-time directors. A list of these directors and the years in which they were appointed follows: at the Jena office Ernst Niemann in 1963 and Walter Hiekel in 1978; at the Dresden office Hans Schiemenz in 1959 and Rolf Steffens in 1985; at the Halle office Hugo Weinitschke in 1963 and Peter Hentschel in 1968; at the Potsdam office Karl Heinz Großer in 1962, Lutz Reichhoff in 1986, and Matthias Hille in 1988; at the Greifswald office Harry Schmidt in 1963 and Gerhard Klafs in 1970.

The branch offices published their own regional conservation magazines in cooperation with the Bezirk councils. These publications focused on practical issues of nature conservation and featured articles from both government and volunteer conservationists. The first issue of Nature Conservation Work in Mecklenburg appeared in 1958, followed by Nature Conservation, Natural History, and Heimat Research in Saxony in 1959, Nature Conservation Work, Natural History, and Heimat Research in the Bezirke of Halle and Magdeburg in 1963, Landscape and Nature Conservation in Thuringia in 1964, and Nature Conservation Work in Berlin and Brandenburg in 1965. In 1961 another publication, the Archive for Nature Conservation and Landscape Research, appeared. Published by the DAL/AdL and edited by the ILN, it put greater emphasis on scientific topics.

Many different professional and institutional relationships were formed with neighboring socialist countries. Only after legal changes in 1970 (when the amended Nature Conservation Regulation was adopted) was the ILN able to profit from wider-ranging international collaboration.

Starting in the mid-1950s, a number of biological field stations were opened or reopened across the GDR. Here, as at the ILN and its branch offices, scientists conducted applied ecological research, assisted by volunteers. Some of the stations were later assigned to the ILN. By the 1960s, the list of field stations included the following (Müller 1965):

1.      Seebach Bird Observatory (Kreis Mühlhausen, Thuringia), whose principal activities were in the field of applied ornithology

2.      Steckby Bird Observatory (Kreis Zerbst, Saxony-Anhalt)

3.      Neschwitz Bird Observatory (Saxony), dedicated primarily to animal and ecological research in the fields of Bautzen and in the ponds and heath of Lausitz

4.      Serrahn Biological Field Station (Mecklenburg), which focused for the most part on questions of applied ornithology and which, beginning in the 1960s, performed hydrological studies and drafted guidelines for maintaining close-to-nature forest ecosystems

5.      Hiddensee Biological Research Institute, which worked mainly on biological studies of the southern shore of the Baltic Sea, in particular the Boddenlandschaft (bodies of water along the shore that often form lagoons). The Institute’s Bird Observatory Department was the central coordinator of all bird-banding activities in the GDR, and the headquarters for all studies on bird migration and bird biology.

6.      Langenwerder Island Bird Preserve (between the island of Poel and the peninsula of Wustrow), where phytogeographical and meteorological data were gathered, together with data on coastal morphology

7.      Müritzhof Field Office, Institute of Forest Protection and Hunting at the Technische Universität Dresden, located in Tharandt, which primarily pursued research in animal ecology in the Müritz lake district

8.      Fauler Ort Biological Field Station, Zoological Institute at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. The field station was located near the nature reserve “Ostufer der Müritz” and served primarily as a teaching station for biology students.

9.      Field Station of the Research Center for Limnology in Jena-Lobeda, located on Stechlin Lake near Rheinsberg. Staff there studied the ecological consequences of using the waters around Rheinsberg to supply cold water to the Rheinsberg nuclear power plant.

10. Neunzehnhain Hydrobiological Laboratory (Kreis Marienberg/Saxony), a research and teaching lab for hydrobiology

11. Dölzig Field Station, with a satellite station in Finsterwalde. It was assigned to the ILN in 1967 and focused on the problems of reclaiming lignite mining areas.

Earlier, in 1956, the Working Group for the Protection of Animals Threatened with Extinction (AKSAT) was founded under the aegis of the ILN in Halle.

A new training facility for nature conservation, the Zentrale Lehrstätte für Naturschutz, opened its doors on September 14, 1954, in Müritz. By 1990, it had trained several thousand conservation helpers. The facility was established by Kurt and Erna Kretschmann and was managed by them until 1960. Subsequent directors were Wilhelm Linke (until 1975) and Dieter Martin (until 1990). The facility received regular funding from the state budget from 1956 onward and was assigned to the ILN in 1966.

The biological field stations and the Müritzhof facility all employed at most just one to two research associates and an average of two technical staff (see also Reichhoff 2011 on organizational developments).


Müller, H.-J. 1965: Die Biologischen Stationen der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik, ihre Aufgaben und Ergebnisse. Sitzungsberichte der Dt. Akad. der Wiss. 14 (1). Berlin.

Reichhoff, L. 2011: Kurze Geschichte der strukturellen Entwicklung des Instituts für Landschaftsforschung und Naturschutz Halle. In: Reichhoff, L. & Wegener, U. 2011: ILN – Institut für Landschaftsforschung und Naturschutz Halle – Forschungsgeschichte des ersten deutschen Naturschutzinstituts. Hrsg. vom Institut für Umweltgeschichte und Regionalentwicklung e. V.. Friedland: 27-37.

Reichhoff, L. & Wegener, U. 2011: ILN – Institut für Landschaftsforschung und Naturschutz Halle – Forschungsgeschichte des ersten deutschen Naturschutzinstituts. Hrsg. vom Institut für Umweltgeschichte und Regionalentwicklung e. V.. Friedland.

Erinnerungen von Zeitzeugen

Literatur zum Weiterlesen

Institut für Umweltgeschichte und Regionalentwicklung e.V. (Hg.), Lutz Reichhoff & Uwe Wegener (Bearb.): ILN. Institut für Landschaftsforschung und Naturschutz Halle. Forschungsgeschichte des ersten deutschen Naturschutzinstituts. Steffen-Verlag Friedland 2011.