Government Conservation Work—between Principles and Practice

Government conservation authorities were no match for the country’s growing conservation problems. The general lack of conservation personnel in Bezirk and Kreis administrations continued into the 1980s. The ILN addressed the problem at a meeting of its branch managers and Dölzig department staff in Müritzhof on June 24–25, 1986. A document summarizing the results of the meeting assessed the performance of government conservation authorities and provided a trenchant account of the general situation:

–     “Local representative assemblies, at both the Bezirk and Kreis levels, occupy themselves with questions of nature conservation very rarely (once every five years, on average).

–     The council members in charge of these issues work on them with similar infrequency, unless they are given particular cause to do so through input from the citizenry (usually regarding only specific, local problems) or proposals made by the ILN. Conservation is almost unique among the subjects handled in government departments, in that government direction, guidelines, or reporting obligations either do not exist at all or are rudimentary. This is true of both central and Bezirk administrations. In some cases, however, individual council members may be personally interested in conservation and as a result may be unusually dedicated to the job.

–     In the Bezirke, a single government employee is tasked with all matters related to nature conservation and only rarely does this person possess the qualifications required of the job. Moreover, it is common for additional, regularly recurring tasks to be given to this employee, who is generally considered to be non-essential. The position typically also has a high turnover (particularly when held by enterprising staff who are familiar with the ways of the administration). By and large, work at the Bezirk level can be characterized as a “one-person job.”

–     At the Kreis level, matters pertaining to nature conservation are—or are supposed to be—dealt with by staff in the hunting and nature conservation department. The ‘double-hatted’ status of the department, together with the fact that it reports to two different authorities (the Kreis council chairperson and the Agriculture and Forestry Department), place high demands on its staff and in practice mean that 80 to 90 percent of the work they do is related to hunting. (This is particularly true of Kreise that hold large amounts of woodland, according to statements made by government employees.)

–     The collective agreement (Rahmenkollektivvertrag) for public authorities mentions only a “head of the subject area of hunting.” There is no mention at all of the subject area of nature conservation. The ranking on the salary scale is relatively low. This is the reason (or pretext) for the great neglect of conservation work, along with the fact that the issues of nature conservation are not easy to grasp and require higher qualifications. The number of Kreise in which government conservation work is “good,” that is, performed effectively, is estimated at 20 percent.

–     At the Kreis level, the effective functioning of government conservation work is restricted to Kreise in which either or both of the following hold true: the Kreis has an enterprising volunteer force (Kreis honorary conservation officers, and conservation helpers) and/or the government employee responsible for nature conservation has a personal interest in it. In some cases, members of the Environment, Water Management and Recreation Department (UWE), despite having a heavy workload related to the department’s own affairs, have performed conservation-related tasks better, or have been the only ones to accomplish them at all (documentation available).

–     When the position of the Kreis honorary conservation officer is not filled or is inadequately filled, and the composition of the Kreis council is unfavorable, a situation can arise in which government-administered nature conservation is virtually non-existent for years at a time (approx. 20 percent of the Kreise).

–     According to a resolution made by the Rostock Bezirk council in 1982, Kreise that are located in industrial regions or possess large hunting grounds, and as a result have heavy workloads in either conservation or hunting, should handle these workloads separately, with each assigned its own government employee. This has not yet been implemented.

–     The lack or inadequacy of government personnel has a particularly negative impact on the review process for site permits. Leaving aside the lack of consistent and binding regulations regarding the involvement of nature conservation authorities in the preparation of all landscape-altering measures, project documents submitted for conservation-related review to Kreis councils are approved without reservation, provided no nature reserves or natural monuments are affected. The provisions laid out in regulations such as those concerning species protection continue to be completely disregarded! This causes valuable matter to be irretrievably destroyed or damaged.

–     Under these circumstances (and with some exceptions), there can be no question of applying landscape conservation principles and [effectively] working with landscape protection areas. Even in some of the Bezirk councils, landscape protection areas—even those of central importance—are excluded from the sphere of responsibility of the forestry and conservation departments (for example, the Bezirk of Rostock). In some cases, this work is taken on by the UWE Department.

–     The training of government conservation officials on Bezirk councils (Naturschutzwarte) is inadequate; as a result, only those staff who are very assured and extremely dedicated meet the expectations placed on them.

–     The public authorities responsible for nature conservation do not have the capacity or work methods needed to move beyond the activities of old-style, defensive, preservationist nature conservation (placing areas/objects under protection, or creating regulations aimed at mitigating impacts). As a result, it is not possible to implement constructive, long-term plans in harmony with use and protection. The standing of nature conservation cannot be raised under these conditions.

–     The ILN is required by law to provide expert advice to [public authorities entrusted with] conservation work [...]. This requires that we have partners in government who are authorized to take this expert knowledge into consideration and apply it in the implementation of government guidelines. Without such partners, research and consultation work in this sector are ineffective. The same is true of honorary conservation officers, who are only rarely able to wholly fulfill their social function. The esteem in which this function is generally held is a reflection of this fact.

–     As a result of the situation regarding public authorities, complicated conservation work (large-scale water management projects, land improvement, traffic, etc.) is passed on to the regional working groups of the ILN, whose lack of capacity forces them to make ad hoc evaluations and assessments that do not do justice to the scope and long-term consequences of these measures. When it comes to implementation, narrow departmental considerations often tip the scale against optimizing conditions in the economy and society as a whole. Because of its limited capacity, it is seldom possible for the ILN to monitor and evaluate the results.”[1]

The signatories to this document made several suggestions for overcoming discrepancies between legal regulations and actual conservation practices. The suggestions were modest considering the extensive list of shortcomings that they were addressing, however, and were largely restricted to increases in staffing, better qualifications, and higher wages.

Thus the prospects for nature conservation toward the end of the GDR looked anything but bright, and without the selfless work of honorary conservation officers and volunteers, there would have been no progress (Wegener 1998, 89).


Wegener, U. 1998: 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. Marburg: 89-108.

[1]     ILN publication, “Zur Wirksamkeit der staatlichen Organe auf dem Sektor Naturschutz als Teil der sozialistischen Landeskultur, Greifswald, den 25.8.86, unter Verwendung der Zuarbeiten von Dr. Hentschel, Dr. Hiekel und Dr. Reichhoff zusammengestellt von Dr. G. Klafs,” folder of correspondence for the Bezirk of Potsdam and Berlin, Meetings of the Bezirk Council 1970–1989 (Schriftwechsel Bezirk Potsdam und Berlin, Beratungen RdB), ILN Archive, Brandenburg Landesamt für Umwelt.

Erinnerungen von Zeitzeugen

Literatur zum Weiterlesen

Paucke, H.:

Ökologisches Erbe und ökologische Hinterlassenschaft. Forum Wissenschaft Studien 34. Marburg 1996.

Paucke, H.:

Chancen für Umweltpolitik und Umweltforschung. Zur Situation in der ehemaligen DDR. Forum Wissenschaft Studien 30. Marburg 1994.

Institut für Umweltgeschichte und Regionalentwicklung e.V. (Hg.); Behrens, H. (Bearb.): Naturschutzgeschichte Thüringens. Lexikon der Naturschutzbeauftragten, Band 4. Berlin 2015: 231-259.