Late Strategies for Change

An amended version of the Nature Conservation Regulation titled “Protection and Care of the Plant and Animal World and of the Beauties of the Natural Landscape” was enacted on May 18, 1989, shortly before the tumultuous events of October and November 1989. The regulation came into effect on June 19, 1989, and introduced several improvements to the government’s toolkit of conservation practices. It was the result of efforts on the part of the Institute for Landscape Research and Nature Conservation (ILN) to devise a new strategy for nature conservation.

While tackling conservation issues in the natural landscape as a whole did not conflict with traditional conservation theory and objectives, the work of the ILN, researchers in cooperating institutes, and conservation volunteers focused on protected objects and areas (or those deserving of protection) and performed research in natural monument areas, nature reserves and landscape protection areas. Conservation successes were largely limited to these “islands” in the countryside, with natural monument areas and nature reserves far ahead of landscape protection areas in terms of priority. The system of nature reserves was considered to be complete as far back as the early 1970s. The areas protected under that system constituted at best 0.9 percent of the total area of the GDR and did not conform to the dominant, industrial form of land use. The limits of the “island” approach to nature conservation could be seen in areas where lignite mining or intensive agriculture and forestry were heavily promoted, or where marginal lands were re-assigned to non-agricultural use. The problem of threats to biodiversity, and consequently of cultivar loss and the need to protect cultivars, was sufficiently well known and yet was not reflected in conservation practices.

As early as 1976, at a conference in Wesenberg, Mecklenburg, 25 leading members of national and Bezirk botany committees called for a new concept of nature conservation, one “that is commensurate with the present and future conditions of land use” (Weber 1998, 159).

The traditional concept and practices of nature conservation, now almost one hundred years old, appeared increasingly obsolete in the face of failures to tackle conservation issues outside of protected areas.

In 1987, employees of the ILN published ideas for a new definition and strategic realignment of conservation. These ideas, which they had been preparing for years, articulated a clearer distinction between the objectives and practices of nature conservation and those of environmental protection and landscape management (Reichhoff and Böhnert 1987). In an approach based on the concept of resources, they divided natural resources into exhaustible and inexhaustible resources and the latter category into restorable (soil, biomass, ecosystems, landscapes) and unrestorable resources. The unrestorable resources were divided into those that were developmentally passive (fossil fuels, ores, and minerals) and those that were developmentally active (diversity of species and forms in organisms, genetic diversity of populations). Based on this system, they derived strategic and tactical objectives of nature conservation.

Nature conservation, according to their theory, was principally concerned with the protection of exhaustible, unrestorable, developmentally active resources. Environmental protection was concerned with inexhaustible resources; and landscape management was concerned with exhaustible but restorable resources. Resource economics, on the other hand, was concerned with exhaustible, unrestorable, developmentally passive resources (Reichhoff 2009).

On the basis of this theory, the strategic goal of nature conservation was defined as the preservation of the diversity of species and forms within living nature (Reichhoff and Böhnert 1987, 148 f.). The authors then developed premises for the establishment of a “unified theoretical conception of nature conservation” and for conservation research. In view of profound changes in the diversity of natural species and forms, they felt research needed to focus on preserving threatened populations of species and forms and to do from the perspectives of evolutionary biology, population genetics, and population ecology. This tactic of redefining nature conservation as the selection of proper scientific, legal and practical measures should, they said, be used primarily in the protection of species and forms. They identified the red lists created in the 1970s as “guideposts for a tactical approach in nature conservation” (151 f.). The authors called for the preventive protection of species and habitats.

The concept of resources as a category that would guide the definition of objectives and practices was intended to promote the acceptance of nature conservation among those who thought primarily in economic terms and acted on the basis of economic considerations. These people included political decision-makers, staff in other public institutions and administrations, and not least land users (VEG, VEB, LPG etc.). In this way, species and biotope protection could be depicted as a measure to protect exhaustible, unrecoverable, developmentally active natural resources, thereby safeguarding the basic prerequisite of any economic utilization of such resources.

The phrase “diversity of the species and forms of organisms” was included in the new nature conservation regulation. This change improved the legal basis of species and biotope protection considerably. Section 11 (2) of the regulation introduced the concept of “total reserve” (Totalreservat) and expanded the protection of natural processes; Section 12 introduced the legal category of biosphere reserve and Section 13 that of protected wetlands; Section 14 enabled the designation of sanctuaries for species threatened with extinction; Section 15 established natural monument areas as an independent category and expanded the maximum possible protected area from three to five hectares; Sections 20 and 21 used the term “red list” and regulated the protection of the locations of protected plants and the habitats of protected animals; Section 22 regulated the designation of other protected organisms (for example, fungi); and Section 24 introduced ecologically important areas (protected biotopes) (Reichhoff 2009). Toward the end of 1989, numerous small areas across the GDR were provisionally protected in accordance with Sections 15 and 24.

The new regulation would not ultimately have remedied the problem of understaffing in government conservation departments. The role of volunteers, however, was strengthened. Section 6, for example, called for citizen participation in conservation work. The possibility of forming advisory committees for nature conservation (Section 7) was also new. In effect it reintroduced the volunteer-staffed conservation offices that had been abolished by the Nature Conservation Act of 1954.


Reichhoff, L. & Böhnert, W. 1987: Aktuelle Aspekte des Naturschutzes. Archiv für Naturschutz und Landschaftspflege 27 (3): 139-160.

Reichhoff, L. 2009: Die Entwicklung der Strategie „Erhaltung der Arten- und Formenvielfalt” als zentrale Aufgabe des Naturschutzes in den 80er Jahren des 20. Jahrhunderts in der DDR. Studienarchiv Umweltgeschichte 14: 15-26.

Weber, R. 1998: Der Zentrale Fachausschuss Botanik im Kulturbund – sein Werden, Wachsen und Wirken. In: Institut für Umweltgeschichte und Regionalentwicklung e. V. (Hg.): Naturschutz in den neuen Bundesländern – ein Rückblick. Marburg: 147-165.

Erinnerungen von Zeitzeugen

Literatur zum Weiterlesen

Reichhoff, L.:

Die Entwicklung der Naturschutzstrategie der DDR. In: Institut für Umweltgeschichte und Regionalentwicklung e.V. (Hg.): Naturschutz in den Neuen Bundesländern - Ein Rückblick. Berlin 2001: 517-529.


Reichhoff, L.:

Die Entwicklung der Strategie „Erhaltung der Arten- und Formenvielfalt" als zentrale Aufgabe des Naturschutzes in den 1980er Jahren in der DDR. Studienarchiv Umweltgeschichte 14. 2009: 15-26.


Reichhoff, L.; Böhnert, W.:

Aktuelle Aspekte des Naturschutzes. Archiv für Naturschutz und Landschaftsforschung. 27 (3) 1987: 139-160.