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Biosphere Reserve Spreewald, Brandenburg, Germany

The Spreewald is situated only 100 kilometres south-east of Berlin, Germany. The landscape is a vast inland delta around the river Spree which was shaped during the last ice age. The area is composed of meadows, forests and fens, yet the unique feature is the network of more than 1,500 kilometres of natural and artificial watercourses. This unique landscape was created by the work of many generations who turned the once swampy floodplain forest into a unique, world-famous landscape of rivers and canals, meadows with haystacks, with log cabins and barns built by the Sorbs/Wends, built on small islands of valley sand safe from the Spree floods. The traditional way of life of the Sorbs/Wends, Slavic minorities, is still preserved in the Spreewald today. The region is officially bilingual, German and Lower Sorbian. The Sorbs/Wends have their own customs, costumes, folklore and cuisine.

The Spreewald was declared a biosphere reserve in 1990 to protect and preserve this landscape and was given UNESCO status in 1991 and covers an area of about 475 square kilometers. Almost the entire biosphere reserve is part of the Natura 2000 network (counting 15 sites), including parts of two EU Bird Protection Areas. Natura 2000 is a network of protected areas in the European Union that aims to preserve the biodiversity and habitats of endangered species.

Diverse demands are placed on the region and a wide variety of interests must be reconciled. The current land use in the Spreewald is mainly based on agriculture, forestry, fishing, tourism and water sports. The region is famous for its regional products, such as the Spreewald gherkins, which have a protected geographical indication. Other products include horseradish, mustard, linseed oil and honey. At the same time, this cultural landscape is home to a rich biodiversity of flora and fauna, including rare species such as the otter, the fire-bellied toad and the white-tailed eagle – as well as valuable habitat specially protected species and biotic communities. Hence, from the point of view of nature conservation the protection of the Spreewald is a priority.

The region faces a series of transformational challenges, making the preservation of the unique landscape a great and lasting transdisciplinary endeavor: Species-rich meadows and small fields lie fallow, thus the biodiversity and the attractiveness of the unique cultural landscape dwindle. The end of brown coal mining in the region will affect the water supply and the water level of the streams. This could lead to droughts, fires and changes in the vegetation, wildlife and tourism. Climate change and its impacts on the temperature, precipitation and biodiversity of the Spreewald will also affect the agriculture and tourism sectors. Moreover, there is a decline of the Sorbian culture and language, due to assimilation, migration and lack of support. Their traditions and identity are at risk of disappearing.

Find more information on the Spreewald here.

For more information on the research in Spreewald, please contact:

Iven Froese

Doctoral Researcher

Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF)

Eberswalder Str. 84

15374 Müncheberg


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