Pick of the German Week 08/2000........The Goose Tourists.....Socialist sell-out in National Park?.....Wolves in Brandenburg....Eurotwitch...

The Red Kite Milvus milvus
German Bird of the Year 2000

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Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus) just outside Stuttgart --- Early arrivals of Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita), Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) and Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) (overwintering numbers of the latter increasing?), the latter also starting to sing --- Red-breasted (Branta rufficollis); Snow (Anser caerulescens) and Lesser White-fronted Geese (Anser erythropus) in Schleswig Holstein - Yellow-billed Loon (Gavia adamsii) still on Lake Constance/Bodensee (no sighting after 2 March) - Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) on the loose in North Rhine Westphalia

1. Environment I: The Goose Tourists - Environmental Economics
2. Environment II: Socialist sell-out in Lower Saxony Wadden Sea National Park?
3. Wolf whelps in Brandenburg.
4. Webwatch
5. Suggestion Box

The behaviour of Homo politicus has been proved to be inexorably linked to an acoustic phenomenon – the 'ping' of the cash register. The volume and intensity of the 'pings' in the fiercely defended territory of the species give him (this behaviour has been noted among females; but much more infrequently) a decided advantage when ownership of the territory is next contested, usually every 4 – 5 years. Occasionally other species profit indirectly from this phenomenon; in Northern Germany an apparent seasonal advantage for the families Anser/Branta is currently being carefully monitored. As is however so often the case, the predators lurk in the background – and they seldom leave the scene empty handed.

In the important overwintering area for northern geese in Rheiderland the governing party chief Bernd Theilen defends his territory with an elegant balancing act. Properly equipped with a pair of binoculars, Mr. Thielen accompanied NABU staff to view the winter flocks of Barnacle (Branta leucopsis) and White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons). Over the past few years the NABU has organised Goose Tours; in this winter the number of visitors doubled to 1500 to the delight of the politician. Many came from the city of Bremen, others are locals, and groups of schoolchildren, bowling clubs and handicapped persons swelled the ranks of the birdwatchers. Despite the controversy about such tours, not least among environmentalists, the tourist trade is good for the local economy, particularly in winter. The farmers and landowners are far from delighted with the annual goose migration, claiming that their fields are stripped bare by the feeding geese. But Mr. Thiele has a sweetener for them as well.

The extent of the agricultural area for which environmental contracts are applicable has been doubled. The affected landowners receive a flat-rate payment of 200 Deutschmarks per hectare between November and March for tolerating the geese. With the doubling of this area to a total of some 2400 hectares the payments will amount in the coming winter to some half a million Deutschmarks.

So, who has been left out. Right first time – the hunters. Enraged by the bad press they have had this year they accuse the environmentalists of half-truths and outright lies, and of blowing the whole matter out of proportion. The NABU had issued a press statement (summarised in POTGW) in which illegal goose hunting and disinterest, to the point of active connivance by the local authorities was maintained. The regional hunting boss – the Kreisjaegermeister – made clear that the hunters had "only come to the assistance of farmers whose fields were not covered by compensation, but whose newly sown and winter crops were being laid waste by the insatiable geese." The local authorities in Leer, also convinced of the injustice done, had granted exceptional hunted licences. "All was legal and above board" stated Kreisjaegermeister Hilbrands. "Anyone would think that only the environmentalists support the geese ……. at the end of the day the costs are paid by the taxpayer." He further argues that the NABU is exploiting the geese with its Goose Tours and manipulation of the media, whilst the hunters are being publicly slandered. A challenge for Homo politicus – how will he secure the hunting vote? Answers on a postcard to…….

Unfortunately for the birds and wildlife in the bordering territory of the Wadden Sea, where Mr. Theilen also presides, the topping-up of the cash register follows other commercial rules. To give the tourists what they (apparently) want, the National Park Wadden Sea is being parcelled up - and disposed of to the highest bidder (see below).

(PS. the results of the Schleswig-Holstein election, with a clear win for the SPD, will almost certainly mean a continuance of the red-green coalition)
In Lower Saxony we don't need a conservative CDU takeover to reverse environmental policies. Our regional nature protection organisations are more than capable, with assistance from the social-democrat SPD and Green coalition, of doing their own demolition job!

The - in any case pathetic - ordinances of the Lower Saxony National Park Wadden Sea (aim – protection of the flora and fauna!) were transformed into a law in 1999 with the support of the participating nature protection organisations (or more accurately their functionaries) and the Green Party. This transformation took place without a single amendment – and naturally without consultation with the grass roots of the organisations concerned.

A couple of years ago the organisations had protested vehemently against the toothless National Park Ordinance and had demanded improvements from the Lower Saxony government. These included rectification of identified deficits and setting of new aims (published in annual, 5-year and 10 year reports – 'Nationalparkbilanzen'); and incorporation of proposals made by the tri-national government conference on protection of the Wadden Sea. All now conveniently forgotten.

No sooner had the law been passed than the organisations realised that they had legally sacrificed several appeal instances – in other words their political friends had led them up the garden path.

It didn't stop there. The island councils in East Friesland pressed for certain beaches to be excluded from the scope of the law. The coastal councils soon followed suit. The first concrete talks with the island councils have already taken place, behind closed doors, on 14. February in Aurich.

The dismantling of the anyway locally unpopular National Park has already begun. The brand-new National Park Law will be amended, probably in the course of this year, to suit the tourist lobby. East Friesland has 13 million overnight stays every year – not including B & B with less than 8 beds and the thousands of day-trippers!

The nature protection organisations (WWF, BUND and NABU) now concentrate (and to a great extent confine) their efforts to protect the Wadden Sea on the 'so-called' National Park Houses – visitor centres financially subsidised by the provincial government, with the building provided by the local authorities. (Not exactly designed to maintain independence of action)Organised nature protection has become a 'virtual' office experience!

[from the GermanBirdNet courtesy of Manfred Knake and Reiner Schopf of the 'East Friesian Nature and Environmental Protection Conference]

A cool morning in early December, some 50 km southeast from Berlin. The pensioned forester Dietrich Bennewitz ccan hardly believe his eyes as, some 80m from his shooting-box, a slim grey shape trots through the forest. At his soft call, the animal freezes, inspects the intruder in his realm, and slips into the concealing shadows of the trees. Informed sources confirm that wolf whelps have been successfully raised in Brandenburg for the 5th time since 1995.

Since the wolf (Canis lupus) has gained protected status in neighbouring Poland, the crossing of the River Oder presents no problem. The paradise of the East German provinces of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Brandenburg, where territories are up for grabs and man has declared large areas - in particular the former vast Soviet military training areas - as nature reserves, is irresistible. The wolves in the east of Germany have every chance of establishing a viable population. Their only surviving enemy, Homo sapiens, has little to fear from 'Isegrim' (the German nickname for the wolf) as his sheep flocks in this modern day and age are well protected behind electric fences (Perhaps with a couple of strands higher added!). Above all, Isegrim is happy to remain in the shelter of the extensive forests, which still cover large areas of Germany, and where the larder is well-stocked with deer and wild boar. The confrontation with the traditional enemy, man, can be therefore avoided. The embryonic German wolf packs will hopefully join the other established ,if isolated, west European populations in Italy and Spain.

Elsewhere in western Europe the situation is not so rosy for the grey wolf. In Norway and Switzerland, where the Little Red Riding Hood myth still prevails, farmers fear for their flocks and hunting of wolves is still permitted. But in both countries the wolf has been extinct for years and the traditional remedy of protecting the herds with wolfhounds and other trained sheepdogs has been forgotten. Not so in Romania, where wolves and bears roam free. A study by the Wild Biological Society (WGM) in the Carpathians showed the sheep losses to bears and wolves amounted to only 2 percent. Remarkable, considering that the predator density is one of the highest in the world. Welcome back Isegrim!

[A super Website for wolves, including their music, can be found at < http://home.t-online.de/home/041656556-0001/amarok.htm >]

~ Eurotwitch. Mailing list of rare bird sightings in Europe. To subscribe simply send a blank mail to: Eurotwitch

The changes above, designed to make POTGW more readable, and the themes more selective for contributors, arise from a suggestion from Elaine Cook of UKBN. Although I had intended to sort it out myself, Elaine's succint comments - 'Bird(s) of the Week' first, followed by a summary of contents, then the main themes - finally prompted me to act. If anyone else has ideas for improvements to the regular mails, or the simple website, please contact me.

David Conlin
GermanBirdNet Berlin

David Conlin
Mobile: +49 172 394 6671
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