Hambach Forest

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Hambacher Forst 2016 LBA 4703.jpg

Hambach Forest (German: Hambacher Forst, Bürgewald, Die Bürge) is a forest located in North Rhine-Westphalia, western Germany, between Cologne and Aachen. The forest is nearly 12,000 years old, rich in biodiversity and home to 142 species regarded as important for conservation.

Only ten percent of Hambach Forest still remains.[1]

Area of destroyed forest with excavator

Occupation by environmentalists[edit]

Hambach surface mine (grey); remaining and occupied Hambach Forest more southern (northeast of Morschenich)[2]

Since 2012, Hambach Forest has been a political standpoint for environmentalists who are protesting against the German energy company RWE because of the open-pit lignite mine situated on the site.[3]

An area within the forest has been occupied by those opposing the lignite-extracting Hambach surface mine. At 33 square miles, it is the largest of its kind in Europe. They seek to close the mine and save the remaining sections of the forest which are under threat of being cut down to allow the expansion of the mine.

Cutting seasons last from 1 October until the end of February and regularly 170-200 acres had been cleared in each period. The tree cutting operations in the 2017/2018 cutting season ended after just two days in November after the Higher Administrative Court in Münster ordered a stop. According to the BUND (Friends of the Earth Germany), the organization which filed the corresponding law suit, Hambach Forest with its common oak and hornbeam and lily of the valley populations is a habitat type 9160 of annex I of the European Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992).[4]

Of special interest in this law suit is the Bechstein's bat, which is strictly protected according to annex II and annex IV of the European Habitats Directive. Furthermore an Environmental Impact Assessment study has never been conducted. The Administrative Court in Cologne denied the necessity of such a study in November 2017 because the permission for the mining operations was given in the 1970s, long before Environmental Impact Assessment studies became mandatory.

The first occupation lasted a year and a half ending in 2013.[5]

The current occupation started in 2014. It involves a settlement with around two dozen tree houses and numerous road barricades. The barricades were erected to prevent mining company and police vehicles from entering.[5]

On 22 January 2018 nine Hambach Forest activists were arrested for resisting a barricade eviction. All of the arrested refused to give any details about their identities and remained unknown in pretrial detention and also in the courtroom. One activist, who was freed from a lock-on on a tripod, was sentenced to 6 months on parole after a pretrial detention of 67 days in Cologne-Ossendorf jail. Two activists were released after 52 days in pretrial detention in Cologne-Ossendorf jail after a medical examination revealed that they were most probably under 21 years old and should therefore be processed under juvenile law.

A 22 year old activist from Australia joined the occupation in March 2018 and planned to stay for two weeks also in order to take part in a workshop to build tree houses. She had been arrested on 19 March one week after her arrival after she had been part of a group out of which firecrackers were thrown in the direction of police officers. She decided not to give any personal details and tried to stay anonymously. As a consequence she had been taken into pre trial detention (as "Unknown Person III" [UP III]), denying herself the chance to take her already booked flight back home to Australia one week later. According to the prosecutor she was identified one day before here trial which took place on 31 July 2018. She has been sentenced to 9 months in prison without parole.

On 13 September 2018 a large scale police operation started initiated by North Rhine-Westphalian Ministry of Construction to evict more than fifty tree houses which existed for up to six years because they didn't comply with fire safety regulation standards. To protect life and limb of the tree house occupants was announced as an important goal of the operation.

On 19 September a video blogger broke through a walkway in 15 meters height in the tree house village of Beechtown and died after immediately taken resuscitation efforts failed. The eviction of tree houses had been stopped immidiately after that incident but should be resumed according to North Rhine-Westphalian Interior Minister Reul.


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 50°54′27″N 6°26′56″E / 50.9074°N 6.4488°E / 50.9074; 6.4488