Hambach Forest

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Aerial view of Hambach Forest from the south, October 2018

Hambach Forest (German: Hambacher Wald, Hambacher Forst, Bürgewald, Die Bürge) is an ancient forest located in North Rhine-Westphalia, western Germany, near Buir [de] between Cologne and Aachen. It is planned to be cleared as part of the Hambach surface mine by owner RWE AG. There have been ongoing protests and occupations to prevent this since 2012.[1]

Area of destroyed forest with excavator
Hambach surface mine (gray); remaining Hambach Forest in the south (NE of Morschenich (de)); recultivated Sophienhöhe in NW, 2017[2]

Remnant of a unique ecological habitat[edit]

Hambach Forest is rich in biodiversity and home to 142 species regarded as important for conservation. The forest has been called "the last remnant of a sylvan ecosystem that has occupied this part of the Rhine River plain between Aachen and Cologne since the end of the last ice age".[1] Only ten percent of Hambach Forest still remains, and the remaining forest is severely threatened by mining for brown coal.[1]

Hambach Forest's rare Bechstein's bat population is threatened.

Bechstein's bats habitat[edit]

Of special interest is the rare Bechstein's bat population, which is strictly protected according to annex II and annex IV of the European Habitats Directive. 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.

Lignite mining in the area, as of 2018. Hambach pit mine is left of center.

Clearance for electricity from coal[edit]

The area is part of the Rhenish Lignite Mining Area (German: Rheinisches Braunkohlerevier (de)), and Hambach surface mine is the largest open pit mine in Germany, as of 2018. RWE AG has owned the land since the 1960s or earlier and has held an official permit to clear forests in the area since the 1970s. The company has repeatedly argued that Hambach Forest must be cleared to ensure future energy supply.

The usual process is to excavate the lignite/brown coal beneath it with huge excavator machines and then burn it in steam-electric power generation. The 2018 map to the right shows the extent of excavation activities until then. On this map, Hambach Forest (around abandoned old Morschenich) is not displayed at all, but under a hatching meaning "future area of operations".

First occupation by environmentalists (2012–2013)[edit]

Since 2012, Hambach Forest has been a political standpoint for environmentalists who are protesting against the German energy company RWE AG because of the open-pit Hambach surface mine mine neighboring the site. At 33 square miles, the mine is the largest of its kind in Europe.[3]

An area within the forest was occupied by those opposing the clearance for lignite extraction. They sought 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.

The first occupation lasted a year and a half ending in 2013.[4]

Barricade (September 2016)

Current occupation (2014– )[edit]

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.[4]

BUND lawsuit and court order[edit]

Cutting seasons last from 1 October until the end of February and regularly 170-200 acres have been cleared in each period. The tree cutting operations in the 2017/2018 cutting season ended after just two days in November 2017, after the Higher Administrative Court in Münster ordered a stop. According to BUND, the environmental protection association that filed the corresponding lawsuit, Hambach Forest with its common oak, hornbeam and lily of the valley populations is a habitat of type 9160 of annex I of the European Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992).[5] Of special interest in this lawsuit was the Bechstein's bat, which is strictly protected according to annex II and annex IV of the European Habitats Directive.

Arrests of activists (spring of 2018)[edit]

Colony of tree houses in Hambach Forest (February 2018)

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 [de]. 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. After a court hearing on 4 October she has been released.

Newly erected barricades (September 2018)

Police clearing the tree houses (September 2018)[edit]

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.[6]

Journalist falls and dies[edit]

On 19 September 2018, while working on a long-time documentary project of the activities in the Hambach Forest, the 27-year old artist, blogger and journalist Steffen Meyn broke through a walkway in 15 meters height in the tree house village of Beechtown and died.[7] Immediately taken resuscitation efforts failed.

The eviction of tree houses had been stopped immediately after that incident but was resumed on 23 September 2018. According to a police statement all of 86 tree houses had been evicted and destroyed on 2 October 2018.

Court order stops clearance again (October 2018)[edit]

On 5 October 2018 the Higher Administrative Court (German: Oberverwaltungsgericht (de)) of Münster ruled that the clearance of Hambach Forest by RWE has to stop immediately until evidence brought by BUND can be evaluated.[8] The evidence in question concerns the threat to the local Bechstein's bat population.[9]

Large demonstration (October 2018)[edit]

Demonstration Wald retten - Kohle stoppen near Hambacher Forst (6 Oktober 2018)

On 6 October 2018 there was a large demonstration "Wald retten - Kohle stoppen" (English: "Save the forest - Stop coal") near Hambach Forest. It was organized by BUND, Campact [de], Greenpeace, NaturFreunde Deutschlands (Friends of Nature), the local initiatives Buirer für Buir and Arbeitsgemeinschaft "Bäuerliche Landwirtschaft" (AbL), and others. Originally planned for 5,000 people, and with 25,000 people anticipated before the event was temporarily forbidden two days earlier, there were 50,000 participants according to the organizers;[10] the police acknowledged some 25,000 to 30,000. The demonstrators celebrated the recent court decision in a peaceful festival atmosphere with many speeches, demanding an end to the use of coal to generate power.[10][11][12] Participating speakers included Michael Müller [de] (NaturFreunde Deutschlands), Jens Sannig (pastor), Ulf Allhoff-Cramer (Detmold farmer), Antje Grothus [de] (Buirer für Buir), Hubert Weiger [de] (BUND), Martin Kaiser (Greenpeace), Mamadou Mbodji (NaturFreunde Internationale), Helene Nietert (Camp for Future), Christoph Bautz [de] (Campact), Jochen Flasbarth [de] (BMU), Annalena Baerbock (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen), Bernd Riexinger (Die Linke), Michael Zobel (forest educator), Ingo Bajerke (Keyenberg [de]), Uwe Hiksch [de] (Naturfreunde), and Milan Schwarze (Ende Gelände). Various musicians supported the event with live performances including Eddi Hünecke [de], Revolverheld, Tonbandgerät [de], Die Höchste Eisenbahn, Gerd Schinkel [de], Joe Löhrmann [de],[13] Davide Martello,[14] and Piri-Piri.[14]

The final court decision is expected for 2020.[15]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Is Germany's Hambach Forest Doomed by Coal?". National Geographic.
  2. ^ "Action Map of the Wood – Hambach Forest".
  3. ^ "Clash in German forest as red line is crossed". DW Environment. Deutsche Welle (DW). 2016-12-01.
  4. ^ a b "Special Report from the Occupied Forest: Meet Activists Fighting Europe's Largest Open-Pit Coal Mine". democracynow.org. 2017.
  5. ^ "Save the "Hambacher Forst" - Stop coal mining" (PDF). BUND - Friends of the Earth Germany. Retrieved 2018-04-15.
  6. ^ "German police confront treehouse activists after six-year standoff - Occupiers protesting against coalmine expansion in Hambach forest call for mass mobilisation". Kerpen, Germany: Agence France-Presse. 2018-09-13. Retrieved 2018-10-09.
  7. ^ "Tod im Hambacher Forst - Vom Beobachter zum Freund" [Death in Hambach Forest - From observer to friend] (in German). Die Tageszeitung (taz). 2018-09-20.
  8. ^ Smith-Spark, Laura (2018-10-05). "Hambach Forest clearance halted by German court". CNN. Retrieved 2018-10-09.
  9. ^ "Rodung im Hambacher Forst gestoppt" [Clearance of Hambach Forest stopped] (in German). Tagesschau, ARD. 2018-10-05. Retrieved 2018-10-05.
  10. ^ a b "Größte Demo der Geschichte - Laut Veranstalter 50.000 Demonstranten am Hambacher Forst" [Largest demonstration in history - 50,000 demonstrants at Hambach Forest according to organizers] (in German). Aachener Nachrichten (de). 2018-10-07.
  11. ^ "50.000 demonstrieren am Hambacher Wald für schnellen Kohleausstieg" [50,000 demonstrate for end to coal at Hambach Forest] (Press announcement) (in German). BUND. 2018-10-06. Retrieved 2018-10-09.
  12. ^ "Germany: Thousands hold anti-coal protest in Hambach Forest". Deutsche Welle (DW). 2018-10-06. Retrieved 2018-10-09.
  13. ^ Bilanceri, Serena (2018-10-06). "Mit Klavier gegen Kohle – Bremer Pianist spielt im Hambacher Forst" [Against coal with piano - Bremen pianist plays in Hambach Forest]. Buten un binnen (de) (in German). Radio Bremen. Retrieved 2018-10-07.
  14. ^ a b Parth, Christian (2018-10-09). "Hambacher Forst: "Das ist die Mitte der Gesellschaft"" [Hambach Forest: That's the middle of society] (in German). Zeit Online. Retrieved 2018-10-07.
  15. ^ "Hambacher Forst: Zehntausende feiern Rodungsstopp" [Hambach Forest: Tens of thousands celebrate clearance stop] (in German). Tagesschau, ARD. 2018-10-06. Retrieved 2018-10-06.

External links[edit]

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