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The Vulkaneifel Nature Park – an opportunity for the future of our region

Werner Klöckner

On 7th May 2010 the state regulation on the “Vulkaneifel Nature Park” was issued. It came into force on 17th June 2010. A celebration took place on 31st May 2010 on the Deudesfeld open-air stage. This concluded more than a decade of continuous effort, consultations and discussions at a local and ministerial level involving all stakeholder groups, but the actual work has only just begun, for it is now time to “breathe life into” the Vulkaneifel Nature Park and use the opportunities it provides for the sustainable development of our region.

The Vulkaneifel Nature Park is the 102nd nature park in Germany and the eighth in Rhineland-Palatinate. It includes the municipalities of Daun, Hillesheim and Kelberg as well as parts of the municipalities of Gerolstein, Obere Kyll, Manderscheid and Ulmen. It covers 980 km², stretching across municipalities in three districts and its north-western edge borders the North Eifel Nature Park.

The idea of a nature park goes back to the Hamburg businessman and conservationist Dr. Alfred Töpfer, who in 1956 called for a programme to initially establish 25 nature parks. He saw nature parks as “large areas” that all “public, protected recreational areas” should be. In 1959, in their report on “Landscapes suitable to be chosen as nature parks”, the Federal Institute for Spatial Development set out the following guidelines:

Guideline 1: When nature parks are created, all the endeavours and measures must focus on people….modern people need a modern landscape in which urban residents can find beauty, peace and recreation and rural residents can earn a decent living…“

Guideline 2: Nature parks’ location and environment should be orientated to the large cities and conurbations… Predominantly suitable landscapes will be quiet, beautiful, rural areas, at least half of which will be wooded, if possible in the hills or mountains.“

These guidelines include two key elements that are not only still valid but have been strengthened and expanded due to changes in the law since then:

Firstly, the close link between conservation and recreation, in which people, and not nature, are the focus and secondly, the equal value given to the recreation of urban residents and the economic activity of rural residents (“a decent living”).

The Federal Nature Conservation Act of 25th March 2002 expanded and refined the responsibilities of nature parks with respect to sustainable development. This states that nature parks will strive to provide sustainable tourism and lasting ecological land use. The central message is the promotion of sustainable regional development. In Rhineland-Palatinate this federal regulation was succeeded by the Nature Conservation Act of 28th September 2005.

The fact that the process that led up to the nature park regulation being issued took more than a decade is probably because raising awareness of the central elements and expanded responsibilities of the nature park required intensive discussions. Supporters, objectors and those considering the issue across all the stakeholder groups should ultimately not just be satisfied, but rather inspired and motivated in their approach to the nature park. The premise in all of this is that real people are the focus in the Vulkaneifel.

Following on from the nature park regulation it is now the responsibility of the Vulkaneifel Nature Park to,

  • protect, maintain and develop the Vulkaneifel as a single large area of natural and scenic importance with its evidence of volcanic activity, maars, moors, streams, meadows, pastures, valleys, mountains, forests and dry grasslands, and to preserve or re-establish the quality of the ecosystem,
  • to promote and develop its specific suitability as a green space for sustainable recreation and environmental tourism including sport,
  • to preserve and develop through different uses the characteristic variety, uniqueness and beauty of the landscape and its bio- and biotope diversity, thereby striving for environmentally sustainable land use,
  • to increase sustainable regional added value on the basis of its natural, cultural and economic qualities through the cooperation of all those involved and concerned, taking into account industry, including mining operations,
  • to preserve, maintain and develop the cultural and recreational landscape including agriculture and forestry,
  • as well as promote overall sustainable regional development.


As this is legal wording it all sounds rather pompous and exacting. Fundamentally, it is about shaping the future using the instrument of regional development, rather than being subject to globalisation and metropolitan politics.

Endogenous, or independent, regional development arose in the 1970s as an opposition movement to the global economy and the central location policy. It saw itself then as a development that was quite deliberately based on the appreciation of the decentralised potential in the rural area. As part of the discussions on sustainability it came to be known from 1995 as “sustainable regional development”. From then onwards, the European Union also linked important regional support programmes to this new idea.


Compared to the other nature parks in Rhineland-Palatinate, the Vulkaneifel Nature Park has some special features:

1. The body responsible for the nature park is Natur- und GeoPark Vulkaneifel GmbH, whilst the other nature parks are run by associations. This company started as Vulkaneifel Tourismus GmbH (VTG). When the responsibilities of a regional tourism agency were passed over to the newly founded Eifel Tourismus GmbH in 2000, VTG became GeoPark Vulkaneifel GmbH, responsible for geotouristic valorisation and regional marketing. As part of the consultation on the creation of the Vulkaneifel Nature Park the role of the responsible body was expanded and the company name changed to Natur- und GeoPark Vulkaneifel GmbH. The reason for this hitherto unusual legal form for a body of this kind is the similar remit of the nature park and the geopark, the territorial congruence, the concentration of financial and personnel resources, the bundled acquisition of funding and marketing advantages. All those who are interested in the unified development of the nature park as well as the realisation of its protective purpose have the opportunity to be shareholders in this supporting organisation via group representation.

2. Compared to others, the Vulkaneifel Nature Park regulations are more liberal. There are fewer ad referendum provisions and there are only defined prohibitions for core zones.

3. The role of the Vulkaneifel Nature Park is the overall promotion of regional development. While this is not even mentioned in the regulations of other nature parks, the second newest Rhineland-Palatinate nature park regulations for Soonwald only mention “contribute to” rather than “promote”.

The remit of the Vulkaneifel Nature Park is generally defined in terms of “aesthetic conservation” that looks forwards, not backwards. Nature and the landscape in the nature park should be protected and developed in such a way that the economic existence of the people who live there is continuously secured. However, sustainable business and trade does not automatically originate in a single market. Globalisation often destroys extant, sustainable forms of business. Rather, it must be promoted carefully through consumers, producers and policies. For the Vulkaneifel Nature Park this means that if they wish to achieve their environmental objectives there needs to be a targeted commitment to sustainable business and sustainable regional development. In the broadest, most comprehensive sense of the word then, the role of a nature park will thus become regional management. It is about consciously combining and pooling all the strengths of the areas of business, the community, culture, the environment and politics in the nature park area under the umbrella of “sustainable regional development”.

On 9th September 2006, the Association of German Nature Parks agreed the “Petersberg programme for German Nature Parks”, in which the core tasks of the nature parks were formulated as follows:

Sustainable regional development

Nature parks are positive examples of our countryside. They offer people a diverse, healthy environment and the opportunity to relax surrounded by nature. Sustainable regional development as well as an increase in the quality of life and the economic well-being of the population must be achieved through goal-orientated management.

Conservation and preservation of the countryside

In the future, even more so than before, nature parks will make a significant contribution to the preservation of biological diversity and a country-wide biotope network. Through sustainable land management and forestry as well as targeted conservation, maintenance and development measures the conditions will be created for the preservation of typical cultural and natural landscapes with their variety of habitats and species.

Recreation and sustainable tourism

Due to their landscapes and the many opportunities for recreation that they offer, nature parks must be more integrated than before into the business and marketing concepts of tourism organisations on a national, state and regional level.

Environmental education and communication

Environmental education packages for residents and visitors as well as imaginative public relations should further increase acceptance of sustainable businesses as well as of nature and countryside conservation and encourage a deeper bond with and commitment to their region by the people.

Service and accessibility

Nature parks must also set up more service establishments for locals, visitors and partners. What nature parks offer must be high-quality, accessible to all and provided with skill.

Sustainable land development

More than other areas, nature parks must achieve a reduction in land use as well as provide rigorous protection of open spaces by 2020; this reduction must be sustainable, beneficial to nature and the environment, efficient and socially acceptable.

In light of demographic change, the Vulkaneifel Nature Park must work in such a way that it leads to an improvement in the economic, ecological and social situation in our rural region. The work of the nature park and its financing by the land, the local authorities and the economy should be seen as an investment in a forward-looking infrastructure that will benefit future generations. The synergistic link of geotouristic valorisation and marketing of our volcanic landscape with the regional development potential of a nature park supported by Natur- und GeoPark Vulkaneifel GmbH represents a special opportunity.