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Beech bonanza

June 25, 2011

Five beech forests in Germany have been declared United Nations World Heritage Sites. The areas have been included in a listing for similar ancient forests in Eastern Europe.

A 400-year-old beech tree
Some of the trees are 400 years oldImage: picture alliance/Eibner-Pressefoto

A committee of experts from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has agreed that five German beech forests should be declared World Heritage Sites. The committee said they were of "outstanding universal value."

The forests are in the states of Mecklenburg-Pomerania (Jasmund and Müritz National Parks), Brandenburg (Grumsiner Forest), Thuringia (Hainich National Park) and Hesse (Kellerwald-Edersee National Park). The sites make up Germany's largest natural beech forests.

Walkers in a German beech forest
It is hoped the honor will boost tourismImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The German forests have been added to a listing for ten similar beech forests in Slovakia and Ukraine, which have been on the World Heritage list since 2007. Germany has the only other natural lowland beech forests in the world. The collected forests will now be known as the "Primeval beech forests of the Carpathians and the old beech forests in Germany."

The German forests are much younger than those in Slovenia and Ukraine and small parts remain largely untouched by humans. The forest in Hainich National Park was a military exclusion zone for 40 years and hardly anyone was allowed to enter it. Similarly the Grumsiner Forest in the former East Germany has been hardly touched.

Environment Minister in Mecklenburg-Pomerania Till Backhaus said it was "a great day for environmental protection" in the state. It is hoped that the designation will encourage tourists to visit the areas.

New additions

The UN World Heritage List is made up of over 900 remarkable cultural and natural sites in 151 countries, which have been earmarked for conservation.

A beech tree in the fall
The beech trees look spectacular in the fallImage: picture-alliance/dpa

UNESCO's World Heritage Committee is meeting in Paris this week to consider submissions for 37 new additions to the list.

On Friday, the committee added the Ningaloo Coast, a vast area of reefs and caves on the remote western coast of Australia, the Kenya lake system in the Great Rift Valley and Japan's Ogasawara Islands, to the list.

Situated 1,000 kilometres south of Japan's main archipelago the Ogasawara Islands, are home to the endangered Bonin Flying Fox bats and 195 endangered bird species.

The 708,350-hectare Ningaloo Coast includes one of the longest near-shore reefs in the world and is an annual meeting point for whale sharks. Sea turtles are also found in the area.

The Kenya lake system, meanwhile, comprises three inter-linked shallow lakes - Lake Bogoria, Lake Nakuru and Lake Elementaita - where several threatened bird species and rare animals, such as black rhinos and African wild dogs, can be seen.

Author: Joanna Impey (dpa, epd)
Editor: Andreas Illmer