For many of us, when we are feeling stressed or anxious, we escape to places like the forest to relax. But what if the forests are under stress? Due to climate change, summers are getting warmer. As a result, the water table is falling and young trees and shallow-rooted species in particular can no longer reach that all-important elixir of life: water. Negative effects of this so-called ‘drought stress’ include bare patches of land, dry tree crowns, bark beetle infestation, sooty bark disease and sometimes the death of trees or even whole forests.
Drought, bark beetles, fire: one problem often leads to another. The soil has dried out so much in many places in recent years that even last winter's precipitation was only a drop in the bucket. Rain water is often no longer able to penetrate into the deeper layers of the earth, meaning that trees with deep-reaching roots now also have a serious problem.
Forests that are already damaged are also particularly vulnerable to fire. For example, if the trees are infested with bark beetles, there will be more dry wood debris in the forest. If the trees have little foliage due to drought, the sun will quickly dry out the ground. Not even rain can avert this danger after prolonged drought. If it rains only briefly or too weakly, the water reaches only the upper centimeters of the soil, below which the soil and roots remain dry. So, in the worst case, fires can spread underground even after rain.
In this Collection, we present six hikes where you can see for yourself the state of the forests. In northwestern Germany, the low mountain ranges in southern Lower Saxony are particularly affected. With the exception of oaks, all tree species are faring worse than they were four years ago. In the Harz Mountains of central Germany, the bark beetles have an easy time of it.
Near Oldenburg in the north of the country, the rain only reaches the upper layers of soil, which you can witness for yourself in the Osenberge region. Although Hamburg is often said to have grey and damp weather, drought has spread here as well. Hamburg residents are rising to the challenge by planting a great variety of tree species. In Bremen, you can see how the locals have to water their green spaces daily during the summer months.
In the far north, Schleswig-Holstein is less affected by the drought. However, even here, the first symptoms can be seen in the form of withered trees and forest fires in the spring.
So, it is high time that something was done! Our forests as we know them, Earth’s green lungs, are changing. But there is still hope to preserve them. The many monocultures — plantations that primarily serve to supply us with wood — are being converted into diverse and species-rich mixed forests. New species from across the world, such as the Douglas fir and the black walnut, represent rays of hope for our woodland regions.
Near-natural forests give us so much: they filter pollutants from the air, bind large amounts of CO₂ in both the soil and the wood, and provide us with oxygen day after day. It's time to give them something back, because each and every one of us can contribute to the preservation of our forests.
Climate change isn’t the only challenge we face. The extreme extraction of groundwater and the draining of wetlands for residential areas and farmland are making it increasingly difficult for trees to survive. Let's work together to conserve water and preserve our forests! The challenge is great, but it also offers opportunities, as the future could once again become more vibrant, species-rich and colorful.
The Harz forests have been plundered and changed for centuries. Large amounts of wood were required for ore extraction, which almost made the native deciduous forests disappear. In the past, fast-growing spruce trees were reforested, but they were not adapted to the low altitudes in the Harz Mountains and dried out in moderate summers - a great food for the bark beetle.
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