A Paradise not just for Marder, Puma and Leo Armored Vehicles
An Important Natural Environment: The Rheinmetall Test Site on the Lüneburger Heide
“Germany is getting wilder,” announced a SPIEGEL headline last January. The news magazine was reporting on the return of wolves, lynxes and beavers to Germany, which according to the article is all thanks to large-scale nature conservation programs.
One especially large-scale program has been launched on Rheinmetall Waffe Munition’s Fojana test site on the Lüneburger Heide. Fojana is an acronym comprising the first two letters of the German words “Forst” (forest), “Jagd” (hunting and “Naturschutz” (nature conservation) and is the name of a natural paradise unequalled anywhere else in Germany. The 5,500-hectare gem near Unterlüß is managed by Rheinmetall in accordance with the strict rules of integrated nature conservation.
Innovative new weapons, vehicles and ammunition must be subject to intensive testing, which can often be difficult in densely populated Germany. The testing of defense technology is too destructive and too hazardous for the public, which is why, over 100 years ago on the Lüneburger Heide, Rheinmetall set up a restricted area out of bounds to unauthorized persons. For decades now, the test site has been the ideal hunting ground for Bundeswehr armored vehicles such as the Leopard, Marder and, most recently, Puma. A positive side-effect of this is that nature can take its course without interference and also be actively managed in an environmentally sound manner. Alongside the thundering of guns, you can now increasingly hear the chirping of rare bird species or the rutting calls of stags on this company-owned land.
Firing range as conservation area
“The occasional thundering of the guns hardly disturbs the animals,” says nature expert Theo Grüntjens. For more than 30 years, the graduate forestry engineer has been responsible for nature conservation and forestry in Fojana. “Our 800-meter wide and 15-kilometer long firing range even forms one of the main parts of our conservation area,” says the head of Rheinmetall’s forestry activities. This tract of land running through large wooded areas has become a valuable culti- vated landscape and is home primarily to the Scotch heather (Calluna vulgaris) from which the LüneburgerHeide derives its name.
The heath here is a cultural landscape marked by man. If the area were given over to nature, within just a few decades it would be covered in a birch and pine forest. However, Rheinmetall needs an unobstructed line of fire in order to utilize the site to meet its corporate targets. To ensure this, more than 1,000 grazing heathland sheep are used on the site and every winter fires are started, not everywhere at the same time but in different areas from one year to the next. The fire destroys everything that hinders the growth of the heather, although insects are spared. Theo Grüntjens: “Thanks to active landscape management, this area is home to thousands of insects. Almost 1,220 species of butterflies call this place home and around 700 bee colonies seek out their nectar here during the heather blooming season.”
Wherever there are lots of insects, birds will always find enough to eat. Numerous endangered species of birds have settled here on Rheinmetall’s test site. Even eagles, hawks and eagle owls and the now rare black grouse, the bird that symbolizes the Lüneburger Heide, are a fixture on the landscape of the test site. And the number of larger vertebrates on the test site, which largely comprises not heathland but woodland, is also impressive: red deer, roe deer, wild boars and hares and rabbits all share the site along with foxes, badgers, raccoon dogs and even otters and bats. “The biodiversity on display here is like a garden of paradise. Many of the species had already been considered extinct at these latitudes,” says Theo Grüntjens, clearly delighted at the work put in by his team. Grüntjens is particularly proud of the now resident wolf, with the presence of this shy animal demonstrating the success of Rheinmetall’s sophisticated forestry program.
Hunters help to keep the natural balance
Three days every November are set aside for a large hunt. This is in no way contrary to the aims of nature conservation because the hunters help to maintain the natural balance of the species. And not only that, but excessive wildlife populations could also prevent the growth of healthy woodland. Plus, the hunting of red deer, wild boar and roe yields between eight and ten metric tons of delicious venison ever year. Despite strict nature conservation regulations, the sustainable forest management program is also proving highly successful. Every year, around 16,000 cubic meters of wood are supplied mainly to the construction industry. The basis for this is to be improved further. For the past ten years, efforts have been underway to diversify the tree species, with the result that birches, beeches, oaks and Douglas firs can increasingly be seen growing among the pines. Theo Grüntjens: “Mixed woodland is less susceptible to storm damage and harmful environmental influences. Thanks to our efforts, the future of Fojana as both a unique and diverse habitat is secured for many decades to come.”
Rheinmetall’s test site, Fojana, is 17 kilometers long and between 3 and 5 kilometers wide on average. The main part of this is the 800-meter wide, 15-kilometer long firing range, which is surrounded by an unbroken area of forest (3,400 hectares). Three streams have their source on this site, which still bears the scars of the last ice age, and there are also lakes, ponds and marshes. 420 hectares of the site are farmed in harmony with nature, with Black Angus and Galloway cattle herds grazing here almost the whole year round. Rheinmetall’s restricted area is only publicly accessible from the north, on the Ellerndorfer Heide, a local family recreation area.