Moore in Brandenburg: The dilemma between climate protection and agriculture

Moore in Brandenburg: The dilemma between climate protection and agriculture

Plans in Brandenburg

Dealing with wetlands reveals the dilemma between climate protection and agriculture

Sun 11/19/23 | 11:37 am | In Stefanie Otto

Moorish area in Brandenburg from documentation


Audio: Brandenburg Antenna | November 6, 2023 | Sabine Tzitschke | Photograph: rbb

Brandenburg needs to re-wet a quarter of its drained moors to achieve greater climate protection. Moorish protectors demand there be even more. Farmers, on the other hand, fear losing their meadows to feed livestock. By Stefanie Otto

  • 95 percent of Brandenburg’s former marshes have been drained
  • Drained areas emit more CO2 than all traffic in the country
  • A quarter of swamps will be rewetted
  • Farmers are concerned about grasslands as a source of fodder

“Many people see a meadow like this and don’t even think there is moorland underneath. In fact, it doesn’t look like a moor, but rather a beautiful green meadow”, explains Christina Grätz, biologist at the Climate Moor Working Group as she sticks the shovel in the ground.

She examines the condition of the moorland in a pasture in the so-called Netzen Polder near the Lehnin Monastery in the Potsdam-Mittelmark district. Dark brown, almost black soil appears under the grass, forming greasy clumps. “This means that the peat is already very decomposed due to drainage,” says Grätz.

Heavily decomposed moorland soil from net drainage near Lehnin Monastery.  Excerpt from documentation
Moorland heavily decomposed by drainage | Photograph: rbb

95 percent of Brandenburg’s former heathlands have been converted into pastures or even fields. Ditches remove water from the landscape, pumping stations pump it into rivers through canals. In Brandenburg alone, this network of ditches is 24,000 kilometers long. This was considered necessary, especially in the 1950s and 60s, to ensure food supplies. Because only in drained areas could fodder for animals be cultivated and harvested with heavy machinery.

Drained swamps emit more CO2 than all traffic in the country

Even so, there was criticism. But the problem only became known in wide circles with the growing awareness of climate change, as Lukas Landgraf reports. The landscape ecologist is responsible for protecting wetlands at the State Secretariat for the Environment. Intact peatlands store more carbon than forests []. But as the water sinks, the peat breaks down and forms CO2.

In Brandenburg, drained peat bogs emit 7.2 million tons of CO2 annually, more than all the traffic in Brandenburg []. Lukas Landgraf warns that there is no time to waste: “Peat continues to be breathed. And as long as the water is deep, microorganisms can do their work. can continue Otherwise, it will all be over for the next generation.”

Greenhouse gas emissions from moorland soils - Brandenburg (Source: Greifswald Moor Centrum)Overview of greenhouse gas emissions from peatlands in Brandenburg

The higher the water, the better the climate balance

For the remaining carbon to remain in the moor soil, the water level would have to be raised. Every extra centimeter reduces emissions. Germany has set itself the goal of becoming climate neutral by 2050. Emissions from peatlands must initially be reduced by five million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents by 2030. This represents around ten percent of current emissions annuals from used heathlands.

For Brandenburg, this means a reduction of at least 750,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalents. This is also the objective of the Moors protection program, adopted by the state in March 2023.

A quarter of former wetlands will be rewetted

To do this, 50,000 hectares of heathland would have to be rewetted, i.e. around a quarter of the heathland area currently in use. Christina Grätz and the Klimamoor working group were hired by the state to monitor this project and advise area users and owners.

“For climate protection, it might even make sense if all the Brandenburg moors looked the same as before,” explains Christina Grätz. “But we have many areas that are used for agriculture and where jobs and business are linked, passion is linked to this and that is why agricultural use in these areas must be maintained”.

Many farmers against the flooding of moors

But it is still not clear to farmers how moorland climate management and protection should go together. Farmer Heino Tietje keeps 1,200 dairy cows. The areas where he harvests the animal feed are in Uckertal, also an old heathland. “We can create value from this herb that no one else can use,” argues Tietje. “We produce around 20,000 liters of milk per hectare of moorland per year. That’s enough for 60 people.”

Biologist Christina Grätz and landscape ecologist Lukas Landgraf examine a rewetted heathland.  Excerpt from documentation Control in the rewetted heath: biologist Christina Grätz and landscape ecologist Lukas Landgraf walk through a damp meadow

Three-quarters of its pastures would be affected by rewetting. Many farmers got used to their land being dry all year round and concentrated all their production on that. Landowners are also skeptical and fear that their land will lose value if it becomes wet again year-round. “No valuable plants grow in the flooded areas”, worries Heino Tietje. “We have to be able to guarantee basic food for our cows here. And if everything gets soaked, we won’t have any more food.”

Driving, fertilizing and harvesting would also be more difficult or impossible in wetter areas, says the farmer, and at first he does not see a common denominator. However, the Minister of the Environment and Agriculture, Axel Vogel (The Greens), does. At the “Future Dialogue” held in Prenzlau in June, he explained to the region’s farmers: “We are not going to free the moors from CO2. it will be 30 “There are centimeters below the ground. Not 50, not 70, not 90 centimeters.”

The commitment must enable agriculture and climate protection

Raising the water level to at least a foot below the grass should make both possible. Keep greenhouse gases in the soil and allow current cultivation to continue. What appears to be a compromise proposal, however, raises new questions for farmers. How can the water level be kept equal everywhere if the terrain is uneven? How should water be regulated when there is heavy rain or dry periods?

This requires accurate hydrological reports, water permits and someone to control the ditches and dams. But the minister was unable to say how quickly this would happen: “I can’t give you a time horizon here. But what you should definitely take into account in your planning is that you will definitely no longer be able to do intensive activities. becomes the deep drainage of moorland sites.”

Not raising animals is not an option for many farmers

Some farmers are willing to take new paths and try farming wetlands. The moor vegetation that would prevail there could later be transformed into building panels, insulation material, packaging or peat substitutes. There are already state financing programs for this, which are also highly sought after. But further processing and the market for these new products are still at an early stage.

Farmer Heino Tietje, like many of his colleagues, cannot imagine that the stable can remain empty and does nothing other than cows. He also just invested in a new stable technology. Rehumidification is a threat to him and his company. “The question is what to do. If we then exchange land so we can acquire more arable land. But the land is distributed. And this is used by other farmers who also make a living from it. It’s a very difficult situation. And I’m excited to see what the future holds.”

At the November 21, 2023 rbb sends it around 8:15 p.m. the documentation “The Moor’s Dilemma – Between Cows and Climate Protection”

Broadcast: rbb television, November 21, 2023, 8:15 pm

Contributed by Stefanie Otto

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