de en

Hier kommt das User Feedback

Phone E-Mail Info
Nature Park Diplomats

Nature Park Diplomats

Nature Park Diplomats

Being a ranger requires myriad skills. Their tasks are as varied as they are delicate. Rangers ensure that the different stakeholders in the Nagelfluhkette Nature Park coexist in harmony. After all, the interests of people are just as important to them as the well-being of the wild animals and plants.

The bells are tolling in Hittisau. Two rangers, Lisa and Matthias, await me in the office of the Nagelfluhkette Nature Park. Their safari-green uniforms are adorned with slogans about biodiversity. Although they are a small team, they regularly collaborate with three German colleagues from the Allgäu side, across the border from the Bregenzerwald. In my mind, rangers are like cowboys on horseback with 10-gallon hats and Colt 45s. But spending the day with them, however, really changed my entire perception. Instead of saddling up a horse, we hop into an e-car and cruise through the cross-border Nagelfluhkette Nature Park, which was founded in 2008 and unites 15 communities in the Allgäu and the lower Bregenzerwald regions. The protected area is dominated by the 24-km-long Nagelfluhkette mountain chain, along which we drive. In the German community of Balderschwang, we put our backpacks on and cross through a mixed montane forest. Along the way, the rangers point out various interesting flora and fauna.

The land of “holy concrete.”
Locals refer to the colourful rocks of the Nagelfluh mountain as “holy concrete.” The geology resembles the heads of nails that have been hammered into the rockface. The Nagelfluhkette is actually a scree dump from when the Alps were formed. When the climate here was tropical, large quantities of loose sediment were washed into the Alpine foothills, causing the compressive pressure to increase. Layer after layer was piled up, and rocks and debris were “cemented” into stone. “Imagine shortcrust crumbs being pressed together. It’s like a layer cake with a base made of sediment (molasse) that was uplifted by the folding of the Alps,” explains Lisa. It’s a unique mixture of limestone and silicate rocks crammed into the smallest of spaces. Because the area received plenty of precipitation, plants thrived here. That is until an ice age began. “On the one hand, this frozen period was a gigantic biodiversity killer,” Matthias says. “On the other hand, loamy deposits rendered the soils fertile,” adds Lisa. Regardless of what we examine or discuss along the way, the pair view everything from multiple angles. Their experienced eyes know every inch of the park and they see things at a deeper level. They explain that because the ice thawed here earlier than elsewhere, the ground had more time to form. This part of what makes this environment so special.

The ranger recipe: “Protect and nurture”
When people first settled in the lower Bregenzerwald area, mighty rivers still thundered through this valley of impassable primeval forest. The only areas not covered in trees was the mountaintops. As a result, the newcomers first settled in the hillsides below, cutting down the trees and working their way down the valley. This meant that the wooded areas were replaced by mountain meadows, where new species were able to settle. Without such agriculture, there would be far less going on in terms of ecology and botany on the Nagelfluhkette mountain chain. The type of agriculture, however, is essential. This is because only a few plant species grow on the intensively farmed valley meadows, which are easy to fertilise and cut, spring up quickly, and can be used to produce fodder. This reduces biodiversity in the valley considerably. Mountain farming, on the other hand, keeps areas open that would otherwise quickly become overgrown. Mountain meadows promote biodiversity, including various herbs, which then lend mountain cheeses their special flavours. Cultivating the Nagelfluhkette range thus protects a diverse habitat. “Protect and nurture” is therefore the right recipe.

Extensive is the opposite of intensive
We hike past moorlands, wetlands and mountain meadows. Cotton grass and marsh orchids sway in the wind. Cowbells jingle all around. If manure were to be spread here, a fertilised meadow would develop, thus spelling the end of biodiversity. Instead, farmers cut the grass here just once a year and use it as bedding in the barn. “For the farmers, this is really hard work, much harder than managing a meadow in the valley. Farming up here won’t make anyone rich, but these farmers play a key role in preserving the cultivated landscape and the traditions associated with it, such as the unique cheese-making process,” explains Lisa. Trees and bushes are permanently removed, thus keeping the area open and the forest at bay. Doing so is very hard work. “We are always in need of volunteers to help us maintain the cultivated landscape and to assist and support local farmers,” says Matthias.

Forests for the future
For years already, tree species have been dying out completely. Currently, elm and ash trees are disappearing. Not unlike a portfolio of stocks, diversifying allow you to guard against a total loss. “The people of Bregenzerwald have done a great job of caring for their forests. Plenter forests are still common here.” This means that trees of all ages grow side by side, from seedlings to mighty giants. Their various different root systems perfectly store water. The soil is compact, rooted and stable. Only individual tree trunks that are ready to be harvested are taken. The young saplings wait beneath the canopy until they are finally exposed to the light. Plenter forests have developed out of necessity, because for centuries many people in the Bregenzerwald only owned tiny parcels of forest, where large clear-cuts were not practical. We therefore hike through a mixture of rain-spoilt beech, fir and spruce trees; treasures that have become rare in the Alpine region.

“Hello there. The weather is gorgeous today! Where are you headed?”
Lisa and Matthias enjoy interacting with everyone they meet along the way. We soon come across a shepherd who is worried about a black grouse hen who has two chicks. He really notices how busy things have become in his area and he is worried that the bird and her young will be disturbed. Presumably someone posted some sunset pictures from a peak on social media and tagged them with coordinates. Such posts can trigger a sudden stream of visitors. In addition to providing info and solving problems first hand, it is also the job of the rangers to give guidance and information online. For instance, they scour hiking websites to check what people are interested in so that they can head off any potential conflicts between nature and people if necessary. Sometimes it feels like running against the wind.

The nature park through the eyes of a ranger
Every school year, all children who attend the local schools in Hittisau, Lingenau, Doren, Riefensberg and Sibratsgfäll as well as the four primary schools in the Allgäu region are invited to spend nine half-days in the natural environment with a ranger. They are taught how to carve an amulet or plant saplings. They are also invited to witness a tree being cut down before being processed at a sawmill. What children learn at school hopefully trickles down to all members of the family. After elementary school, the kids can even train to become junior rangers. As part of this programme, they look for river creatures, help to remove scrub, churn butter, study bats and dragonfly larvae, and even learn how to protect mountain newts. They also learn about carnivorous plants. Many of these kids dream of becoming rangers themselves someday. Adults can also experience an adventure with rangers: There are free tours available to them on specific topics. Rangers manage to provide something valuable for a multitude of stakeholders: for families with children, locals and holidaymakers alike.

Rangers and the art of diplomacy
Rangers look after everyone who visits the nature park. They roam the landscape and provide information on how people and nature can co-exist. During twilight and at night, wild animals are particularly susceptible to disturbance. They are frightened by bright head lamps, for example. Many nocturnal hikers are unaware that they are strolling through the bedrooms of wildlife. Visitors should keep that in mind when visiting and be considerate. The rangers’ mission is, of course, delicate because interests are very different and there are many stakeholders. “We want to bring together hunters, foresters, landowners, alpine farmers, tourism staff and nature conservation representatives and discuss ideas and find solutions with them – even over a beer,” says Matthias. “After all,” adds Lisa, “in talking, we can overcome prejudices and make it clear how unique the Nagelfluhkette Nature Park is and why it is worthy of protection.

Author: Irmgard Kramer
Issue: Bregenzerwald Travel Magazine – Summer 2023