The nature conservation centre was founded in 1987 by NABU, the German Association for Nature Conserva-tion. NABU is the oldest and largest conservation organisation in Germany, founded by Lina Hänle in Stuttgart in 1899. Originally called DBV (German Association for the Protection of Birds), the organisation still has strong links with bird conservation, and forms Germany’s branch of Birdlife International.
NABU is active across Germany through over 1,500 local groups, and has been involved here at the Federsee for over 90 years. The NABU-Federsee centre is part of a non-governmental organisation. We finance our work primarily through donations and guided tours.
The NABU-Federsee centre has around six members of staff at any one time: two with permanent positions, two “Zivildienstleistende” (doing nine months of community service instead of military service) and two “FÖJ” (doing a state-sponsored gap year in environmental work). We also regularly have students here gaining practical work experience, plus volunteers from the local community.
What we do
We work for the federal state Baden-Württemberg to look after the entire Federsee lake and fen, which has an area of around 33km² (square kilometres). Our work basically falls into three areas:
The year-round scientific study and protection of the Federsee area. For example, we advise land-owners on conservation measures and help with the designation of new Nature Reserves. We also carry out regular surveys of rare animal and plant populations.
In spring and summer our main focus is on publicity and environmental education. We offer indi-vidual programmes for students, businesses, and family groups; in 2007 we led over 400 guided tours and school projects. Our visitor centre is open six days a week in summer, where we have a perma-nent exhibition about the local environment and act as a helpful contact point for questions about the Federsee and surrounding area.
In autumn and winter the work focuses on practical landscape conservation. We mow large areas of fen meadow to prevent the fields from becoming overgrown with bushes and trees. Failure to do so would result in chest-high birch trees covering the area within five years. This would be a big problem for light-loving plants, like orchids, which no longer be able to grow here any more, as well as for ground-breeding birds. Every year we mow around 70 hectares, which is roughly as large as three medium-sized farms. Most of the mowing is done by hand with brushcutters, because the ground is too wet to drive on.
As you can see, we are a major contributor to the conservation of habitats for many threatened fen meadow species – after all, the Federsee fen is an EU Bird Reserve. Furthermore, it is the largest interconnected fenland in southwest Germany. 265 bird species live here, plus 70 butterfly species, 10 types of orchid, 12 of Germany's 25 bat species and over 700 types of plant.
In the last 200 years, 95% of all fenland in central and Western Europe was drained. This means that many of the animals and plant species we have here are increasingly rare, including Marsh and Hen Harriers, Bearded Reedlings, Snipes, Curlews, Whin Chats and Lapwings. The Federsee fen was also partially drained over the last 200 years, with the original aim of reclaiming land for agriculture. The digging of the Kanzach canal at the southwest end of the lake brought about a decrease in the water level of around two metres, meaning the lake shrunk to one tenth of its former size. Falling water levels remain the biggest threat to the Federsee fen today, threatening not only the unique fenland habitat but also the internationally significant archaeological sites underground.
The origin of the Federsee fen
The Federsee fen was formed by glacial processes. Around 200,000 years ago, during the Riss Ice Age (the same time as the Wolstonian in the British Isles), a glacier from the Alps moved over the area, gouging out the basin where the Federsee now lies, and depositing Alpine sediment in moraines around the outside. During the last glacial period (Würm in Germany, Devensian in the British Isles), the last glacier stopped just south of the Federsee, between Bad Buchau and Bad Schussenried. The glacier melted around 12,000 years ago, depositing sediment at the snout in a terminal moraine, which acted as barrier that closed off the basin from the south. Meltwater from the glacier flowed into the closed basin to form the “Ur-Federsee”, which had an area of 33km².
After the end of the last Ice Age, the lake slowly began to fill in to form land. Plants and animals that lived and died on the lake sank to the bottom but were unable to decompose due to the lack of oxygen available. This organic material piled up over time, filling in the lake to form the eutrophic Federsee fen.
In many areas this process continued. Organic material built up until plants growing on the surface could no longer reach the nutrient-rich groundwater with their roots, forming a raised bog. The plants that grew there (such as Sphagnum moss) had to be specialists to survive on rainwater and few nutrients. Earlier the southern Federsee fen was covered by several metres of raised bog. The peat has since been almost completely re-moved.
Why is the Federsee called Federsee?
The Federsee is named after the Celtic word “pheder”, meaning marsh, on account of the saturated fenland around the lake. This is the most probable explanation, although there are other suggestions. “Feder” is the German word for “feather”, leading many to assume that the name comes from the lake’s rich bird life or feather-like shape.