Early in the morning, a group of Solingen Climate camp participants and 'Game On' YAs: Andrei from Romania, Kaleth from Nicaragua, Caro from Germany and Gabija from Lithuania meet at the train station. They are heading to Osterholz forest, where German activists had set up a camp. What brings regular city people to the forest? Let‘s hear their story.
The reason activists had gone radical
When the team of Young Ambassadors came to the Osterholz forest near the limestone mine they met two nice middle-aged women, Majo and Barbara, who are both parts of the local activist-based initiative (“OSTERHOLZ BLEIBT”) which works to protect this natural area.
These activists fight against the limestone mine owned by a company Oetelshofen GmbH & Co. KG ( https://www.dnb.com/business-directory/company-profiles.kalkwerke_h_oetelshofen_gmbh__co_kg.c1f5b3f68de6178d22919894671d0d87.html), which is located right next to the Osterholz forest. The exploitation of the limestone mine results in reducing the forested area. The owner of the mine who also owns part of the forest adopts a simple policy – once the earth is fully exploited and everything that is “valuable” is taken from it, the mining waste needs to be stored somewhere, therefore he is planning to cut down part of the forest, sell the wood and store waste there. And he can do that despite the fact that Osterholz forest is actually a protected area. As our group of Young Ambassadors learned in the activists camp, the owner of the mine is in good relations with local politicians and often simply ignores the rules and legislations.
The mine is a huge producer of emissions, but somehow the monitoring system always finds the number of emissions “within the limits”.
And there is more: not far from Osterholz forest, there is another patch of forest that used to be a protected area. However, a future highway is being planned here, and it would cut its way through this forest patch. The existing protected areas do not have this legal status anymore. It is now categorized as a landfill area - yes, a landfill is now located in a protected area and it happens to be home to species of high conservation interest.
The possibility to somehow regenerate the area was not taken into consideration. Limestone is extracted beyond any limit. One of the activists, Majo, sadly acknowledged that her son would not be able to benefit from this type of resource, nor from the forest’s ecosystem or its simple existence.
There is an old limestone exploitation area 8 km away that could be used as a waste storage zone. And the waste would be actually needed there since there is a house on the edge of the existing slope and in case of earth corrosion, it can literally slide down the hill. The waste could be used to support the slope around the house. Unfortunately, the owner of the mine is against this decision – for him, it’s too expensive to transport waste to an area 8 kilometres away. On the other hand, he seems to be oblivious to the idea of the resources needed to cut the trees and clean the area and unaware of the damage caused by losing the recreational, educational and ecological value of this forest.
OSTERHOLZ BLEIBT initiative is fighting the illegal aspects of the exploitation. Mojo is one of the activists that stands for the forest in the court where she tries to explain her case and the importance of the forest to the local people who are dedicating their time to save the area. This initiative is supported by over 27 other organizations.
An example of the fight for nature, that inspires you to get out of bed each morning
It's told that it's better to see something once than hear about it a thousand times. Therefore, the Young Ambassadors of “Game On” went deeper into the forest where a surprise awaited them.
They approached the camp of activists who have been living there for 2 years already. With tree houses or tents as a shelter, this is their way of addressing and, hopefully, stopping the exploitation of this area. All of these people believe that the forest is a crucial refuge, especially during today's global crisis (in climate, biodiversity and public health realms), and all of them dedicate their lives to it.
A camp of so cold forest occupation
The Young Ambassadors tried to experience the moment, the life of the people living in the forest, to share their feelings and to understand them. While chopping vegetables together (it was lunchtime) they asked questions, laughed, almost cried and felt like a part of the community! The youngsters were amazed by the intelligence of the activists of Olsterholz, their visions and the awareness they have about the global socio-political context, and realized that occupying the forest like this is also a way of acting! It is something that can influence decision-makers.
“It is impressive to see the defence of territory and nature in this hemisphere since those practices are mostly carried out in the Latin American region and the Caribbean; it is also amazing to see people who leave the privilege of education and job opportunities fighting against the big business. The impotence felt by not being able to carry out legal proceedings against this type of nature exploitation is enormous, since it requires a lot of monetary resources to face up to the courts,” – said the participant from Nicaragua, Kaleth.
“When I saw the activists camp I felt torn into two parts: the radical part of me wanted to stay and join them (we gave them food, money, but they mostly eager to attract more people), however, the other me told me that I`m not ready: I wanted to come back to the ones I love (my partner and my dog). So I told myself that maybe in the future I will join one of the forest protection teams. And until then I will continue with other forms of activism” – remembers Gabija from Lithuania.
“They are a great example of dedication and every time I will feel demotivated, tired or not willing to act, I will think about them, I will think about their beauty, their hope, their community and this will always give me the power to get out of the bed and keep working hard for the movement I’m involved in that is also tackling climate and environmental issues!” – says Andrei from Romania.
Forest do have a “price” – but not just for the value of wood
Nowadays our connection with nature is getting lost more and more, the development of technologies, especially for the young generation causes a ceaseless distraction from the real world. And since they are losing this connection, people do not realize how important a natural system can be, especially in a world that really needs to adapt to global crises (biodiversity, climate and public health). We can talk about so many aspects of forest – about its capacity to clean the air, the role of the vegetation in limiting the flooding effects or simply about the aesthetic and cultural values of the ecosystems, the importance of natural systems in maintaining the resilience of our societies is undoubted.
Our group of Young Ambassadors believe that in order to change the way people see the forest from a “bunch of standing wood” to a really valuable area, a social-ecological system approach must be adopted. Local communities should be involved in this fight, but besides them, besides the civil society, the scientific community can have an important role too.
The forest can have a “price”, based on its ecological and social value. Not everyone understands the intrinsic worth of such places and thus does not feel the moral duty to protect them. However, all the benefits emerging from such a forest can be measured, evaluated and shared with the decision-makers. The forest can become a place of high educational importance. Informative placards about their biological diversity components, the role of trees in regulating the climate or its history can help everyone be more aware of the significance of such a place.
Scientists could evaluate the forest’s biodiversity and ecosystem and make the politicians aware of it. Young students could be involved, because these topics are great for those who are keen on digging deeper: preparing bachelor or master thesis, it can also be a way of sharing the information to the young generation and encourage youngsters to take action. The Osterholz forest can be a powerful trigger for people to connect with nature, a great educational and recreational space, where families can take walks with their children, learn together, connect better to the forest and strengthen the desire to keep it alive, uncut. As a crucial buffer (it can absorb toxic emissions and noise) placed between the exploitation area and the closest village, this forest is also important in mitigating the effects of Covid 19 pandemic, by increasing people’s immune system capacity.
Everything starts from nature – so it needs a chance to regenerate
All the existing initiatives (forest occupation, addressing the issues at the court, raising awareness about the situation, etc.) are equally important, and alongside future scientific implications can have synergistic benefits and together can make a stronger argument and put more pressure on the decision-makers!
We asked a question at the beginning, and I would say that economic development will always be here: we need it. The important thing it’s not the growth of the economy itself, but its sustainability. The foundation of socio-economic systems is based on the natural capital components as everything starts from a natural resource. Unless these systems respect the regenerative capacity of nature and do not focus only on economic growth, with no consideration of the environment and human wellbeing, we will not be able to tackle today's global crisis and the crises that await us in the future. The good news is that we have the power to change it!
Mining and mineral extraction is part of the primary sector in economic activities. It is constantly advancing in developing countries; the same activity is simultaneously carried out in the “first world” countries, considerably reducing the forest resource. Hence the loss of ecosystems that support the life of animal and plant species. At present, many species have been forced to migrate from their territories, thus bringing “radical” activism from human society; young people are particularly eager to act and often join environmental NGOs.
What do we think about it?
On an optimistic note, people involved in fighting for the survival of this forest are positive about the eventual outcome- they think that this time the forest won’t be cut down. The new mayor is a member of the Green party, and he has a positive vision about it. Everybody hopes he will be an important character in this story.
Perhaps quarries can also be wildlife-friendly, for example, the exploitation activity can be paused during the breeding season, this way the level of disturbance would be low, especially when the quarry is close to a natural site. Birds might even use the quarry as a breeding place (https://www.spnl.org/discover-the-collared-sand-martins-unique-relationship-with-quarries/).
Natural elements can still be preserved: maybe some plant species can be protected during the exploitations. Also, the resulting waste can be used as a construction material for areas affected by erosion, where people’s houses face the danger of being demolished by landslides.