German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)


Nature Conservation Areas

Nature conservation areas (Naturschutzgebiete) are defined in art. 23 para. 1 of Germany's Federal Nature Conservation Act (BNatSchG) as "areas that have been designated in a legally binding manner and in which the special protection of nature and landscape as a whole, or of individual parts thereof, is required for the following reasons:

  1. in order to conserve, develop or restore living sites, biotopes or communities of certain species of wild fauna and flora,
  2. for reasons of science, natural history or national heritage, or
  3. because of their rarity, special characteristics or outstanding beauty."

Most nature conservation areas are designated by authorities in charge of nature conservation at regional government level, although some are created by state (Länder) or local government-level authorities. Their charter takes the form of an order (Erlass or Verordnung) issued under delegated legislative powers. Within such areas, regional planning is required to give priority to nature conservation. Along with national parks, they make up a considerable share of the land area dedicated to maintaining biodiversity in Germany.


Nature conservation areas have been established first by a prussian law for field- and forestpolice, the "Preußisches Feld- und Forstpolizeigesetz (PrFFGG)", in 1920. The "Neandertal" can be recognised as the first German nature conservation area (established on 9 August 1921), followed by the Lüneburg Heath (established on 29 December 1921) and "Siebengebirge" (established on 7 June 1922). In 1923 already 12 sites were protected as nature conservation areas. The implementation of the category nature conservation area by law thoughout Germany, occured by the German Nature Conservation Act the "Reichsnaturschutzgesetz", in 1935. In 1936 already 98 sites were established as nature conservation areas.

Nevertheless various activities in nature conservation before 1920 resulted in protected areas. The first sites, which were protected similar to nature conservation areas, are: 

- "Drachenfels", located in the "Siebengebirge" (1836)

- "Hochstein/Totenstein", located in the "Oberlausitz" (1844)

- "Neuenburger Urwald", located in "Ostfriesland" (1850)

- "Teufelsmauer", located at the foot of the "Harz" mountains (1852)

- "Hasbruch", located near Oldenburg (1889)

- "Plagefenn", located in the "Schorfheide" (1907)

- "Sababurg", located in the "Reinhardswald" (1907)

- "Arterner Solgraben", located in the "Kyffhäuserkreis" (1908)

- The island "Trischen" and  "Hallig Norderoog" in the Wadden Sea of Schleswig-Holstein (1909)

- The island "Langenwerder" in the bay of Wismar (1910)

- Special region for conservation of plant species in the Berchtesgaden Alps (1910)

Land designated as conservation areas in Germany

With data as of 12/2015 Germany has 8,743 nature conservation areas. A total of 1,382,673 ha is given over to nature conservation areas in Germany. This represents 3.9 percent of the country's land surface. An above-average share of the total is accounted for by the city states of Hamburg (8.9 percent) and Bremen (8.8 percent) and by the states of Brandenburg (8.0 percent) and North Rhine-Westphalia (8.0 percent). The states of Rheinland-Palatinate, Bavaria, Berlin, Baden-Württemberg and especially Hesse have a below-average share of land assigned to nature conservation areas. The percentage of land earmarked varies considerably from state to state.

Fig. 1: Percentage of land designated as conservation areas in the German Länder and in Germany as a whole (as of 12/2015)
 data table with legend
chart Percentage of land designated as conservation areas, data table for chart see link

Average size of nature conservation areas

The average size of a nature conservation area is 156 ha (excluding North Sea and Baltic marine and mudflat areas). Some 60 percent of conservation areas are smaller than 50 ha, which means they are not large enough to be safe from negative outside factors such as water loss and eutrophication. Only 13 percent have an area of 200 ha or larger. The states of Brandenburg, Bavaria, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Saxony-Anhalt are notable for their large nature conservation areas. In contrast, conservation areas in the states of Saarland, Rhineland-Palatinate, North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse, Berlin and Baden-Württemberg tend to be markedly smaller than the national average. A total of 208 areas cover 1,000 ha or more.

Fig. 2: Average size of nature conservation areas in the German Länder and in Germany as a whole (as of 12/2012)
 data table with legend
chart Average Size of Nature Conservation Areas, data table for chart see link

Many nature conservation areas continue to be affected by land use. Uses include forms of recreation, forestry and farming, use of water resources, and transport. The conservation objectives set out in the official order creating a nature conservation area can therefore restrict or ban certain forms of land use or lay down other requirements.

How well a nature conservation area can fulfil its protection purpose largely depends on its size. Being insular and having a large perimeter-to-area ratio, small conservation areas are more open to outside influence than large ones and are often less well preserved as a result. Designation of nature conservation areas in hill and mountain country takes place on a more small-scale, selective basis than in the north German lowlands, where nature conservation areas tend to be larger.

Development of nature conservation areas since 1968

The following graphic chart shows the development of German nature conservation areas since 1968 by number and percentage related to the total German area. Especially in the period of 1980 to 2010 an obvious increase of nature conservation area designations took place.

Development of nature conservation Areas since 1968


The following references contain mostly current lists and descriptions of nature conservation areas in large regions of Germany:

  • BEHÖRDE FÜR UMWELT UND GESUNDHEIT HAMBURG (Eds.) (2002): Die hamburgischen Naturschutzgebiete. 85 pp.
  • JUNGBLUTH, J. (1985-1995): Die Naturschutzgebiete in Rheinland-Pfalz. - Bde. 1-5. - Mainzer Naturwiss. Archiv, Beihefte 6, 8, 11 und 17.
  • LANDESAMT FÜR NATUR UND UMWELT SCHLESWIG-HOLSTEIN (Hrsg.) (2008 ff.): Einzigartig - Naturführer durch Schleswig-Holstein. Bde. I - III - Wachholtz-Verlag Neumünster, je rd. 250 Seiten.
  • LANDESAMT FÜR UMWELTSCHUTZ SACHSEN-ANHALT (Eds.) (1997): Die Naturschutzgebiete Sachsen-Anhalts. - Jena (Fischer Verlag), 543 pp.
  • LANDESAMT FÜR UMWELTSCHUTZ SACHSEN-ANHALT (Hrsg.) (2003): Die Natur- und Landschaftsschutzgebiete Sachsen-Anhalts - Ergänzungsband. - Halle (Saale), 457 S.
  • NATURSCHUTZBUND BERLIN/BRANDENBURG UND NATURSCHUTZZENTRUM ÖKOWERK BERLIN (Hrsg.) (1997 f): Naturschutzgebiete Brandenburgs und Berlins. In: Ökowerk-Magazin - Naturschutz in Berlin und Brandenburg; Hefte 11 (5) 1997 bis 12 (5) 1998.
  • NATURSCHUTZRING NORDHESSEN UND PHILIPPI-GESELLSCHAFT (2003): Naturschutzgebiete in Hessen Bd. 2 - Stadt Kassel, Landkreis Kassel und Schwalm-Eder-Kreis. - Cognitio-Verlag, 256 pp.
  • NIEDERSÄCHSISCHER LANDESBETRIEB FÜR WASSERWIRTSCHAFT, KÜSTEN- UND NATURSCHUTZ (NLWKN) (Hrsg.) (2009): Naturschutzgebiete und Landschaftsschutzgebiete in Niedersachsen. - Informationsdienst Naturschutz Niedersachsen Heft 2/2009; S. 53-132
  • NORDHESSISCHE GESELLSCHAFT FÜR NATURKUNDE UND NATURWISSENSCHAFTEN (2007): Naturschutzgebiete in Hessen Bd. 4 - Landkreis Waldeck-Frankenberg mit Nationalpark Kellerwald-Edersee. - Cognitio-Verlag, 256 pp.
  • NORDHESSISCHE GESELLSCHAFT FÜR NATURKUNDE UND NATURWISSENSCHAFTEN (2009): Naturschutzgebiete in Hessen Bd. 5 - Landkreis Marburg-Biedenkopf, Lahn-Dill-Kreis, Landkreis Gießen. - Cognitio-Verlag, 398 Seiten.
  • REGIERUNGSPRÄSIDIUM FREIBURG (Eds.) (2011): Die Naturschutzgebiete im Regierungsbezirk Freiburg. - Freiburg (Thorbecke-Verlag), 713 pp.
  • REGIERUNGSPRÄSIDIUM STUTTGART (Eds.) (2007): Die Naturschutzgebiete im Regierungsbezirk Stuttgart. - Freiburg (Thorbecke-Verlag), 779 pp.
  • REGIERUNGSPRÄSIDIUM KARLSRUHE (Eds.) (2000): Die Naturschutzgebiete im Regierungsbezirk Karlsruhe. - Freiburg (Thorbecke-Verlag), 654 pp.
  • REGIERUNGSPRÄSIDIUM TÜBINGEN (Eds.) (2006): 250 Naturschutzgebiete im Regierungsbezirk Tübingen. - Freiburg (Thorbecke-Verlag), 594 pp.
  • SÄCHSISCHES STAATSMINISTERIUM FÜR UMWELT UND LANDWIRTSCHAFT (2010): Naturschutzgebiete in Sachsen. - Dresden, 720 Seiten.
  • SCHMILLE, K. (2011): Die hamburgischen Naturschutzgebiete - Edition Temmen, 308 Seiten.
  • SENATOR FÜR FRAUEN, GESUNDHEIT, JUGEND, SOZIALES UND UMWELTSCHUTZ BREMEN (Eds.) (1999): Naturschutzgebiete und Naturschutzarbeit im Land Bremen. 68 pp.
  • SENATSVERWALTUNG FÜR STADTENTWICKLUNG & LANDESBEAUFTRAGTER FÜR NATURSCHUTZ UND LANDSCHAFTSPFLEGE (Eds.) (2007): Natürlich BERLIN - Naturschutz- und NATURA 2000-Gebiete in Berlin. - Rangsdorf, (Verlag Natur & Text), 256 pp.
  • THÜRINGER LANDESANSTALT FÜR UMWELT UND GEOLOGIE & STIFTUNG NATURSCHUTZ THÜRINGEN (Hrsg.) (2012): Die Naturschutzgebiete Thüringens. - Weissdorn-Verlag, Jena, 944 Seiten.
  • UMWELTMINISTERIUM MECKLENBURG-VORPOMMERN (Eds.) (2003): Die Naturschutzgebiete in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. - Schwerin (Demmler Verlag), 712 pp.

New Publication

Scherfose, V. (editor) (2011): Das deutsche Schutzgebietssystem - Schwerpunkt: Streng geschützte Gebiete (The German system of protected areas - emphasis: strictly protected areas - BfN-Skripten 294, 197 pages.

available free of charge from: Bundesamt für Naturschutz, Fachgebiet II 2.3, Konstantinstr. 110, 53179 Bonn

Last Change: 13/09/2017