German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)


Biosphere Reserves

Biosphere reserves (Biosphärenreservate) are defined in art. 25 para. 1 of Germany's Federal Nature Conservation Act (BNatSchG) as "areas that are to be protected and developed in a consistent way and that

  1. are large and are typical representatives of certain landscape types,
  2. fulfil the requirements for nature conservation areas in essential parts of their territory, and the requirements for landscape protection areas throughout the greater part of the rest of their territory,
  3. serve the primary purpose of conserving, developing or restoring landscapes shaped by traditional, diverse forms of use, along with their species and biotope diversity as evolved over time, including wild forms and formerly cultivated forms of commercially used or usable animal and plant species, and
  4. illustrate ways of developing and testing forms of economic activity that are especially conserving of natural resources."

Biosphere reserves have been recognised by UNESCO since 1976 under the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme. Biosphere reserves are established "to promote and demonstrate a balanced relationship between humans and the biosphere" (DEUTSCHES MAB-NATIONALKOMITEE 2004). The UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves is made up of 714 areas in 129 countries (as of October 2020).

Under the UNESCO Statutory Framework biosphere reserves fulfil the following functions (UNESCO 1996):

  1. Conservation - contribute to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation;
  2. Development - foster economic and human development which is socio-culturally and ecologically sustainable;
  3. Logistic support - support for demonstration projects, environmental education and training, research and monitoring related to local, regional, national and global issues of conservation and sustainable development.

In Germany national criteria for designation and evaluation of UNESCO biosphere reserves have been developed.

At the 4rd World Congress of biosphere reserves, which was held in Lima in March 2016, a new Action Plan was agreed for the developement of the World-Network of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in the period between 2016 and 2025.

Biosphere reserves in Germany

Sources: Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) 2021 using data provided by the Bundesländer Basic Spatial Data:
© GeoBasis-DE / BKG 2019 Data licence Germany - attribution - Version 2.0(

Map of Biosphere reserves in Germany

The total area of all 18 biosphere reserves in Germany is 2.028.346 ha. Excluding North Sea and Baltic marine and mudflat areas (666,046 ha), this represents 3.9 percent of German territory. UNESCO has recognised 16 of in all 18 German biosphere reserves.

German biosphere reserves: area in ha, zones and year of UNESCO recognition (in German)

Map of the german biosphere reserves including zones



Biosphere reserves in Germany
Südost- Rügen
(South-eastern Rügen island)
Extensively managed, richly structured and diverse cultural landscape of the island of Rügen, including large-scale extensively managed sheep pastures on moraine cores, Bodden landscape, old deciduous woodlands (Vilm, Granitz); home to species including white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Caspian tern (Sterna caspia) and natterjack toad (Bufo calamita).
Schleswig-Holsteinisches Wattenmeer und Halligen
Hamburgisches Wattenmeer
(Hamburg Wadden Sea)

Niedersächsisches Wattenmeer
(Lower Saxony Wadden Sea)
Apart from the high mountain regions this is the last large-scale natural landscape in Central Europe. Characteristic landscape elements are mud- and sandflats, salt meadow, dunes and the sea. Important resting area for waders (up to 1.3 million birds of over 30 species), e.g. dunlin (Calidris alpina), pied avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta), oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus), common shelduck (Tadorna tadorna); more than 2,000 species of fauna including numerous endemic species; home to grey seal (Halichoerus grypus), common seal (Phoca vitulina) and harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena).
Schaalsee Glacially formed cultural landscape; deep calcareous lakes and calcareous swamps, peatlands, alder-ash woodlands, carr woodlands, beech forests, dry grasslands, pasture landscapes; home to white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), European fire-bellied toad (Bombina bombina) and common whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus).
Schorfheide-Chorin Glacially formed landscape (ground moirains, terminal moraines and sandurs) with beech and pine forests (some of which are old wood-pastures), peatlands, oligotrophic lakes; home to species including lesser spotted eagle (Aquila pomarina), common crane (Grus grus) and European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis)
Flusslandschaft Elbe
(Elbe river landscape)
Last near-natural river in Germany; complexes of near-natural hardwood riparian woodlands and lower (softwood) riparian alluvial woodlands, carr woodlands and riparian woodlands along the tributaries; sandy riverbanks, oxbow lakes and inland sand dunes with sandy dry grasslands; habitat of the Elbe beaver (Castor fiber albicus); high density of white stork (Ciconia ciconia), important migration corridor for Nordic passage migrants.
Low moor landscape with numerous watercourses, wetlands and natural quarry and damp forests, which serve as a passage and resting area for cranes, geese, swans, ducks and curlew. In addition, the drömling is an example of the successful resettlement of endangered species such as the otter (Lutra lutra), beaver (Castor fiber) and sea eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla).
(Spree Forest)
Large lowland area with near-natural alder carr complexes, extensively managed marshes and a widely branched network of watercourses; home to species including black stork (Ciconia nigra), otter (Lutra lutra) and numerous types of dragonfly
Karstlandschaft Südharz
(Southern Harz Gypsum Karst Region)

Wide range of characteristic karst features including sinkholes (dolines), rockfalls, karst springs and caves; extensive near-natural beech and mixed deciduous forest, and significant remnants of small-farm agricultural countryside with large areas of dry grassland and sparse orchards. Habitat of nationally important species including fastigiate gypsophila (Gypsophila fastigiata), toothed orchid (Orchis tridentata), stag beetle (Lucanus cervus) and swallowtail butterfly (Papilio machaon).
Oberlausitzer Heide- und Teichlandschaft
(Oberlausitz heathland and pond landscapes)
Part of the most extensive German pond landscape; embedded in a heath landscape characterized by pine forests, peatlands, and inland sand dunes; centre of reproduction for the otter (Lutra lutra) in Germany, home to nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus).
Thüringer Wald
(Thuringian Forest)
Extensive forest areas, remnants of near-natural mixed montane forests with silver fir (Abies alba) at the northern edge of its range; montane meadows, siliceous scree, rocky habitats, raised bogs, dense network of near-natural watercourses; home to species including black grouse (Tetrao tetrix), Barbastelle bat (Barbastella barbastellus) and the northern white-faced darter dragonfly (Leucorrhinia rubicunda).
Rhön Extensive near-natural deciduous woodlands on limestone and basalt; ravine forests and woodlands on coarse scree; open basalt scree, peatlands, extensive areas of montane hay meadows (yellow oat-grass mea-dows and mat-grass swards); extensive areas of grazed semi-dry grasslands, near-natural low montane streams with their alluvial vegetation; non-alpine sites for black grouse (Tetrao tetrix), home to woodchat shrike (Lanius senator) and hermit butterfly (Chazara briseis).
Bliesgau Characteristic dry grassland landscapes with their submediterranean flora and fauna, valuable fruit-tree meadows, species-rich meadow habitats, extensive beech forest and the floodplane landscape traversed by the Blies river. Numerous orchid species, large populations of marsh fritillary butterfly (Euphydryas aurinia) and little owl (Athene noctua).
(Palatinate Forest - North Vosges)
Deciduous woodland region with numerous meadow valleys, carr woodlands, wet meadows and marshes, fens and transitional mires, springs and flushes; home to peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), wildcat (Felis sylvestris) and lynx (Lynx lynx).
Schwäbische Alb Steep escarpment with forested slopes and ravines, valleys with near-natural watercourses, traditional upland cultural landscape with juniper heath, nutrient-poor grasslands, meadows, pastures, arable land and forest, and fruit-tree meadows in the foothills. Key species include red kite (Milvus milvus), wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe), wood lark (Lullula arborea) and numerous orchids and gentians.
(Black Forest)
Multifarious cultural landscape in the southern Black forest with near-natural beech- and beech-fir woodlands of submontane and montane level, ravine woodlands, extensively used pastures, numerous watercourses and special habitats as bogs, rocks, block heaps and avalanche paths.
Berchtesgadener Land
(Berchtesgaden country)
Characteristic landscape of the northern calcareous Alps with mixed montane forests and montane spruce forest complexes, watercour-ses, sward communities, swards on loose rock; home to golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus) and marmot (Marmota marmota).


To serve their various objectives and functions, biosphere reserves are divided into three zones. These zones may each consist of two or more separate areas, all of which must function ecologically in their own right.


Under the UNESCO Statutory Framework, the status of each biosphere reserve is reviewed every ten years by the competent authority (in Germany, the MAB National Committee) (UNESCO 1996). Between 2001 and 2010 all German UNESCO - biosphere reserves were evaluated, with the exception of those reserves, which were recognised only in 2009. 2011 a further review round started. From the present experience and findings inter alia the following requirements for improvement are identified:

  • Step up communication of the biosphere reserve idea; encourage the local population to identify with 'their' biosphere reserve.
  • Increase promotion of sustainable regional development and promote and integrate research in biosphere reserves.

Research and monitoring

As world-ranking model regions, biosphere reserves are ideal subjects for cross-border interdisciplinary research into the complex relationships between man and the environment. The attractions and potential of biosphere reserves as protected areas and as study areas for a wide range of current research questions are presented in a German-language brochure (Download on the right column). The publication aims to encourage research institutes and providers of research funding to select biosphere reserves as research areas and to channel research funding their way.

The German Science Foundation is funding the research project “Biodiversity Exploratories” since 2006. Three long-term platforms for research serve for all biodiversity and ecosystem research groups of Germany. Two of the platforms are situated in German biosphere reserves (Schorfheide-Chorin and Schwäbische Alb).

Sustainable land use

Biosphere reserves are particularly well suited for establishing sustainable land use approaches and regional marketing structures for sustainably farmed products. In the Rhön biosphere reserve, for example, marketing of regional products such as Rhön lamb and mutton, traditional apple varieties and meat from cattle raised in the reserve helps sustain a species-rich cultural landscape. 12.2 percent of agricultural land in the Bliesgau biosphere reserve  is  organically farmed, in Schorfheide-Chorin biosphere reserve it is 33 percent and in  Spreewald biosphere reserve it is 70 percent. The figure for Germany as a whole in 2016 is 7.5 percent.

Useful links

Links to the biosphere reserves look at table in the text

Europarc Deutschland (in German)

Nationale Naturlandschaften (National Natural Landscapes, in German)

Last Change: 01/03/2021