’Exploratorium Lebendiges Wittental’ receives first place in the City of Freiburg’s Nature Conservation Awards

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The ,,Exploratorium Lebendiges Wittental’ invites students to learn and ex
The ,,Exploratorium Lebendiges Wittental’ invites students to learn and experiment. Photo: Sandra Meyndt

The compound of the Chair of Forest Entomology and Protection invites students to learn and experiment

The student project "Biodiversity in Wittental," known as in German as "Exploratorium Lebendiges Wittental," offers students a place to learn and experiment. It is where they can experience biodiversity hands-on in a practice-oriented way. Seven days a week, around the clock, students can implement their own project ideas, expand their knowledge of species, and carry out studies. The city of Freiburg has presented the Chair of Forest Entomology and Protection with first place in its Nature Conservation Awards. The award is endowed with a total of five thousand euros and is given in recognition of outstanding achievements in nature conservation.

The unique location of the site is what makes "Lebendiges Wittental" possible. It is in Dreisamtal, outside of Freiburg, in the community of Stegen-Wittental. And there’s more going on out there than research, which includes among other things learning more about bark beetles. On an area totalling 1.6 hectares of clearings and forest, together with students, small biotopes and refuges for a variety of life forms come into existence.  These activities maintain and promote biodiversity.

"Our idea was to reshape the compound so we would be increasing biodiversity. As we did it, we intentionally sought to integrate the students’ ideas. It’s wonderful to see how they took up the opportunity. The students’ personal initiative and enthusiasm is enormous," says Peter Biedermann, the Head of the Chair of Forest Entomology and Protection.

Creating habitats and promoting biodiversity

Biedermann’s team and the students have already implemented a number of projects. In June, a pond complex was set up on a previously unused area of lawn. It has already been accepted as a hatchery for smooth newts and at least five species of dragonfly. A mound-shaped nest has become home for ground nesting bees. Dormice, bats, and varied species of birds that nest in hollows are also living in nearly 50 nesting boxes. A spring located on the compound was redesigned as well. Springs, with their oxygen-rich, cool water provide a special habitat. Climate change is a growing problem for organisms that are dependent on these conditions. When a long dry spell causes the spring to dry up, it is a major challenge for the fire salamander. The amphibian lays its eggs alongside the spring. If the spring dries out, the young die before metamorphosis is completed. To counteract this, the students built retention basins in Wittental. These serve as a refuge when the spring dries up, protecting  the species that live there. Biedermann and his team counted more than 100 fire salamander larvae in the new retention basins just one year after the project was completed. Some of them were taken by a ringed snake (Natrix natrix) that suddenly appeared on the compound. Says Biedermann, "I’m really pleased that our work made so much more life possible so quickly."

Visitors are very welcome

Watching how the compound is coming to life and the opportunities it offers are a great affirmation for Biedermann. Of course he’s also pleased about being honored by the city of Freiburg. "Receiving the award is super, because it shows that our projects are seen and recognized," he says. Now Biedermann would like to utilize the awareness generated by the award. "We’d like to invite people to visit us in conjunction with an event like an open house. We want to show what opportunities there are to promote biodiversity. People can observe animals and plants at our compound and gather ideas and inspiration that they can then try at home," he says.

Further projects on the way

The next projects for Wittental have already been planned. There’s to be an orchard meadow.  Biedermann and his team are also aiming to monitor how the animal population develops after the changes.  "Before we started the redevelopment, we took an inventory of grasshoppers, butterflies, and birds. Now we want to find out how animal populations have changed as a result of the completed projects," Biedermann explains.