Germany's national parks (Nationalparke) are part of the country's natural heritage. They are defined in art. 24 para. 1 of Germany's Federal Nature Conservation Act (BNatSchG) as "areas that have been designated in a legally binding manner, that are to be protected in a consistent way and that
- are large, largely unfragmented and have special characteristics,
- fulfil the requirements for a nature conservation area in the greater part of their territory, and
- in the greater part of their territory, have not been affected by human intervention at all, or to a limited extent only, or are suitable for developing, or being developed, into a state which ensures the undisturbed progression, as far as possible, of natural processes in their natural dynamics."
Where their protection purpose allows, national parks also serve purposes of scientific environmental observation, education in natural history, and public experience of nature. Commercial exploitation of natural resources by farming, forestry, water use, hunting or fishing must therefore be largely prevented or only allowed subject to strict requirements laid down by the nature conservation authorities. National park regions are highly popular with the German public and have been proven to promote tourism. Most people asked in a survey accepted restrictions to their freedom of movement in sensitive areas.
National parks are designated by the German states (Länder) in consultation with the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety and the Federal Ministry of Transport, Housing and Construction (Art. 22 para. 5 BNatSchG).
Germany currently has 14 national parks covering a total of 1.029.496 ha.
Total area [ha]
|Priority protected habitats|
|Bayerischer Wald (BY)||1970||24,217||Montane mixed forests, upland spruce forests, bogs, fens and mires, mountain streams, boulder piles|
|Berchtesgaden (BY)||1978||20,804||Alpine scree fields, alpine grassland and scrub, subalpine, montane and submontane forests, mountain meadows, lakes|
|Schleswig- Holsteinisches Wattenmeer (SH)||1985|| 441,500
of which approx. 97.7% water surface*
|Wadden Sea ecosystem, foreshore salt marshes|
|Niedersächsisches Wattenmeer (NI)||1986|| 345,000
of which approx. 93% water surface*
|Wadden Sea, salt meadows and Eastern Friesland island dunes|
|Hamburgisches Wattenmeer (HH)||1990|| 13,750
of which approx. 97.1% water surface*
|Wadden Sea in the Elbe estuary subject to strong tidal and brackish water influence|
of which approx. 22% water surface
|Beech forests on calcareous soils, chalk-cliff coastline, near-coast Baltic Sea|
|Harz (ST/NI)||1990/1994||24,732||Upland spruce forests, beech forests, bogs, fens and mires, montane heaths, boulder and rock formations, watercourses|
|Sächsische Schweiz (SN)||1990||9,350||Rock-forest complexes, submontane xerothermophilous forests, ravine and scree forest|
|Müritz- Nationalpark (MV)||1990||32,200||Pine and beech forests, alder and birch carr, lakes and bogs, fens and mires|
|Vorpommersche Boddenlandschaft (MV)||1990||78,600
of which approx. 83% water surface*
|Bodden waters, wave-eroded coasts of a range of types and with various coastal habitats, forests|
|Unteres Odertal (BB)||1995||10,323||River floodplain landscape, oxbows and backwaters, reed and reed grass beds, damp grassland|
|Hainich (TH)||1997||7,513||Mixed deciduous forest and beech forest on mesic sites in varying stages of succession, in some cases with highly differentiated age composition|
|Eifel (NW)||2004||10,880||Atlantic-influenced mixed beech forests on acidic soils, forests (colline to submontane), spring regions, stream valleys|
|Kellerwald-Edersee (HE)||2004||5,724||Submontane beech forests on acidic soils, xeric rocky slopes, near-natural watercourses, oligotrophic glades|
Total area including North Sea and Baltic areas: 1,029,496 ha
Total area excluding North Sea and Baltic areas: 194,362 ha (about 0.54 percent of German territory)
*) Portion of water surface not included in land area statistics only.
Excluding marine areas, national parks cover 0.54 percent of German territory. Two of the larger Länder - Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate - do not yet have a national park.
Most of Germany's national parks today are still in the development phase, meaning that they only partly meet the criteria of leaving nature untouched over large areas. Measures implemented under management plans over the next two to three decades will allow dynamic natural processes to be given priority in most of the territory covered by these parks.
Core zone (I)
Development zone - (II a), management zone (II b)
|Schleswig- Holsteinisches Wattenmeer||36.0%||64.0%||-|
|Müritz- Nationalpark||29.0%||71.0% ****||-|
*) already free of any uses, so that in total 87% of the whole national park is free from use
**) 57% not subject to intervention, 25% still sub-ject to short or medium-term intervention
***) 16% already free of any uses
****) Of which 45% already free of any uses, so that in total 61% of the whole national park is free from use
*****) Of which 25% already free of any uses, so that in total 38.2% of the whole national park is free from use
******) 22% already free of any uses
The amended 2002 Federal Nature Conservation Act made statutory provision for areas to be designated as 'developing' national parks. This eases the creation of new national parks in Germany.
Under the IUCN Protected Area Management Categories, a national park (Category II) is a protected area managed mainly for ecosystem protection and recreation. National parks are designated to protect the ecological integrity of one or more ecosystems, exclude exploitation or occupation inimical to this purpose and provide a foundation for spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational and visitor opportunities.
To comply with IUCN guidelines, at least three quarters of a protected area must be managed for its primary purpose. For national parks under EUROPARC/IUCN, this means 75 percent of the area must be maintained in a largely natural or near-natural state and not be subject to uses incompatible with the purpose for which the park is designated. The area must also be large enough to contain one or more entire ecosystems. A minimum size of 10,000 ha is recommended for Germany.
January 2004 saw the creation of two new national parks - Eifel (North Rhine-Westphalia) and Kellerwald-Edersee (Hesse). Both are home to mainly forest ecosystems, which were previously under-represented in Germany's national parks system. The creation of the Eifel National Park notably helps close a gap in the German system of large-scale protected areas as regards the Atlantic climate zone. A conservation aim is to protect or restore intact habitats for lynx, wildcat, beaver and various forest bat species. In the Kellerwald-Edersee National Park with its uninterrupted beech forests, it will be possible in the near future to leave three quarters of the area to develop naturally.
With effect from 1 January 2006, the Harz National Park in Lower Saxony and the Hochharz National Park in Saxony-Anhalt were amalgamated into a single Harz National Park.
Germany still lacks nationally binding quality criteria to match international guidelines such as IUCN Category II. Among other things, this leads to differences in both the nomenclature and the number of zones in the various national parks. Land use and impacts from coastal protection, fisheries, forestry, hunting, recreation and in some cases transport and farming make it hard in a country as densely populated as Germany to comply with global standards and so attain the designated objectives.
Germany has further areas suited for designation as national parks, for example with a view to Germany's responsibilities for preserving beech forest ecosystems. More opportunities are opened up in this regard as large military exercise areas revert to civilian use.
Europarc-Deutschland (2011): National Parks in Germany - Wild and beautiful. - 71 pp. (also available in German)