Nature conservation

Although cultural interests are described in the Bundesnaturschutzgesetz (Federal Nature Conservation Act) at the same hierarchical level as eco­logical interests, there exists in Germany an influential movement that un­derstands nature conservation exclusively as an ecological-scientific task. In connection with this understanding, the fallacy that objectively compel­ling maxims for political action would result from ecological data is widely prevalent. The trivial matter that ecological knowledge must, from a natural-scientific definition, be neutral and therefore must first be as­sessed in view of societal values in order to become actionable is often forgotten. But even then, when the difference between ecology as a natural science and as a societal field of endeavor is considered, cultural interests disappear from the field of view, because they aren’t considered to be ob­jective, and nature conservation is regarded solely from a technical per­spective.

So, according to Erz (1986), a well-known representative of the federal nature conservation administration, nature conservation research, in the framework of its legally defined objectives, has the following fundamental tasks to fulfill:

• “Improvement of laws and administrative regulations

• Proper guarantee of their execution

• Determination of scientifically objective criteria for deciding individual cases

• Provision of rationales for citizen participation

• Determination of measures of success for all political, administrative and technical measures” (ibid, p 11)”

Ecology is suited to serve as a basis for scientifically objective conclu­sions (ibid, p 11), because one expects from it technically usable expert knowledge: “Ecological science has its goal (as is true for every science) to achieve, through research, an objective, true vision of these studied ob­jects (functional elements in ecological systems, interdependency, etc.) and through this to produce a systematic knowledge in the form of generally applicable basic principles and general laws that remain the same for every examination using this method, independent of different observation meth­ods of different people (subjectivity)” (ibid, p 12). In this sense, objective knowledge assigns observable results to theoretically determined classes (subsumption principle) and explains them causally through cause and ef­fect relationships. The theories and observation propositions to be applied must be independently formulated in order to be generally and empirically, i. e. experimentally and intersubjectively, testable (cf. Popper 1972). This results in not only general relevance, but also transparency for political de­cisions.

In contrast, technology involves the most possible effective application of laws through engineering on the basis of defined social objectives (cf. ibid, p 52). Technical action is therefore, always use-oriented and rational. For this reason, the summary of nature conservation research formulated by Erz, which through scientific observations and certain resources in the political-administrative framework, aims to improve the implementation of nature conservation in the democratic process and wishes to implement specific desired states of nature and society, corresponds fundamentally to a technical, i. e. an instrumental, vision: Technical research, as an applied science, optimizes practical knowledge in order to achieve a greater effi­ciency in problem solving. A significant portion of the research in the field of nature conservation is concerned with the development and improve­ment of instruments of implementation.

In this understanding of nature conservation as a technology – and proc­ess-oriented, instrumental field of knowledge, which derives its general theories and laws from ecology, cultural questions are based on “subjec­tive, social valuations” (Erz 1986, p 12), because they can not be general­ized in the sense of the natural sciences. The aesthetic perception of char­acter and beauty in the landscape, for example, is not reproducible independent of the observer and therefore is not universally valid in this sense. Thus an enduring dissatisfaction prevails that landscape beauty can not be evaluated objectively in the framework of landscape image analysis for the purpose of determining its value for recreation.

Based on this technical-instrumental understanding of the tasks of na­ture conservation and despite the legal equivalence of both ecological and cultural nature conservation in the Bundesnaturschutzgesetz, a strong ten­dency exists to only consider the scientifically actionable areas as objec­tive and therefore, quietly to consider them the only socially necessary ones. This view was recorded from a planning theory point of view by Bechmann (1981) in his handbook about planning theory and methodol­ogy. This is, therefore, in no way an arbitrary, individual opinion of Erz, but rather in its paradigmatic expression it is a broad general view of na­ture conservation. (Through the development of landscape planning after World War II based on the National Socialist land management in Ger­many, additional references can further substantiate how cultural interests, seen as subjective, were intentionally removed from the understanding of the tasks of the instrumental, target-oriented view of nature conservation. This particularly German case will not be addressed here; cf. Korner 2001 p 77).

With the rejection of the cultural background of nature conservation, its historic connection to forest aesthetics, to landscape architecture and to historic preservation have mostly disappeared from the consciousness of the nature conservationist. This is all the more regrettable as the valuation of regional character described in the Bundesnaturschutzgesetz shows the connection to historic and therefore to cultural categories. The preservation and the contemporary design of the historical character of a landscape was the core of the broader understanding of nature conservation, upon which the synergy of interests mentioned in the Introduction could be established in the management of urban-industrial woodlands.