Nature Returns to Abandoned Industrial Land: Monitoring Succession in Urban-Industrial Woodlands in the German Ruhr

Joachim Weiss, Wolfgang Burghardt, Peter Gausmann, Rita Haag, Hen­ning Haeupler, Michael Hamann, Bertram Leder, Annette Schulte, Ingrid Stempelmann


The considerable decline of heavy industry (coal, steel) has led to exten­sive structural changes in the German Ruhr, leaving behind areas which have been shaped by the profound impacts of industrial use. As long as these industrial abandoned lands are not subjected to use, they experience ecological succession. In 1992, more than 8,000 ha of such land were known in the Ruhr (Tara and Zimmermann 1997). Today the area is esti­mated to total approximately 10,000 ha.

Depending on the local economic situation, some of these industrial abandoned areas will be used again, for example, as commercial districts, office buildings, housing estates, or as traditional parks. On other sites, however, undirected natural succession continues and produces a mixture of different successional stages that are dominated by short-lived pioneer species, tall herbs, shrubs and trees. On many areas, succession has already led to urban-industrial woodlands which differ in many ways from other types of urban forests (Kowarik 2005). These areas provide considerable potential for developing new green spaces with significant social and eco­logical functions.

Since 1996, 12 urban-industrial woodlands with a total of 244 ha have been included in the Projekt Industriewald Ruhrgebiet (Industrial Forest Project of the Ruhr). This project aims to develop these areas by integrat­ing social and ecological goals (Dettmar 2005). Both cultural remnants and natural processes are found to be highly attractive to local residents (Keil 2005), and the urban-industrial habitats clearly harbour a high number of animal and plant species, including rare species (e. g. Rebele and Dettmar 1996; Gausmann et al. 2004).

Due to the newness of these anthropogenic sites, the way in which eco­system development will proceed, however, remains an open question.

Kowarik I, Korner S (eds) Wild Urban Woodlands.

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2005, pp 143-162

This paper reports on a monitoring approach established in 1999 and pre­sents results of the first analysis.