Military use of training area throughout centuries protects endangered plants

The Pheasant’s-eye, is endangered and is protected on the Wiesbaden Garrison sand dunes training area. (photo by Alper Koemuer, U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden)

Between the Mainz city districts of Gonsenheim and Mombach on the Sand Dunes Local Training Area of the U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden lies a unique nature reserve with a long history and endangered plants worthy of protection.

It all began around 20,000 years ago when the glaciers of the Ice Age in Europe slowly melted, creating space for new life. But long before the Ice Age, sand was blown through the Rhine river valley and landed at the end of its journey on the western slopes of today’s city of Mainz, forming unique sand dunes for Central Europe. After the end of the ice age seeds were carried over long distances by grazing animal herds and landed on the nutrient-poor soil and created a natural landscape unique to Central Europe.

Fueled by the power of the new idea of freedom because of the successful American Revolution, the French Revolutionary Army swept over Europe and in 1798 Mainz was under its control. The modern army of free citizens, led by French officers, some of whom also served in the American war of independence, was changing the military training system in Europe.

In 1798 modern military exercises were carried out for the first time in the sand dunes of Mainz and on September 30, 1804, a five-hour exercise of 7,000 soldiers under the direction of Napoleon Bonaparte himself was conducted. The sand dunes remain a military training area to this day.

“The almost continuous use as a military training area has saved this natural landscape nearly untouched to the present day. The surrounding areas have either been built up, used for agriculture or have been forested and are lost as a unique natural landscape,” said Annegret Lambrecht, environmental engineer for the Directorate of Public Works environmental division.

The silver crack is protected and only grows on the Wiesbaden Garrison sand dunes training area. (photo by Alper Koemuer, U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden)

Lambrecht is responsible for the species and plant protection in the properties of the USAG Wiesbaden. The importance of the landscape and the remaining areas, which also include the military training area, were placed under protection in 1966.

The nutrient-poor soil and the unusually dry climate for Central Europe allow for a unique flora, which is more widespread in Central Asia or Southern Europe. “We have nearly a dozen of species of plants here that are very rare in Germany. But two plants stand out because our sand dunes is their primary or exclusive settlement area,” Lambrecht explained.

“The beautiful Pheasant’s-eye Adonis vernalis is very threatened with extinction and our training area is their primary settlement area, while the silver crack Jurinea cyanoides is even rarer, only occurs here and is endemic.”

The two plants are small and at first glance rather resemble desert plants. Asked about their appearance Lambrecht replied: “That’s right, in summer it gets very hot on the dunes and you feel like you’re in a desert. The plants prefer dry nutrient-poor soil and you can say in a way that these are our little desert roses.”

“I am proud of my work and what we do. Together with my colleagues from DPW and TSAE and our German partners from BIMA, we protect this endangered treasure together,” she added. Lambrecht said nutrients and forestation are the two prominent dangers facing the area: “We must ensure that the areas remain free and that as little nutrients as possible are added. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people here with their dogs and horses, who bring in exactly these nutrients with the feces but also with food that they leave behind.” In addition, nutrients would nourish other plants, eliminating the habitat currently being protected.

Stefanie Wehmhoener the environmental protection expert of the German Federal Forestry Agency responsible for the region agrees to this statement and added, “Due to contamination by dog feces, the areas are considerable effected.”
Wehmhoener also expressed that BIMA value the engagement of the U.S. Army Garrison DPW Environmental Office and the good relation, “The good relationship is used to bring in line the military demands on the area in very good form with the requirements of nature and species protection. The military-related use of the area contributes to an optimal nature conservation management.”

Wehmhoener explained further that the use of heavy equipment helps to stop forestation and the desired uncovering of sand areas to protect the needs of this protected plants.

Projects like deforestation and scarfing the surface seem to work and helps the endangered fauna. “What we do count. The situation is stable,” Lambrecht summed up.

However, she and those working to preserve the land and plants, remind those who walk through the area to leave nothing behind to further protect the endangered fauna.