Wilde Heide (Wild Heath)

In the Döberitzer Heide, a heath on the outskirts of Berlin, bison (Bos bonasus), Przewalski horses (Equus ferus przewalskii) and red deer (Cervus elaphus) now grace the landscape of what was formerly a military training ground. The animal herds delay reforestation, preserve open countryside structures and increase biodiversity.

From military training ground to island of biodiversity

The Wilde Heide (wild heath) project covers some 1,860 hectares of the Döberitzer Heide and is located about a kilometre from the western city boundary of Berlin. In the course of the past 300 years, for over 100 of which the area was used for military training, a landscape of outstanding beauty and high nature conservation value has emerged.

The heath is a mosaic of valuable, largely contiguous habitats comprising heaths, moors, mixed deciduous woodlands, wet meadows, reed beds and water bodies, wandering dunes and inland dunes. Large open areas have developed, as have crops of species-rich continental dry grasses – all the result of the comparatively nutrient-poor conditions that have prevailed. The area is home to some 5,500 species of flora and fauna, many of which are extremely rare. These include the white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), the nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) and the European otter (Lutra lutra) on the fauna side and, among the flora, a species of orchid (Anacamptis palustris), the marsh gentian (Gentiana pneumonanthe), the sundew (Drosera) and St. Bernhard’s lily (Anthericum liliago).

Large sections of the former military training ground contain both the Döberitzer Heide and the Ferbitzer Bruch nature conservation areas. Their combined biological, landscape ecology and geomorphological conditions make the site unique within the EU. Large parts of the heath have also been designated as special areas of conservation under the Habitats Directive as part of the Natura 2000 network, and as special protection areas for birds.

From heavy tanks to herbivores

The Döberitzer Heide is located near Potsdam on the outskirts of Berlin. The Heinz Sielmann Foundation acquired the heath in 2004 with the aim of securing and conserving the nature it contained. The Foundation has since initiated a wilderness project there, introducing herds of large herbivores on an area covering 1,860 hectares of the huge 3,550 hectare site. This is the first conservation project in Germany to combine these animal species.

In the first project phase, a viewing enclosure measuring some 36 hectares and with 3.5 kilometres of trails was opened near the village of Elstal on 20 May 2006. From a diagonally positioned ridgeway, visitors can view three herds of large wild animals – bison (Europe’s heaviest land mammal), Przewalksi horses (the last surviving wild horse) and red deer. In breeding these wild animals, the Heinz Sielmann Foundation plays a key role in efforts under the EU Endangered Species Programmes to save these rare and endangered species from extinction.

In the project’s second phase, the giant herbivores took up residence in the 50 hectare settling-in zone in 2008. This allowed them to adapt to the wilderness-like conditions before being released into the adjacent core wilderness zone. Their release took place at the beginning of May 2010, completing the third and most important project phase. The core zone measures 1,860 hectares and has six water troughs. It is enclosed by a fence and a circular discovery trail, both of which are 22 kilometres long. As part of the project, a number of fire prevention and control tracks on the site were also freed from remnants of the area’s past. The core zone currently houses 90 bison, 29 horses and approximately 90 red deer.

Herds of livestock (cattle, sheep and goats) are kept in the 1,800 hectare nature experience ring which runs along the perimeter of the core wilderness zone. Visitors are able to explore the landscape without disturbing the sensitive nature conservation areas by walking some of the 55 kilometres of discovery trails, stopping at the various outlook towers and platforms along the way. The wild health project is supported by parallel research.


Viewing Enclosure / Entrance Visitors Information Centre

Sielmanns Naturlandschaft

Döberitzer Heide

Zur Döberitzer Heide

14641 Wustermark / OT Elstal

Opening times: Winter – 10am to 4 pm, Summer – 10 am to 6 pm

Contact: Peter Nitschke Heinz Sielmann Stiftung

Tel.: 033234 24890



©Photo: Wilde Heide
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