Vacation, but different - the "Bergwaldprojekt"

At the moment there is a lot going on and many hobbies can't be pursued as usual. So it is not wrong to do something completely different - and best of all in nature! Our guest author Simon had the same idea and spent his summer with the Bergwaldprojekt. The Bergwaldprojekt is an association that, with the help of volunteers, takes on important forest and forestry work that local forestry companies cannot manage on their own. The aim of the work is in particular the promotion of the local biodiversity and climate protection (https://www.bergwaldprojekt.de/).

In this article Simon reports about his experiences with the project in Disentis, Switzerland.

"Our accommodation is a simple mountain hut with breathtaking views in the middle of nature. Accommodation and food are free of charge at the Bergwaldprojekt, you only have to pay for your own journey. When I arrived at the train station in Disentis, there is first bad news: Due to heavy snowfall we cannot go to our hut, which is located on the mountain. Fortunately, the project managers have organized an alternative accommodation in a Swiss bunker for us. In total, our team consists of two project leaders, a cook and twelve participants. Since we unfortunately still couldn't go to the hut on Monday, we started working in the valley instead. For this we will set off after breakfast at 6:30 a.m. to the nearby forest enterprise. Here we will be divided into two teams - my group will start in the morning by cutting out silver firs (often used as Christmas trees) already planted around certain veterinary fences so that they can continue to grow. White firs occur naturally in the area and are considered to be climate resistant. Due to high damage caused by game animals they are very rare here in Disentis. Armed with a sickle and branch shears, the blackberries and hazelnut bushes are then cut. After half a day we marked the locations of the silver firs with wooden sticks and cut them free - and that on about 200 m2 forest area! 

At noon, a soup with bread and cheese is eaten over the campfire (all food in the Bergwaldprojekt is regional, seasonal and of course organic). In the afternoon we build new game protection fences from wooden slats with hammer and nails. The fences must be up to 2.5 m high, so that e.g. no deer can jump over them, which is especially important on steep slopes. After an exhausting day and sensational weather we go back to the bunker for dinner. As a small consolation there are warm showers here at the bunker and not only the cool mountain stream. 

The next day, we get back to work early in the morning. Today we are renewing old game protection fences with the fence elements that we carpentered the day before. With the pile driver bell and a large wooden hammer we knock the different wooden posts into the ground and then nail the elements to them. Fortunately the weather has improved so that we can finally go up the mountain: a cosy hut with a wood stove and mattress storage awaits us up there. Some participants even pitch their tents to spend the night there. 

On the mountain the real work starts: we build berm (terraces) with the hoopoe (a combination of hoof and axe, named after the bird) and plant spruce seedlings. These will eventually take over the function of a protection forest on the mountain.

Despite the cold in the morning, the sun heats up the slope quickly and soon we all continue working in t-shirts. We chop the terraces into the slope and then plant the spruce seedlings in the straight earth. Here it is important to press the soil around the seedlings very tightly, because this helps to prevent the spruces from being washed away in heavy rain. This quickly becomes strenuous, but we take regular breaks as we do every day (in Switzerland the breaks are called Znüni and Zvieri for the 9 and 16 o'clock snack) and are provided with apples, bread, cheese and nuts. A special highlight is to visit one of the nearby mountain streams again in the evening. The water is quite cool, but very refreshing.  

After two and a half days, twelve of us have already planted over 500 small spruces. Next week the project will continue with new participants who will try to plant as many of the other 1500 spruces as possible. Planting is always below the tree line. The resulting groups of trees will replace the wooden avalanche protection structures in the future, which will gradually weather in about 30 to 50 years. In addition to their primary functions (to prevent the formation of avalanches, landslides and rock falls), the protection forests also bind a lot of rainwater to prevent flooding further downstream during high tide.

By the way, the Bergwaldprojekt is not only located in Switzerland ,but also in Germany, Austria and Spain. And the projects are also diverse - sometimes trees are planted, sometimes moors are renaturalized. In my time with the Bergwaldprojekt I have learned a lot about nature, met interesting people, had a lot of fun and got involved in environmental protection."

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