In the midst of fields in northern Germany a wave of kittens gets lost. These long-stemmed aquatic plants indicate the existence of one of the largest polder bogs in Europe.
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Biologist Melin Brendel wanders in the still waters among these two-meter reeds, where four years ago there was still a field.
It plants stakes and faithfully notes water levels: “low,” “medium,” “high.”
The 10-hectare area, a stone’s throw from the small town of Malchen, has been drained over the centuries for peat extraction, grain cultivation or animal husbandry, like 98% of bogs in Germany, according to the specialist research center Greifswald Mür.
True climate regulators, bogs typically retain carbon trapped in peat, that mass of dead organic matter that accumulates underground.
The water level covering the ground prevents polluting gases from escaping into the air.
Swamps account for 3% of the Earth’s surface and contain twice as much carbon dioxide as all forests. “They’re huge carbon sinks,” the scientist explains.
But once the soil dries out, in contact with oxygen, it releases the carbon that was previously imprisoned, turning into massive pollutants.
“In the region, therefore, the (former) marshes reject more carbon dioxide than all means of transportation,” laments Mylene Brindel.
Over the course of a year, one hectare of dry marsh produces the same amount of carbon dioxide as a car traveling 145,000 km, according to the Greifswald Moore Center.
At Malchin, water ditches were dug along the reflooded surface and cattail seeds were sown. Today, amphibians, birds, fish, spiders, and insects call the reborn swamp home.
Cattails, whose stems are very strong, are cut every winter. It is used in particular as thermal insulation for housing.
“Malaria is the use of swamps,” Mylene Brendel explains.
“With reeds, you can build roofs, and with a hammer, you can insulate houses,” she adds, lamenting that these solutions are still in the pilot project stage.
The German government, aiming for climate neutrality by 2045, launched a €4 billion-awarded action plan last year to “improve the overall state of the country’s ecosystems” by 2026, with marsh restoration a top priority.
A law encouraging EU countries to act in this direction has also been adopted by the European Parliament.
The task is not easy, because farmers must be persuaded.
In Germany, swampy areas, which are very arid, account for 5% of the country.
The idea is not to “force farmers to irrigate the fields”, but to make them understand that “it is important for the climate” and “that they can live” from malaria, according to Ms Brindle.
However, there are no obstacles, as the 28-year-old scientist admits, because this type of exploitation is not recognized and those who practice it are not entitled to receive subsidies for organic farming.
The Bavarian Lorenz Kratzer twenty years ago chose a middle ground, intensive farming in the low-lying swamps.
On a hot summer day in Freising, southern Germany, about 20 limousine cows seek shade from trees and shrubs growing on swampy land used as pasture.
As the soil dries up under the influence of climate change, “it would be very good (…) to ‘retrofit’ the marshes and flood them again,” says this 64-year-old.
“Creating pasture is part of it. You can see that the grass is growing better,” he adds.
A breeder sells his organic meat on a short circuit and eventually shows that combining farming with marsh conservation is also possible.
Back to Malchen: Facing the reconstituted moor, a field stretches where a herd of cows graze on dry ground pierced by small ditches.
“We don’t see it, but the carbon seeps out of the ground,” sighs Mrs. Brindel, who says she dreams of a “perfect world” where “the swamps won’t dry up anymore.”
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