Deforestation of the Hambach forest has been happening for the past forty years to clear the area for lignite extraction. Now only 10% of the forest remains.
From 1978 until today, a forest which once blanketed 5,500 hectares of land in Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia state now covers barely a tenth of that.
Its rapid decline is down to RWE, a German company which purchased the woodland from local parishes in the region.
For forty years, the electricity provider has excavated the area to extract lignite — a brown fossil which is characterised by its high CO2 emissions.
Polish forest expert Kamil Onoszko shared a visualisation showing the extent of the deforestation since 1984.
Activists say that if the mining continues, the forest will be destroyed in three years. In protest of deforestation many live in treehouses in 'Hambi', a pet name for the forest used by locals. Now, over 30 treehouses are in use, with suspended walkways allowing passage between homes. Some of these treehouses use solar power to generate electricity and connect to the internet.
To protect Hambach, residents and activists are waging war against corporate excavation efforts.
In January of this year, nine activists were arrested during a barricade eviction and one is still detained in prison after being arrested in March at an Animal Rights Convergence in Hambach. Hambi’s residents also expect a mass eviction to begin on August 22, before extraction season begins again.
Deforestation is only legally permitted in the area during October through to March, however the Hambach Forest blog claims that RWE illegally clear the area outside of these months.
One third of the total carbon emission in Germany emanates from the three coal pits and five power plants in the Rhinelands. While RWE state one of their aims as lowering CO2 emissions, their company is a fundamental part of this pollution. RWE and other plants are also reported to be to blame for the increasing temperature of the Rhine River by the German environmental group BUND.
Last year, in an effort to save Hambach forest, activists took their case to court. But its future remains in doubt, the campaigners lost, and RWE’s bid to expand mining works was upheld.
Comprised of oak and hornbeams, the 12,000 year old forest is home to over 140 endangered species and a multitude of different animals, with some trees dating back to the 18th century. Forests of its kind are rare, making up only 4.1% of Germany's woodland.