In January 2021, our esteemed colleague Uwe Schölmerich, Head of the State Forest Enterprise Rhein-Sieg-Erft from the regional forest service “Wald und Holz NRW” retired. This blogpost is a retrospective on our fruitful collaboration with a forest manager who was rightly described by his colleagues as “deeply dedicated to both the forest and people”.
When EFI opened a new office in Bonn in 2017, the few employees had little to no affiliation to their new surroundings, let alone to the forests in that region. As the former capital of Western Germany and a bustling hub of international organisations, Bonn was a strategic location more than anything else.
After spending the first few months in a temporary location, EFI Bonn moved to its final premises on the Platz der Vereinten Nationen in 2018. From the first floor hallway of this building, many new employees caught their first glimpse of the forest embracing the city’s Western boundaries. What initially was no more than a background scenery, quickly turned into an impactful presence in our everyday work, as EFI Bonn slowly started to spread its roots into the fertile soils of the Lower Rhine Bay and its adjacent hills.
The forest that they saw on the western horizon, the Kottenforst, turned out to be managed by a wise, dedicated and friendly man and forester named Uwe Schölmerich.
It just so happened that Uwe, who is also the chair of‘ the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Naturgemäße Waldwirtschaft North-Rhine Westphalia (ANW)’ in Germany (Pro Silva Germany, North-Rhine Westphalia) already knew EFI during the time when its Regional Office ‘EFICENT’ in Freiburg was still active. His decade-long work on integrated forest management had spurred his interest in a novel tool for practicing forest management: marteloscopes. He was one of the early forest managers to join the Integrate Network from Germany, and the first training site in the Kottenforst was installed by Friedrich Louen, advised by Andreas Schuck and Daniel Kraus from EFI’s former Freiburg Regional Office. This site, called Jägerhäuschen, may well be one of the most visited marteloscopes in the whole Integrate Network.
Countless foresters, nature conservationists, students but also non-professional forest enthusiasts have practiced their virtual thinning skills in the Jägerhäuschen. Also EFI eagerly used the opportunity by organising trainings and visits not only for its own staff but by inviting representatives from science, forest practice, conservation, and policy across country borders in Europe and beyond. Many exciting discussions took place during training exercises. Often, they ended at both tree #132, a wonderful example of a habitat tree, and #201, a classical so-called conflict tree, a large oak displaying both a high economic and ecological value. Uwe used to say when the discussion amongst training participants was in full swing: “We now have as many management proposals for #201 as participants, all having good arguments…. This is how we learn from one another.”
The cooperation with the local forest district did not end there. The LIFE+ Villewälder project, supervised by Klaus Striepen, led to a fruitful and mutually beneficial cooperation between EFI and the forest district. While the forest managers gained insight into the social importance of their forest, EFI was able to study real-life trade-offs between different forest functions.
Also in our spare time some of us kept in touch with the Kottenforst. Thanks to Uwe, we got the chance to catch a glimpse behind the scenes of the driven hunts that are necessary to preserve natural regeneration of a variety of tree species, thus making the forest more resilient. That’s what they call connecting knowledge to action.
The support of Uwe and his colleagues proved invaluable to EFI’s work in Bonn. Numerous projects, excursions, guided tours and on-site trainings have been organised in the forest district Rhein-Sieg-Erft thanks to Uwe. The forests around Bonn were no longer just decoration but helped the EFI staff to maintain the connection to the object they all devote their career to: forests. We were very lucky with our timing, because despite his young and cheerful appearance, Uwe has recently retired. We will certainly miss Uwe and hope to continue interacting with him then in his private capacity, as a person that really “lives” integrated forest management at the interface of forestry and society. With this in mind, we are sure to see you again soon!