HOHENFELS, Germany -- Conservation measures begin here next month on a project designed to help stabilize and improve the population of the near extinct Greater Horseshoe Bat that lives near the Military Training Area. This marks the first time a European Union funded conservation effort has taken place on an active military base in Germany.

The project is part of the LIFE+ Program, the European Union's financial instrument operating in support of environmental policies, which co-funds actions in the field of nature conservation and the preservation of biodiversity.

"We are supported very effectively by the environmental division here in Hohenfels and in Heidelberg; otherwise there would be no possibility of doing this project," said Manfred Kellner, a conservation expert with the Federal Real Estate Agency - Federal Forest Division. "Without the concurrence of the U.S. Army, the support of the commanders here, nothing would be possible."

Hohenfels marks the last stand of the endangered Greater Horseshoe Bat, with the entire population of 80 -- 100 individuals in Germany living just outside the base boundary. The Lesser Horseshoe Bat is already extinct in the country.

"The special thing is that this is the only nursery roost in Germany of this special species," said Kellner. "It's very important for conservation in Germany and it also has European-wide significance in supporting this species."

"The important part is the feeding area for this bat is within the training area," said Dr. Albert Boehm, environmental engineer with the garrison environmental division. Boehm said though the bats live in nearby Hohenberg, they come onto the training area to hunt.

The garrison environmental division has conducted previous successful conservation measures over the past several years for the bats, such as protecting and controlling access to the natural caves where the bats hibernate in the winter.

"In the past ten years numbers have really gone up. The number of bats is increasing year after year," said Kellner.

The LIFE+ project hopes to expand on that success. Most of the measures are designed to improve the bats' hunting habitats. Boehm said Horseshoe bats are open land hunters, using the dry meadow areas around the boundary of the training area.

Corridors will be cut through overgrown areas where the dense forest prevents access for both bats and birds. Bushes and other ground cover will be removed to create open areas where the bats can hunt. This will also provide more grazing area for red deer and sheep, the droppings of which are essential to the dung beetle, one of the bats main sources of food.

"Studies have shown there is a connection with grazing animals and the development of the Greater Horseshoe Bat," said Boehm.

Fruit trees will also be planted to encourage the insects on which the bats feed. Boehm said that since Hohenfels has been a military base since 1938, landscape development stopped over 70 years ago. Due to changing agricultural practices off-post, the types of fruit trees growing on base are of the type cultivated in the 1940s.

"As part of the project, these varieties shall be supported by new plantings where you graft old varieties onto young fruit trees," said Boehm. "This will reestablish the old fruit tree variety to make sure they survive."

Kellner said measures will begin on Aug. 1 with clearing of shrubbery followed by tree planting in the fall. The entire project will be spread out over five years.

Boehm said that the aim of the measure is not just to increase the individual population, but hopefully create a population that has two or more roosting areas.

"That would be the ultimate goal," he said.

Page last updated Wed July 18th, 2012 at 00:00