Save haven for parasites

FAIR restores dry grassland for rare plant and animal species

The sand broomrape flowers in purple. The rare plant flourishes in the natural monument "Stahlberge". (Photos: Markus Bernards for FAIR)

Environmental experts have restored an area of dry grassland as part of the environmental planning process for the new FAIR particle accelerator. The conservation project will help protect the endangered sand broomrape plant as well as other rare plant and animal species in the district of Arheilgen in the German city of Darmstadt. The dry grassland is located in Stahlberge, a natural monument located in Darmstadt. The Stahlberge is one of the few remaining sites where the parasitic plant sand broomrape grows – with the help of its host, the field wormwood plant.


To the south of the new particle accelerator FAIR lies a relic of the ice age: The Stahlberge. They are part of a system of sand dunes created by the wind over 10,000 years ago as it blew from the western ridge of the Rhine Valley. The low-nutrient, sandy soil of the Stahlberge is home to rare, protected plants such as the sand broomrape (Orobanche arenaria), a parasitic species that relies entirely on its host the field wormwood (Artemisia campestris) for nutrition, and therefore has no chlorophyll. Other protected species such as the round-headed leek (Allium sphaerocephalon), mountain parsley (Peucedanum oreoselinum) or lace veil (Stipa capillata) are also native to the Stahlberge together with sand lizards and the Cupido argiades butterfly – both of which are on German red lists of threatened species.


The dry grasslands of the Stahlberge, however, were slowly being invaded. Small pine trees and bushes were spreading from the larger trees and encroaching on the low-nutrient meadows, threatening to displace the rare plants and animals. FAIR commissioned the pine trees and bushes to be carefully removed (including their roots) and for the grass to be mown. Since the grasslands are too small to be grazed by sheep, they will be mown once or twice a year as part of a dedicated conservation plan for the Stahlberge. The plan makes sure that the rare plants have sufficient time to seed. Any new bushes or pine trees will also be regularly removed.


The Stahlberge project is part of the statutory conservation measures tied to the construction of the new FAIR particle accelerator and managed in close cooperation with the Environmental Office of the City of Darmstadt. Other measures include extensive reforestation in Darmstadt and the surrounding area, the creation of a lizard habitat on former wasteland to the north-west of Stahlberge, the installation of bat boxes (artificial roosts for bats) and erection of a special fence to protect amphibians (approx. 1.6 km long).

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