19 October 2023

An intact moor helps to protect the climate

REWE has long partnered with the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) to protect the climate. Now, the NABU Climate Fund is helping to restore a moor. We went to see it for ourselves.
Reading time: 6 min.

The massive moor restoration is the first project undertaken by the NABU Climate Fund, which was started by REWE and NABU in spring 2022. REWE will invest at least 25 million euros in the climate fund over the next five years. But what does this kind of restoration project actually involve? What’s the current situation on the ground? And what are the next steps? We wanted to get some answers, so we travelled to the Ahlen-Falkenberg Moor, located near the town of Cuxhaven. We explored the area and spoke with NABU moor expert Dr Frank Woesthoff and Julia Krooß, portfolio manager of the NABU Climate Fund.

A bird’s eye view of the future moor landscape.

The panoramic perspective shows a green meadow criss-crossed by small ditches and ringed by several rows of trees. Parts of the Ahlen-Falkenberg moor, located south-east of Cuxhaven, look like a green countryside idyll, but the landscape has, in fact, been destroyed. The vast expanse of land remained intact until the 1960s but has sunk by about two metres. If things go the way REWE and NABU intend, it will be returned to this state. And it would be best for this to happen as quickly as possible.

Frank Woesthoff, NABU’s moor expert, stands in the middle of the vast expanse covering 200 hectares. It’s the largest moor protection project on agricultural land in Europe, he says. And the financial strength of the NABU Climate Fund is absolutely essential. This is because NABU first had to acquire the land before it could be restored. When the weather is good, you can walk through the moor without getting your feet wet. Over the decades, ditches and drains have caused the original moor to dry up and shrink.

Dr Frank Woesthoff

Head of NABU-Klimafonds

REWE is truly a pioneer in this area because no one in the private sector has invested so much money to protect moors.

Dr Frank Woesthoff
Dr Frank Woesthoff

Moors are climate heroes

But why are moors so important for climate protection? It’s quite simple. More carbon is stored in their peat than any other land ecosystem – making moors twice as effective as forests. Because of the wet conditions, plants do not fully decompose when they die in a moor. As a result, the carbon in the plants is stored permanently. This results in the formation of peat – and a large carbon sink. The carbon stored in moors is released back into the atmosphere as environmentally harmful CO2 when moors are destroyed.

So the top priority is keeping the remaining carbon in the ground permanently. If CO2 were black, we’d be standing in a black fog, explains Julia Krooß, portfolio manager for the NABU Climate Fund. Each year, some 6,800 tons of CO2 are released from the ground. Boring has shown that the ground contains about 800,000 tons of CO2 that also needs to be kept there. The initial work to ensure this will begin this autumn, with the first step being to remove the top 20 centimetres of the surface.

Julia Krooß

Portfolio manager of NABU-Klimafonds

Restoration requires patience

There is still a lot of fertilizer in there. The plants in the moor don’t like it, explains Frank Woesthoff. That is because they need wet, acidic, and low-nutrient soil. The soil removed from the top layer will be used to build small embankments and fill the ditches. The underground clay pipes that transport water to the ditches are also gradually being demolished. These measures are intended to increase the water level on the surface again. In future, the moor will only receive water when it rains. Millions of cubic metres of water will be required. So restoring moors takes patience. The peat layer grows just one millimetre per year. But there is already a small amount of peat. Julia Krooß digs a bit in the molehills that have sprung up all over, and you can grab the peat that is still in the ground with your bare hands.

Drainage ditches on the Ahlen-Falkenberg moor near Cuxhaven.

Frank Woesthoff estimates that it will take at least three to four years before this is the case over the entire area. By then, there will be less dense grassland than there is now, or none at all; instead, the moor will contain fauna that is natural to it: small mosses, giant sedges, bell heath, small varieties of orchids, which are important for wild bees, for example. This, too, is an important aspect of the restoration of moors that not only protects the climate, but also provides a home for many animal species.

As a large food retailer, we are aware of our responsibility to protect the climate. It is therefore very important to us that in addition to reducing emissions, we also voluntarily support climate protection projects both in Germany and in Europe as a whole. The NABU Climate Fund seal on our store-brand products, REWE Bio and REWE Beste Wahl (“Best Choice), also allows our customers to experience climate protection”, Nicola Tanaskovic, Head of Corporate Responsibility, says of the collaboration with long-time partner NABU.

Location: Lower Saxony, south-east of Cuxhaven
Area: approx. 200 hectares
CO2 in the soil: 800,000 metric tons
Unique feature: Europe’s largest moor restoration project, located on land previously used for agricultural purposes
Timeline: Start in autumn 2023; first phase completed by approx. 2026/2027. The entire project will be completed by no later than 2043.