How do landfills affect animal life?

Backnang landfill as living space Pure nature between excavators and rubble

From Annette Clauss

The district waste dump in Backnang-Steinbach is a retreat for rare animal species. Part of the area will be permanently closed and must now be sealed with tarpaulins. The landscape ecologist Jürgen Trautner ensures that the living space is preserved as well as possible.

Backnang - a mountain of rubbish as a natural paradise? Doubters quickly taught Jürgen Trautner better. Waste dumps are indeed areas that are heavily influenced by humans, says the landscape ecologist, "but they are often of higher quality than some nature reserves". Then it starts - all over the waste disposal site in Backnang-Steinbach, which Jürgen Trautner now knows like the back of his hand.

First he leads the visitors to the edge of the forest, points to an artificial nest box that is attached to a branch of a tree, then handles the plastic sleeve and points to a round nest that is artfully woven from blades of grass. It is no longer inhabited. “The dormouse moves more often,” reports Trautner. Suddenly behind him there is a rustling in a blackberry hedge, and immediately afterwards two deer make their way out of the dust with graceful leaps.

Sun spots for lizards, pools for yellow-bellied toads

Let's go to the lizard paradise, a little overgrown area that offers plenty of sun spots for the heat-loving animals. Not far from there, at Jürgen Trautner's instruction, an excavator bit several holes in the ground with its shovel, which have filled with water. "These are spawning waters for yellow-bellied toads," says the landscape ecologist, stretching his hand into the cloudy water and pulling a mini toad out of the pond with a practiced grip.

About six years ago, Jürgen Trautner first strolled across the huge area of ​​the Steinbach landfill, on which only mineral waste such as building rubble has been allowed to be deposited for several years. On behalf of the Rems-Murr waste management company (AWRM), the landscape ecologist took stock of what is creeping, scurrying, flapping and buzzing around in the landfill?

The AWRM CEO Gerald Balthasar heard the result of these expeditions with a laughing and a crying eye. The good news in itself that rare and partly strictly protected animal species such as yellow-bellied toads, dormice or fire butterflies cavort on the landfill site surrounded by forest brings with it some conflicts. Because the surface of an approximately eleven hectare area of ​​the landfill, which the city of Backnang once used to deposit household waste, has to be sealed with tarpaulin in the course of its final shutdown in order to prevent seepage after rainfall.

Mountain of waste is sealed

But what to do with the strictly protected animals that have settled there, of all places, and which, according to the law, are not significantly disturbed and whose habitats may not be removed? “We have to try to bring the current waste laws and nature conservation laws under one roof,” says Gerald Balthasar, describing the dilemma. Jürgen Trautner says that in a case like that of the Backnang landfill you can only act if species protection is partially postponed. The regional council of Stuttgart had issued the special permit required for this.

Jürgen Trautner has worked out a relocation plan so that animal life on the old landfill, which makes up around a quarter of the total area, is endangered as little as possible. This stipulates that the old landfill will be divided into two areas. On the first, around six hectare area, excavators are currently working to model the mountain of rubbish using soil brought in by truck. "About half a million tons of earth are moved here," says Gerald Balthasar, who is now standing on top of the former garbage heap with Jürgen Trautner and is studying a plan of the site. The first section should be finished by the end of the year.

Two years of rest for the new settlement

"After that, we will leave this area alone for two years and observe how vegetation and animals develop," explains Jürgen Trautner, who hopes that the animals will soon colonize the area again. If that works, the workers take on the second, five-hectare section. In total, the conversion of the old landfill will cost around five million euros, says Gerald Balthasar.

The significantly lower costs for the species protection measures would also be added, says Jürgen Trautner. He has planned open areas on the area that will serve as a habitat for lizards, but also advises planting trees and meadows as habitats for other animals. The adjoining forest, in which many spruce trees grow, still has to be cleared for the benefit of the dormouse, says the expert - the bushes, from whose berries and buds the mouse feeds, would then come all by themselves.