The Wahn Heath
Recreation oasis and refuge for nature
For Cologne residents, the Wahn Heath is a green recreation oasis right on their doorstep, while for 700 endangered plant and animal species, it is one of their last available refuges.
For Cologne residents, the Wahn Heath is a green recreation oasis right on their doorstep, while for 700 endangered plant and animal species, it is one of their last available refuges. This heath landscape is not only the second-largest nature reserve in North Rhine-Westphalia, but also the most biodiverse. Part of the natural habitat of the “Bergisch heath terrace” and covering the territory of Cologne, Bergisches Land and the Rhein-Sieg district, this landscape takes in everything from marshes, ponds and dunes to wetland meadows, dry grasslands, streams and riverside forests. Rare plants like the pink Dactylorhiza sphagnicola, a delicate type of orchid, or the likewise endangered natterjack toad can be discovered along the well-developed network of paths.
The Wahn Heath owes its present day appearance to the variety of activities carried out here in the past. As the land was of no use for agriculture, the farmers from neighbouring villages let their sturdy livestock graze there. Later, the goats, cattle and sheep were driven out when the area began to be used for military manoeuvres. By the end of the 20th century, only one sheep farmer was grazing his animals on the heath.
Animals help to manage the landscape
This had a damaging impact on the heath landscape. As there were very few animals left to graze on young shoots, more and more bushes and trees were able to establish themselves until they displaced the native plants. But in 1993, it was decided that the heath should be preserved and maintained as a traditional landscape. In the northern reaches in particular, goats, sheep, donkeys and cattle, including the Glan, an old Rhenish cattle breed, are again helping to manage the heath. Visitors will even be able to spot a few more exotic-looking animals in the landscape: in 2010, Asian water-buffaloes were introduced to reinforce efforts to preserve the Wahn Heath.
Visitors who wish to explore the area can find information at the converted Turmhof building in Rösrath. The Turmhof centre offers excursions and hikes and has exhibitions on the Wahn Heath. There are three additional information points at Gut Leidenhausen (Cologne-Porz), Burg Wissem (Troisdorf) and the Steinhaus building (Bergisch Gladbach). These also provide good starting points for exploration of the Wahn Heath.