Franconian water meadows are to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site – Bavaria

The knowledge of traditional meadow irrigation in Franconia that has been passed on over the centuries is to be included in a UNESCO list and thus receive worldwide recognition. Together with six other European countries with irrigation culture, the inclusion in the “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” will soon be applied for, as announced by the city of Nuremberg and the district office of Forchheim. So far there are only four entries with German participation.

The water meadows are located near the rivers Rednitz, Regnitz and Wiesent in Franconia. As early as the Middle Ages, farmers there made do with water wheels, sophisticated ditch systems and weirs in order to use the sandy, water-permeable and nutrient-poor soil. As early as last March, the German Unesco Commission included the “Traditional irrigation of the water meadows in Franconia” in the nationwide register of intangible cultural heritage in Germany. Being on such a national list is a prerequisite for inclusion in the global directory.

“We are confident that everything will work out,” said Johannes Mohr from the Forchheim district office, who has been pushing the issue for years. Irrespective of that, it was nice work that lasted four years, he said with regard to the cooperation with those responsible in other countries. “We got to know and like each other on a European level,” he said. “It’s actually peace politics when you build up personal relationships.” With the Queichwiesen in Rhineland-Palatinate, another irrigation tradition in Germany is represented in the application, and irrigation cultures in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Italy and Austria are also involved. The application should be submitted to the UNESCO headquarters in Paris by the end of March. Whether he will be successful will be decided at the end of 2023. A UNESCO committee decides on admission.

There are no longer many water meadows, but some farmers still dam the water in the traditional way in order to flood their meadows in a targeted manner.

(Photo: Nicolas Armer/dpa)

It is true that many water meadows disappeared after industrialization and changes in agriculture, when areas were enlarged and made passable for tractors. However, near Forchheim and in the Rednitztal near Nuremberg, farmers still irrigate their meadows in the traditional way to be able to feed their cows fresh grass and hay. To do this, they dam up water in ditches and allow the surrounding area to be flooded in a targeted manner. Several water cooperatives preserve the knowledge. Some of these went back to the 14th century, explained Mohr. The statutes state exactly who is allowed to water which meadow and for how long. Basically, it is also an ecological tradition, he said. According to the German Unesco Commission, water meadows have a positive effect on biodiversity, as shown by the successful settlement of storks. They stored large amounts of carbon, explained Mohr. They also allow the temperature in the environment to be measurably reduced. “In fact, the meadows cool the city, which is increasingly overheated in summer,” said Nuremberg’s environmental officer Britta Walthelm.

Physical objects such as monuments are not honored on the worldwide Unesco list, it is much more about human knowledge, traditions, customs or techniques. Direct financial support is not associated with admission, but public awareness is encouraged. Unesco is also committed to ensuring that culture stays alive and is not folklorized or preserved in museums. There are around 530 entries on the list. Only four of them have a German participation: idea and practice of cooperatives, organ building and music as well as – together with other states – falconry and blueprinting. Purely national applications may only be submitted every two years, multinational applications are more often possible. In addition to traditional irrigation, Germany is expected to participate in two other international applications in 2022, according to the German Unesco Commission: “Glass production” and “Midwifery”.

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