In the Harz region in the middle of Germany, dead spruce trees stand like white ghosts on the hilltops.
They are victims of the bark beetle – a small insect that is causing major destruction across Germany.
The beetle invasion is a consequence of warmer weather and less rain.
” It is an interlinked issue,” says Tanja Sanders, Head of Forest Ecology and Biodiversity, at the Thünen-Institut. “Because when you have a drought you have less sap flow and you have less resin. And therefore, the bark beetle can actually infect the tree. When the trees are healthy and have a lot of resin, the bark beetle goes in and literally gets glued up in the resin so it can’t eat.”
With no sticky resin to get through, the beatle has eaten its way through around 245,000 hectares of forest in Germany.
And with 2020 also turning out to be warm and dry, there is no end in sight.
“We are not used to this drought here in the middle of Europe,” says Friedhart Knolle, spokesperson for the Harz National park. “We humans can adapt, we have air conditioners. The trees have no air conditioners. So, the trees that can’t get used to this will die.”
At the foothills of the Harz mounts, volunteers help to re-plant trees in an area that was destroyed by the bark beetle.
They are planting a variety of trees, instead of large monoculture areas of just spruce. It is a way of safeguarding the German forests for future generations.
“The forest doesn’t need us,” says forester Raik Scheffler. “It would recover by itself. But we need the forest. We need wood as building material. It is the most environmentally friendly building material that you can imagine, and it always grows back. But it’s not just birch trees and willows grow back but also trees for timber, we are planting silver fir and sessile oak.”
The German government has invested 800 million euros to regenerate the forest, clearing away the dead trees and planting new ones. New trees will grow, but the German forest will look different.
Climate change is already changing the way that Germany looks. An no-one knows what forests will look like in the future.