Forest walk in hambach forest: excavators cut water

Hundreds of people have come to the walk in the lignite mining area. The organizer warns that RWE is destroying the forest without clearing it.

Even without trees being cut down, activists see Hambach Forest in acute danger Photo: dpa

"I’m here often and I see the excavators coming closer," says 14-year-old Jamilo. "This conflict between RWE and the coal opponents must end. It can’t be that RWE digs and digs here and nobody can stop them. And the state government and RWE" – he intertwines his fingers – "working together like this."

Jamilo is one of 600 to 700 people who came to the forest walk in Hambacher Forst this Sunday. Numerous environmental associations had also called for the walk. Because: the forest is in danger, they say.

"How is the forest doing right now? The forest is in a bad way," says organizer Michael Zobel at the beginning of the walk. "We’re going to see hundreds of dead spruce trees here later. We’ll see oaks in the forest that are struggling to survive, that might not make it. That’s where RWE always says they have nothing to do with it."

The walk starts in the village of Manheim. Boarded-up windows, abandoned houses. Houses being demolished, the deconsecrated church, barbed wire. Barely ten people still live here. They don’t want to sell to RWE, Zobel says.

"We have to be here"

19-year-old Roxana is involved with Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion. She has come from Munich and is at Hambacher Forst for the first time. "It excites me mega. Manheim is insanely beautiful, the houses are so old. I’m studying history and I can’t believe that the church is going to be torn down. Although no more coal is being mined here anyway," she says.

Many people who have come to the walk say they are angry. This is because politicians are doing nothing to protect the forest and villages, they say. "We have to be here, exercise civil disobedience and support the activists," says 53-year-old Steffen.

Around the open pit, 1,700 pumps lower the groundwater from 15 to 400 meters

On the way from the village into the forest and to the edge of the open pit, where an excavator stands barely 50 meters from the trees, Zobel takes regular breaks to explain the situation. "We see the blue containers, the green boxes, the construction fences everywhere here. These are all pumps. There are about 1,700 pumps around this open pit mine, pumping groundwater from 15 to 400 meters. That has an impact far beyond this area."

RWE is dredging ever closer to the forest

Hambach Forest does not live on groundwater, only on precipitation. "We have layers at soil depths of 6 to 10 meters that impound the water," Zobel says. "But when summers like last year come, there is no such water. And when RWE dredges closer and closer to the forest, the layers that store precipitation are cut and the water runs off to the side." And that’s exactly what RWE is doing, Zobel says. "They’ve found a way to destroy the forest without having to clear it."

RWE has published an expert opinion that says the forest would not be endangered. "Last year RWE said, ‘No, even if we wanted to preserve the forest, we can’t do that at all.’ The slope is already too steep,’" Zobel says. "Then the slope was still 600 meters away from the forest. Now they’re dredging to within 50 meters."

RWE, on the other hand, says conditions have changed and the slope is not too steep after all. The excavator does not endanger the preservation of the forest. "They want to destroy the forest!" shouts Sable. "And who says stop?"

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