Germany turns its military bases into nature reserves for rare creatures

Germany has agreed to turn more than 60 former military bases into nature reserves, in order to encourage rare and threatened species to flourish there.

According to the environment minister, Barbara Hendricks, more than 31,000 hectares (76,600 acres) of forests, marshes, meadows and moors will be set aside for the project.

According to the Independent, the space is the equivalent of 40,000 football pitches, and the conversion will see Germany's total area of protected wildlife increase by a quarter as a result.

Rather than selling the land to investors, some of which is reported to be prime real estate, the government instead decided to create the natural biospheres.

"We are seizing a historic opportunity with this conversion - many areas that were once no-go zones are no longer needed for military purposes," said Hendricks. "We are fortunate that we can now give these places back to nature."

The threatened species which will benefit from the scheme include certain bats, woodpeckers, eagles and beetles. Some of the areas will also be open to the public.

The project is part of plans to reform the German military, with the intention of reducing its "footprint" of permanent military bases in order to transform into a more compact and efficient fighting force at a time of heightened tensions with Moscow.

Earlier this week Russia threatened to provide an "adequate response" to an increased US military presence in Eastern Europe and the Baltics, after the governments of both Poland and Lithuania confirmed that they are in talks with Washington about hosting heavy US weaponary.

The new nature reserves will form part of what is known as the European Green Belt, a natural heritage reserve that runs along the line of the former Iron Curtain, spanning 24 countries and running through 40 national parks.