Links of interest for

Germany : Fohr & Pellworm


The North Frisian Islands are situated in the Wadden Sea, a part of the North Sea, off the western coast of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. The four larger islands are Sylt, Fohr, Amrum, Pellworm and there are ten tiny islets called Halligen. Also known as region Uthlande, the entire area covers 320 and has a population of 36,000 inhabitants. In medieval times the present day peninsula Norstrand and Pellworm as well as the Halligen were part of the large island of Strand. This island was torn to pieces in a disastrous storm tide in 1634.

The Insel- und Halligkonferenz (IHKo) association  was established in 1990 to work on different issues and bring together the municipalities of the North Frisian Islands and Halligen as one political voice. In the beginning it was a loose co-operation between municipalities, but since then it has become an institutionalised local government structure with an office based on Fohr. Members of the IHKo assembly are the mayors of the 26 island municipalities, 2 towns and Heligoland.

For the purposes of this case study Fohr and Pellworm are considered to be ‘Green Islands’ especially the latter which has been recognised as such since the late 1970s when it became the first testing centre for wind turbines in Germany.

Fohr is slightly less than 83 and the sandy uplands in the south called ‘Geest’ differ considerably from the flat and fertile lower land ‘Marsch’ in the north. There are about 8,700 inhabitants, half of who live in the main town of Wyk. There are only about 70 farmers left on the island, who are mainly involved in milk production. Except for construction and a good number of carpenters who specialize in maintaining and renovating the old Frisian houses, there is practically no industry.

Pellworm has a surface area of 37 much of which lies up to 1.0 m below sea level and protected by high dykes from the surrounding Wadden Sea. There has been great structural change within agriculture and so most of the little farms have had to give up. Along with this, the demographic structure has changed. The number of inhabitants is decreasing – nowadays about 1,200 people live on the island, but the percentage of people over 60 years old is increasing in inverse proportion.

A major part of both islands income comes from tourism with Fohr receiving around 184,000 visitors annually and Pellworm 23,000. The cultural landscape and natural heritage of region Uthlande has been well documented through local museums and safeguarding both is a key concern for any future integrated development. The EU funded ToLearn project investigated sustainable tourism strategies throughout the North Sea region that have proven successful and identified various examples of good practice.

Renewable Energy & Eco Housing

The Fohr islanders took the initiative in 1994 to form a renewable energy think tank, Sun for Fohr. The issue was taken up by Fering Natur, the body responsible at the time for safeguarding the island's environment, and resulted in an initial project that was partly financed under the EU LEADER II programme. A total of 24 private and public solar power units mostly to produce hot water were installed on the island between 1996 and 1998 including those for a church and school. The project was backed by an awareness raising campaign among the local population to increase their appreciation for and use of new forms of energy.

In 2005 IHKo produced a detailed 'Energy Vision Uthlande' report and the path to develop additional sources of solar, wind and biogas has continued apace. There are now at least 70 photovoltaic (or other solar power installations) and 19 wind turbines around the island as well as a privately owned WELtec biomass plant selling electricity to a local hospital and surrounding rural villages. Within the next few years, up to 70% of the island's energy needs are expected to be covered by power from renewable sources with 2015 set as the target date for this to reach 100%.

In 1990 a diverse group of Pellworm islanders established the group Okologisch Wirtschaften (OW) literally meaning 'let there be economic advantages from ecologically friendly working'. A strategy for local development on the island was worked out founded on the basic concept that all economic (and social) sectors on the island are dependent on each other. This strategy aimed to demonstrate possibilities for halting the ongoing loss of population, and fighting the imminent death of the island by means of running the economy in an ecologically friendly way.

Discussion about a new wind farm almost split people on the island into two mutually hostile groups, but OW as an association committed to the renewable concept as the whole energy supply for Pellworm. An analysis of demand and a first broad outline of the concept were made in 1993-94. At the beginning of 1997 a considerable amount of electricity was still imported from the mainland grid via submarine cables. But on average the existing wind power and PV plants covered approximately 55% of electricity needs. However, by the end of 1997 renewable energy sources (see table below) were contributing to approximately 160% of the electricity consumption (i.e. there was export to the mainland) when the new wind plant with a capacity of 4.8 MW was completed and connected to the grid.

  1. A 4.8 MW wind plant consisting of 8 AN Bonus turbines. The total investment for the wind farm was 12.5 million DM
  2. A 730 kW PV/wind power plant. The PV plant was originally 300 kW, but 30 kW was added in 1997. There were four wind turbines at the plant: 3 x 30 kW HSW 30 turbines and 1 x 300 kW Enercon 33 turbine
  3. 5 privately owned wind turbines with an output of 680 kW
  4. 28 large solar thermal collectors

A second study was undertaken in 1997 with several partners from universities and the north Germany energy supply company to work out a plan for local development. The results were presented to the public and in preparation for EXPO 2000, the local government body and OW founded the Bureau of Energy Supply as a joint venture. One of the main issues was to solve the question how the Pellworm energy supply could become totally independent from the mainland so another feasibility study was undertaken into setting up a combined heat and biomass plant. However, when financial support from the local energy supply company Schleswag AG was restricted in 2001, the office had to be closed.

From this date onwards there was considerable strife between OW, local government and the Pellworm community on how best to proceed. Nevertheless, a group of local farmers did go on to establish a biomass plant but without the underground heat storage capacity and in 2005 the old solar modules from the hybrid plant were turned back into newer, higher-efficiency solar silicon wafers by a recycling process. At the present time (2009) there are 12 wind turbines with an annual production of 22.5 MW; 1 biomass facility with an annual output of 4.2 MW; PV capacity of 2.2 MW; as well as numerous private solar thermal collectors.

Waste Minimisation & Recycling

Both islands have a comprehensive household waste separation, recycling and collection service. The Fohr retail trade have committed not to sell any drinks in cans through the 'Can Oath'. The 'Bulky Material Bazaar' has reduced the volume of parcel waste by approximately 30% and used furniture as well as other household items can be turned in and picked up freely by other interested parties. There is a trailer 'Vehicle for Dishes' containing a complete set up for dishwashing designed to reduce the tremendous amount of disposal plates, cutlery and cups originating from village market places and street festivals.

A private car and boat cleaning facility is located next to the wastewater treatment plant for Wyk to facilitate the safe disposal of detergent and other chemicals. The sewage plant itself was one of the first in Germany to introduce the LINPOR process for upgrading activated sludge systems for nitrogen removal. A LINPOR reactor is an aeration tank where typically 10-30% of the volume is occupied by highly porous plastic foam cubes that serve as a mobile carrier material for accumulation of viable micro-organisms. A specially designed screen, usually made of perforated stainless steel plates and fine bubble diffusers for mixing and oxygen mass transfer, keeps the biomass carrying foam media inside the bioreactor and prevents their wash out with the effluent flow.

The main application for a LINPOR system is the removal of ammonium by oxidation to nitrate from wastewaters low in organic load, such as secondary clarifier effluents. Under these conditions it is basically an add on process which specifically separates the slow growing nitrifers from competition with the fast growing bacteria feeding on carbonaceous material. Applying a LINPOR reactor results in having practically the entire slow growing nitrifier biomass fixed on the carrier material. Another novel feature of the Wyk treatment facility is that the resultant sludge is dried through solar energy thus reducing its cubic capacity and rendering it more cost effective for removal and transport off the island.

Extensive Agriculture & Organic Food Production

On Fohr there are 3 Bioland (organic farming association) members and at least double that number on Pellworm. Agriculture also profits from the tourist industry because many offer vacation accommodation and provide whole farm holiday experience packages.

For a long time in the 19th and 20th century Fohr agriculture became more and more profitable through the application of artificial fertilisers on the Geest as well as intensive drainage in the marshland. A local conservation association, Elmeere set up in 1993, has purchased various plots of agricultural land amounting to 70 hectares and through managed grazing by sheep and Galloway cattle and other restoration work have started to reverse this trend by creating a mosaic of different habitats needed for breeding birds.

Pellworm was one of six participating islands in a previous EU funded Eco-Islands project. One initiative established was the 'Wool Connection' between an organic farm and an old spinning mill on the island of Hiiumaa, Estonia. Wool produced from Pellworm was sent to Hiiumaa for processing into finished pullovers and returned to Germany where they were sold. The profit from this enterprise then went back to Hiiumaa where it helped set up farm holiday businesses.

IHKo have for many years been supporting the production and marketing of healthy foods from Region Uthlande. The meat and sausage products with the trademark protected Uthlande label come exclusively from herds of suckler cows, not from dairy cattle, that are born and raised on the North Frisian islands. Only animals processed by certified and strictly controlled local butchers are used thus ensuring a transparent chain of supply from the farmer via the slaughterhouse to the shop meat counter and the customer.


The two transport operations serving Fohr are the ferry company W.D.R. and North German railway company Niebull. A different ferry service N.P.D.G. goes to Pellworm. On an annual basis, W.D.R. records roughly 1.8 million passengers, 275,000 private cars and 38,000 trucks on its ferry services. It also operates public transportation on the islands of Fohr and Amrum with a fleet of 14 modern buses and coaches carrying approximately 885,000 passengers annually. W.D.R. employs a staff of approximately 200 and is a private-sector company that does (in contrast to many other European commuter service operators) not receive any public subsidies for its services. Largest single shareholder of W.D.R. is the City of Wyk/Fohr (holding 31% of the share capital) followed by AG Reederei Norden-Frisia, another German commuter ferry service operator, which controls 26%. The remaining share capital is spread among approximately 540 further shareholders, many of who are individuals and families living on Fohr and Amrum. Through this shareholding structure, W.D.R. has firm local basis as a ferry operator and transportation company serving the North Frisian islands.

Region Uthlande was a partner in the Mopark project - Mobility and National Parks - carried out from 2003-2007 within the frame of the EC Interreg IIIB North Sea Region Programme. The challenge for Region Uthlande was to create sustainable traffic solutions for a visit to the islands and this was done setting up two sub-projects:

i) Developing a 'island hopping' package Nordsee Mobil consisting of boat trips, overnight stays, bike rental, regional meals, local events and information for tourists from urban areas like Hamburg, Berlin and Dusseldorf coming to the national park during the low season;

ii) Setting up a working unit for regional, sustainable development as a follow-up of a study into Mobility and Accessibility of the Islands and Halligen in Nordfriesland and the deep sea island Helgoland.  Amongst other things, this unit investigated facilities for the disabled to have easier access to the islands. This resulted in a complete tourist package making five beaches accessible for wheel chair users and the publication of a booklet regarding services and infrastructure for disabled people.

Sustainable Tourism & Niche Marketing

The stimulating climate of the North Sea and its impact on corporal well-being is one of the main reasons why Fohr is marketed as a 'green island'. The best way to get acquainted with Fohr is on foot or by bicycle and should anyone get too tired there are public transport buses fitted with trailers in order to get safely back home.

It was Dr Carl Haeberlin (1870-1954), a physician in Wyk, who after decades of study and observation laid the groundwork for a year-round health spa resort on Fohr. Several convalescent homes were opened and focused primarily on caring for sickly children from the larger cities by improving their health during a four to six week stay. The number of visitors continued to rise and today there is wide range of outdoor activities available to the guest seeking a relaxing vacation. People with different ailments and illnesses continue to seek relief and therapy treatments at rehabilitation clinics. The health centre and adjacent new indoor saltwater swimming pool located on the beach promenade in Wyk offer inhalations, relaxing massages and a sauna.

Flint axes and swords have been found on Fohr indicating man's early presence. The first real settlement can be dated back to 3000 B.C. At that time, and also later, the dead were buried in graves made of large stones and heavy slabs which were covered with earth to make high mounds several metres high. These 'Hunengraber' (Viking graves) are noticed by every visitor to Fohr and most are from the Bronze Age (1800-500 B.C.). Many of the tools and urns found at them can be seen at the Frisian museum in Wyk.

These early settlers, however, were not Frisians. It has been proven that the Frisians first lived here around 700 A.D. They originally came from an area between the mouths of the Weser and Rhine rivers and, most probably, the villages on the island today developed from the settlements of those immigrants. Their names seem to support this theory since practically all end with 'um' which linguists take to mean 'heim' (home). These villages were mentioned in writings from the Middle Ages and since that time, the exterior of the houses has changed very little, for example like Nieblum. A typical element is the small gable over the front door that, in the event of a fire, prevents burning reed from the roof from blocking the exit.

Today Fohr is well known for its living Frisian tradition promoted by the likes of the Ferring Foundation. In almost every single village the Frisian character has been preserved, for example, by retaining these thatch roofed houses, the women wearing traditional dress for special occasions and in many families the ancient Frisian tongue (Ferring) still being the language of everyday communication.

Pellworm is also a spa resort and the natural remedy most favoured by local health treatment centres is a therapeutic mud bath. Located in the attic of the Tourist Information Centre, a museum gives information on the culture of the island, on its history and on the daily life of its inhabitants. This recently restored building, a Frisian thatched house, still shows many characteristics of the construction that is typical for the island. The most well known attraction of Pellworm is St. Salvator church, a building in romantic style from the 12th century. The crumbling belfry tower is clearly visible on the skyline and locals refer to it as the 'God's forefinger'. A newer addition to the horizon is the red and white lighthouse built in 1907.

Biodiversity & Protected Areas

The Wadden Sea extends along the Dutch, German and Danish North Sea coast. It is a unique marine coastal landscape where natural forces and human settlement have combined to form an unparalled combination of sandbanks, dunes, salt-marshes and islands and one of the largest areas of tidal mud-flats in the world. It is also one of the most important wetlands for migratory waterbirds on earth. It provides a rich food supply for 2 million geese, 7 million waders and 2 million gulls and terns which use the Wadden Sea for moult, wintering and to build up fat reserves before migration to distant breeding and wintering grounds.

All three German Wadden Sea National Parks are Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Sites), Special Protection Areas according to the EU Birds Directive and have been proposed as Special Areas of Conservation according to the EU Habitats Directive. On 26 June 2009 the Dutch-German Wadden Sea was inscribed on the World Heritage List by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee at its meeting in Seville.

The Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea National Park, which covers 4,400 sq km, is the largest national park to be found between the North Cape and Sicily and is, in combination with the Hallig islands, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. These reserves cultivate a balanced relationship between human use and natural cycles. By promoting sustainable regional economic development, they contribute to improved economic utilization of their territory. The Nature Protection Society Wattenmeer also has a network of stations and information centres throughout the national park.

Based on and in continuation of the LANCEWAD project (1998-2001), the LANCEWADPLAN (2004-2007) aimed to extend and enhance, in cooperation with the relevant governmental and non-governmental stakeholders, the development, management and sustainable use of the common transboundary landscape and cultural heritage of the Wadden Sea Region, complementing the natural and environmental facet of the region, taking into account the regional diversity. The Cultural Atlas on this site is a particularly valuable resource as it has links to specific descriptions about all the islands in the Wadden Sea region and there is also a Handbook with 30 examples of best practice that can be downloaded.

The small salt-marsh Halligen islands are a special feature of the Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea and IHKo have just embarked on a major programme of work to support their communities. Lying just above the high-tide mark they are flooded regularly during spring tides and stormy weather. Then only the Warften - the earth mounds on which the houses are built - remain above water as these photos illustrate. WWF Climate Change Witness, Ruth Hartwig-Kruse, also gives a graphic account of family life living on Hallig Nordstrandischmoor.

Integrated Development Planning

To help set up its organizational framework the IHKo obtained major funding through several projects and programmes of the Regionen Aktiv (Active Regions - Shaping Rural Futures) competition which was initiated in 2001 by the former Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection as a nationwide pilot project. Regionen Aktiv enabled better regional cooperation in that stakeholders other than local governments could also be included whilst also increasing the capacity of the thematic working groups. IHKo now works closely with AktivRegion Uthlande that amongst other projects is funding a Centre for Sustainable Development on Fohr; further renewable energy development on Pellworm; and a major exhibition about climate change and coastal protection on Sylt.

As well as the North Frisian Islands, the IHKo has further extended its cooperation and reach to all other Wadden Sea islands in Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands through its membership of Euregio The Wadden which until recently it also served as the common administrative office for. A Trilateral Wadden Sea Conference is held every two years to bring together all Euregio members, who represent the 85,000 inhabitants of these islands. At their last conference (May 2007) resolutions were passed on:

  • Equal safety standards for shipping in the Wadden Sea
  • Offshore wind parks in the North Sea
  • Safety at Sea
  • Impacts of Climate Change
  • Reinforcement of island and coastal protection
  • Keeping waterways to the Wadden Sea islands and Halligen secure and free 

In addition the Euregio members noted that results of work from the Wadden Sea Forum have not been satisfactory in part due to under staffing at the Secretariat for Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation. They have called upon their national governments to make the appropriate financial resources available and to start reorganising how both should better implement measures and projects from agreed action plans.

Climate Change Mitigation & Adaptation Measures

The most crucial issue and special Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) element for IHKo and North Sea islands in general is protection from flooding by storm surges and from land loss by the erosive forces of the sea. Both require the need for robust coastal defence measures/plans in the face of rising sea levels brought about by climate change. The Common Wadden Sea Secretariat has published several reports on this subject and the Wadden Sea Forum ICZM Working Group obtained their consultants report in April 2009. The aim of this report was to identify successes and deficiencies in the application of IZCM as an instrument for achieving sustainable development in the Wadden Sea region.

Project Safecoast is about gaining and sharing knowledge and information on coastal flood and erosion risk management between coastal management authorities in five North Sea countries: Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and United Kingdom. It released its final synthesis report in 2008 of how flood risk management can inform ICZM to secure appropriate spatial planning responses. This project also undertook several cohesion actions one of which was to find practical solutions on how to communicate flood risk to citizens. It choose Schleswig-Holstein as the pilot area to distribute 200,000 door to door brochures and a travelling information exhibition. Their national file for Germany has many key documents available for download, and one in particular Coastal Management in Germany provides a good overview.

Sylt, the largest of Germany's North Frisian islands, lost at least 800,000 cubic metres of sand from its beaches at the start of 2007 because of heavy storms and flooding which marked the northern hemisphere autumn and winter seasons. All this sand washed out to sea has reversed part of a beach recovery operation carried out on Sylt in 2006. Similar rehabilitation efforts have taken place regularly for years. Jurgen Jensen, commissioned by the German government to study and protect the coast, warns that the disappearance of Sylt, which covers 90 sq km and highest point is 52 metres above sea level, would constitute a serious threat to the continental coastline. Sylt is a natural wave break and if it disappears, the waves will directly hit the mainland.

For further information visit the excellent new Forces of Nature Experience Centre on Sylt and consult the following papers:

  1. Expected effect of climate change on Sylt island: results from a multidisciplinary German project.
    ABSTRACT: Climate change (i.e. increasing mean sea level and storm activity) will influence the coastal development of sandy islands such as Sylt. To estimate the influence of climate change, a numerical model was used to predict the development of the coastline of Sylt island. Data for coastal retreat are available from 1876 to 1997 and were measured every 500 m longshore (~70 profiles). Wave data are available from 1986 to 1997. The model was calibrated and verified with these data. Coastal retreat was calculated to the year 2050 under the following scenarios (IPCC 1990): mean sea level +25 cm; tidal range +25 cm; wave height +10%; wave direction ±10°. Little change in the configuration of the coastline of Sylt is expected over the next 50 yr if the present strategy of western shore protection is maintained. No additional measures seem to be necessary. In contrast, if shore protection is not maintained, significant changes in coastline configuration (both west and east coasts) may occur, due in part to dramatic shore retreat by erosion, in the case of a 10% increase in wave height and a 10° change in all westerly wind directions toward the north. Only moderate changes in coastline configuration and weak shore retreat through erosion can be expected if wind direction is turned 10° to the south and wave height is maintained.

  2. EUROSION case study Isle of Sylt
    ABSTRACT: The vulnerable island Sylt has a multi-functional socio-economic nature and is covered by a mixture of natural and cultural land uses. Besides high-level standards in living and recreation facilities, Sylt offers unique aspects of a biotope. The entire western coast is eroding. The island loses the majority of this sand through storm tides. Waves and tides continuously erode and move away material from the sandy shore and foreshore area, causing structural erosion. The dune cliffs are affected only at irregular intervals during storm surges. The central part of Sylt has always been strongly protected in the past and still is (because of the high economic values) by hard coastal protection measures. The hard measures have turned out not always to be effective in stopping the erosion. Although the central part of Sylt is reasonably stable, partly because of the hard measures taken there, in the long run these measures will fail. Nourishments are now needed to protect these hard coastal constructions. Furthermore, the nourishments are effective in stopping the coastline from receding and their performance is satisfactory. At Westerland, nourishments have to be repeated every six years.

  3. Climate change and coastal adaptation strategies: the Schleswig-Holstein perspective
    ABSTRACT: Schleswig-Holstein, the northernmost federal state of Germany faces two seas: the North Sea to the west and the Baltic Sea to the east. In all, it has a coastline of 1,190 km and about 3,700 km2 of flood-prone coastal lowlands. In these lowlands, that represent almost 25% of total surface area, 345,000 people live and economic assets worth of 47 billion Euros are concentrated. In recognition of the high assets at stake and of future climate change, the Schleswig-Holstein Government adopted in 2001 a master plan: Integrated Coastal Defence Management in Schleswig-Holstein. It contains the strategy and the financial concept for coastal defence in the coming decades. After a general overview of the coastal zones, this paper describes the coastal defence strategy in Schleswig-Holstein. Special consideration will be given to the climate change adaptation components in the master plan. The paper ends with an outlook towards the implementation of the EU Flood Directive.


Annemarie Luebcke & Dirk Hartmann, Insel- und Halligkonferenz (IHKo), Fohr
Katja Just, Hallig Hooge
Dr Matthias Strasser, Erlebniszentrum Naturgewalten, Sylt
Norbert Grimm, Conservation Officer, Sylt
Walter Fohrbeck, Okologisch Wirtschaften, Pellworm