Nature pays the price for the board’s economic success


Since taking the helm at Gisselfeld, the new board have placed nature and organic farming very low on their list of priorities. The Count, who was ousted from his postion, was forced to look on whilst the board cancelled all the organic initiatives he had instigated and had planned to develop further. The farming and forestry of the estate were promptly intensified and rationalised with drastic effects on the environment of the area. Logging was significantly increased, particularly in the old-growth decidious forest, and spraying of the forest with herbicides was to have a lethal effect on the growth of rare orchids (which are protected in Denmark).

The detailing of the negative impact the new board has had on local wildlife and the environment make for unpleasant reading. It includes the story of spraying wheat with Round-up, just a few days before harvesting (which is illegal), the account of a visionary nature restoration project that was scrapped, the expansion of the hunting industry on the estate, the witnessing of  blooming algae growth on several local lakes since use of chemical fertilisers was increased, and so on.

However, the story which has captured the media’s attention was that of the badgers. Although a protected species in Denmark, a group of badgers in Gisselfeld’s forest have been ruthlessly harassed in order to make hunting tenancies more attractive. Badgers build sets that are excellent hiding places for hunted foxes. Hunters therefore prefer that there are no badger sets on the land they rent, often digging up the sets, and replacing them with concrete pipes (out of which they can more easily flush the foxes). This was the fate of the Gisselfeld badgers over the two winters of 1997/98 and 1998/99. Amazingly, after having their homes destroyed in February 1998, they mangaged to reinstate themselves  in Spring 1998, only to be subjected to the same harrassement in the autumn, when their sets were again dug up with heavy machinery. A local group was formed to help protect these badgers. This group went to the media and the consequent storm of protest caused Gisselfeld’s administration to stop this practice.

The story of profit over nature is by no way a new one. The interesting aspect of this story has been that the opposing sides have been so easily identifiable – almost like in a fairytale – standing opposite each other like black and white. The Count has promised, that if he regains his position as the director of the Gisselfeld estate, he will convert the entire area to organic farming and sustainable forestry within 7 years. He stands for a more respectful administration of the environment, whereas the board stand for an extremely rational approach to land-use, where industrial farming and forestry methods, with rich short-term economic gain, are the order of the day.