How Nature Is Reclaiming a Former Industrial Site

The flora and fauna at Zollverein

The industrial nature on the Zollverein World Heritage Site is unique and impressively demonstrates that large, urban wastelands are important habitats for animals and plants in the densely populated Ruhr Area.

Zollverein ParkUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

In the so-called Zollverein Park, more than 540 fern and flowering plant species, approximately 100 lichen species, around 60 bird, 20 butterfly, more than 40 wild bee and six amphibian species have been documented. Bats also feel very much at home on the industrial wastelands of the World Heritage Site.

Zollverein UNESCO World Heritage Site, From the collection of: UNESCO World Heritage Zollverein
Wild Carrot, From the collection of: UNESCO World Heritage Zollverein
Adder Head and St. John's wort, From the collection of: UNESCO World Heritage Zollverein
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Summer lilac and giant goldenrodUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

New plants

Between the disused railway tracks, plants from several different countries have settled. These new plants (neophytes) once “travelled” by ship and train to the Ruhr Area with goods transports, while others were brought here by people from their home country and then spread across fences.

Purple loosestrifeUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

In summer, they vie with each other in blooming on the Zollverein UNESCO World Heritage Site: goldenrods and evening primroses from North America, narrow-leaved ragworts from South Africa, summer lilacs from China, sticky fleabanes from the Mediterranean region and quickweed from South America.

Forest of SculpturesUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

Pioneers and survival artists

Only for true survival artists: the black, open space around the sculpture “Castell” by Ulrich Rückriem in the Forest of Sculptures is an extreme habitat for plants and animals. In summer, the soil consisting of coal slurry heats up to more than 60°C

MossesUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

Pioneers like mosses and lichens along with annual and biennial herbaceous plants, which are adjusted to dryness and nutrient deficiency, have settled on this apparently inhospitable territory. Here and there, you can also spot blue-winged wasteland grasshoppers flying up.

Common centauryUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

LichensUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

Industrial forestUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

Industrial forest

About one third of the Zollverein area is forested. Over the decades, a sparse industry forest with undemanding tree species, like common locust, birch, sycamore maple and sallow, has emerged between the coal mine and the coking plant.

MushroomUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

The forest is a local recreation area for the population, sculpture park for art lovers and habitat for many bird species, mosses, lichens and mushrooms.

Industrial forestUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

If the Zollverein World Heritage Site was abandoned to nature, it would soon be completely forested.

DragonflyUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

Aquatic plants and animals

Water-bearing subsidence areas and temporary puddles are bustling with life – dragonfly and amphibian species, which are adapted to extreme conditions, populate the slag heap and its surroundings. 

Common toadsUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

Natterjack toads and southern emerald damselflies are typical pioneer species, which can be spotted at the shallow and well sunlit waters. While dragonflies can be observed resting on aquatic plants in the morning, natterjack toads are best heard at the waters in late twilight. Their croaking can be heard up to one kilometre away. 

NewtUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

In the summer-dry pond on the slag heap, alpine and smooth newts can be observed in addition to grass frogs and earth toads. The drying up of the pond and of puddles of water in the area is a decisive process for the amphibian and dragonfly species on the industrial wastelands.

Natterjack toadUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

These waters are not home to many of their natural predators and therefore offer ideal breeding conditions to natterjack toads and similar species.

Pipistrelle batUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

Bats at the World Heritage Site 

Especially pipistrelle bats find a suitable habitat on the industrial wastelands of the World Heritage Site. Due to the species-rich vegetation, many insects live here, which are preyed by different bat species.

Pipistrelle batUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

While the bats rest in hiding places in the old industrial buildings during the day, they hunt along the edges of groves or over the water areas at night.

Asian ladybeetleUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein


In summer, Zollverein is a paradise for butterflies, moths, dragonflies, beetles, grasshoppers, bugs, hoverflies and wild bees. They serve as prey animals for many species, are the most important pollinators for many plants and thus in their entirety form the basis of the ecosystem.

Caterpillar, From the collection of: UNESCO World Heritage Zollverein
Painted Lady, From the collection of: UNESCO World Heritage Zollverein
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Holly blueUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

With their long proboscises, butterfly species such as the holly blue, drink nectar from the flowering plants on the World Heritage Site.

Common blueUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

With their colourful patterns and their strangely fluttering way of flying, these peaceful insects delight both children and adults. 

DragonflyUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

The predatory dragonflies, which always stay near the water and lurk for prey, are very conspicuous. 20 species of these “flying gems”, among them the small damselfly, have already been spotted at Zollverein. 

Blue-winged Badlands CricketUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

Blue-winged grasshoppers were considered to be nearly extinct in North Rhine-Westphalia for a long time. Industrial wastelands such as Zollverein are very similar to sandy open landscapes, the natural habitats of these animals. This is why they often settle permanently on such wastelands. Their blue shimmering wings can be seen every time they jump.  

Osmia cornutaUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

Busy bees

Formerly industrial areas of the Ruhr region are ideal habitats for bees. Flowering plants provide bees with pollen and nectar. Since these areas are not used for agriculture, no pesticides are found here.

Honey beeUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

A distinction is made between wild bees and honey bees. The large wild bee hotel at the coking planta offers them the opportunity to raise their offspring and thus contributes to the preservation of more than 40 species found at Zollverein.

“Zechengold”, honey from the Zollverein UNESCO World Heritage SiteUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

Honey bees, on the other hand, need a larger hive for their entire colony. On the rooftop of its corporate headquarters, the company RAG Montan Immobilien had been housing its own bee colonies since March 2013, and in 2021 the busy little bees were relocated and officially took up service for Zollverein Foundation. They produce “Zechengold - Honig vom Welterbe” (Colliery Gold – Honey from the World Heritage Site), and the revenues are donated to a fund for the protection of nectar-collecting insects.

Zollverein ParkUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

Park and people

The park is not only a habitat for many plant and animal species, but also an attractive leisure and local recreation area. In the past, dead rock as a waste product of coal extraction was deposited here.

Zollverein ParkUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

Today, benches, picnic areas and lookout points invite visitors to linger. Renowned artists have eternalized themselves in the public space with their artworks.

Dye plant gardenUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

Zollverein dye-plant garden

Nature at the Zollverein World Heritage Site flaunts all kinds of colours: green fern fronds, yellow goldenrods, red corn poppies, blue elderberries. In the dye-plant garden around the former signal box, there are 24 dye-plant species, whose blossoms, leaves, fruits, roots or barks can be used to produce dyes. During the summer months, the Ruhr Museum offers workshops for young and old.

Dye plant garden, corn poppyUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

Traditional dye-plants, such as woad, madder and safflower can be found next to those that have settled naturally between the abandoned railway tracks and on the slag heaps, e. g. mallow, St. John’s wort and elderberries.

Twin Pithead FrameUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

The Green Capital

“Green up your life” was Essen’s motto in 2017. The Ruhr Metropolis was the “European Green Capital” that year: around 450 projects, more than 50 conventions and conferences and more than 200 citizen projects were realized in the city.

Guided nature tourUNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

Zollverein was one of the three main venues of the “Green Capital”. Numerous guided tours specifically about nature on the World Heritage Site were devised, workshops and excursions were offered, and a special exhibition on the transformation of the former mining town was presented.

Exhibition "Green in the City of Essen"UNESCO World Heritage Zollverein

150 Years of Green Urban History

In cooperation with the Green Capital Project Office and the Zollverein Foundation, the Ruhr Museum presented the special exhibition "Green in the City of Essen. More than parks and gardens". At the UNESCO World Heritage Site Zollverein, Hall 5, it was shown why Essen, as a former industrial metropolis and the largest mining city in Europe, was awarded the title "European Green Capital".

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