Moors have always been an unspoilt and peculiar landscape for humans. It took thousands of years to grow and several centuries for people to use it as a source of raw materials. At the great times of peat development, before humans began to use it, 30% of Lower Saxony was covered with peatlands.
A first systematic cultivation began with the population increase in the Middle Ages of the 12th century. Monasteries played a major role in cultivation in northern Germany. The newly developed areas were used for grazing, hay and animal feed production. With the cultivation of the bogs in the mid-17th century, the construction of mills, drainage of moor ditches and large-scale mining of iron ores began. The raw material was used as building material or smelted to get to the iron.
agriculture on barren soil – photography by Hans Saebens
The peat colonists were mostly simple servants and maids who prevailed against the adversities of nature. As the shortage of land increased in the 18th century, Hanover initiated state measures to develop the moorlands. Jürgen Christian Findorff, moor commissioner of the electorate of Hanover, began with the foundation of about 50 moor colonies. This attracted people who saw a new perspective in the state colonization measures, but which seldom matched the living conditions of the harsh reality. The settlement concept was to make the bog areas arable primarily as agricultural land for a mixed economy of arable farming and livestock farming. Most of their life consisted of feeding themselves by cultivating their bog lands. Hard work, as the nutrient-poor soil yielded only very meagre yields. The peat cutting and the maintenance of the ditches and canals were additional tasks to be mastered.
The predominantly agricultural orientation lost its importance when the heating qualities of peat were recognized around 1785 and the demand for peat increased massively due to an emerging shortage of wood. With the flourishing marketing of peat fuel, priorities changed and further ditches and drainage channels were created, which nevertheless served as transport routes for the goods.
peat barges – photography by Hans Saebens
With the sale of the peat, the poor peat farmers earned money. This form of soil cultivation measures in the moor area, both for agriculture and animal husbandry as well as for the extraction and marketing of the fuel peat, is called “Deutsche Hochmoorkultur” (German raised moorland culture). By 1890, the population of the 230 peat colonies had already reached 60.000 people. Peat has become the most important fuel for private households and industry in Northwest Germany. As the mining of hard coal spread, peat prices collapsed and many peat farmers left their homes and moved to the cities.
In contrast to the emerging industrialisation in the city, the perception of time in the countryside was subject to the cycle of nature. In the winter months, it was usually part of everyday life that crafts were carried out as sideline jobs during bridging periods in order to secure the modest life of the farming families. Agriculture did not provide a sufficient livelihood during this period. With the beginnings of the new economy, those left behind used the huge machines that were emerging to work on the moorlands.
moorkate in the 30s – photography by Hans Saebens
sensuality in nature – Photography by Georg Tappert
At that time, the quality of the soil was also the basis for the perception of oneself and others. The peat farmers were regarded by the citizens of the city, the marshes and the geest regions as the lowest social stratum in terms of prosperity.
Today, the former areas, if still in use, are mainly used for maize cultivation. Mining areas are still being worked on, but on huge areas with modern machines. Moor protection laws currently ensure that no new moorland areas may be developed for the cultivation and extraction of valuable peat soil.