Giele Botter – back to nature

By Barbara Fischer

If the Minett region only conjures up blast furnaces, industrial wasteland and soot-blackened workers’ towns for you, you’ll be surprised by the greenery, peace and seclusion that you find in the renatured former mining area. There is an open-cast mine right in the heart of the Minett Region, abandoned in 1978 but still showing obvious traces of the industrial past. The 255.30 hectare Prënzebierg – Giele Botter has been a nature reserve since 1991.
After the extensive area of rock and scree was taken out of industrial use and given back to nature, it was left to its own devices at first. As part of a reforesting programme in the 1970s, 168,000 trees were planted sporadically to speed up the natural re-colonization process. This allowed a mosaic of different biotopes with specific microclimates to develop, a refuge for many
rare animals and plants. As the first lichens, mosses and other food and water specialists tentatively paved the way for flora and fauna on the abandoned rocks, pioneer woodland of birch and sallow began to develop on the abandoned land. This unusual Luxembourg landscape is marked by moss-covered slag heaps overgrown by ferns and orchids. The locals call the region Paradise, and for good reason.

On the trail of noise and sweat
You can explore this unique nature reserve on two trails. The 7.6 km “Prënzebierg – Giele Botter” discovery trail takes you on the tracks where the trucks used to run, carrying the ore, past cliffs and spoil heaps with different topological conditions. There are ponds, wetlands, dry grassland, pioneer woodland and shady lime beech woods along the way. The 2.6km “Giele Botter” geological nature trail runs through the middle of the nature reserve, and can only be accessed from the discovery trail.

We start from the fishponds in Lamadelaine and head towards Giele Botter. A brief climb in the shade of old beeches and larches, and we’re right in the heart of “Paradise”, an enchanted, hilly landscape created from barren rocks: moss, lichen and ferns hang from the trees like cotton wool – all amid giant blocks of hewn stone. The backstory is less enchanting. This unworkable material was brought here in mine cars hauled by men and horses and then dumped. A bit further along the trail we come across the actual mining area known as “Schlammebierg”, alias “Giele Botter”. A deep terraced crater marks where the violent intrusion in the landscape occurred. Where once there was noise – thundering explosions, rumbling lorries, rattling and clattering rail cars – there is now an almost eerie silence. Only the wind murmurs around the ins and outs of the quarry.
After taking in the fantastic panoramic view, we head down into the bottom of the crater to see the tunnels. We pass wetlands, deep gorges in the red rock and a beech forest full of orchids, before walking over plateaus and back to the starting point. It almost feels like you’re in the Grand Canyon. Younger children should always be held by the hand, as there are deep pits all around.

© Emile Hengen

Nature pure and simple
Rare orchids like the flesh-coloured marsh orchid find ideal conditions in the reserve’s wetlands. 21 different types of orchid can be found. The rare holly fern, great crested newt and swallowtail butterfly also live here. Along the way, walkers and amateur geologists will find lots of interesting information panels about the formation, features and mining of the Minette strata and the indigenous fauna and flora there. The Giele Botter Prënzebierg is a living text book for a region’s geology, natural succession and history. It also documents how biotopes have been created and shaped by human hand.

You are strongly advised to take a map with you so that you don’t lose your way as you navigate the many criss-crossing paths and shortcuts. And you’ll need to take a bottle of water in hot weather. Most of the trees aren’t tall enough yet to provide shade along the way. There are plenty of benches and amazing viewpoints for taking a rest or enjoying a picnic. We want to preserve this wonderful landscape for everyone to enjoy, so please take your litter home with you.

© Emile Hengen