German energy company RWE plans to start felling Hambach Forest next month. Its plans have resulted in protests.

Police have clashed with environmental activists, whom they are attempting to remove from the forest so RWE can bring its diggers in access the seams of coal beneath.

As reported by Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster, doubts are being raised as to whether RWE really did exhaust all other possibilities at its opencast lignite — or brown coal — mine to fulfil the statutory requirements of preserving the old-growth forest for as long as possible.

On September 25, the “felling the forest isn’t necessary” argument was bolstered by a legal opinion from Greenpeace. According to lawyer Cornelia Ziehm, author of a report commissioned by the environmental organization, “there is no existing law that allows RWE to clear Hambach Forest under any circumstances, at any time and to any extent”.

RWE is permitted to clear the forest two years in advance of their planned excavation. Over the last few years, the diggers have been advancing toward the forest at a speed of less than 120m per year, meaning that under certain conditions, clearing forest up to 300m from the current edge of the pit could be considered lawful.

According to Ziehm, the legal position is clear: If RWE starts clearing woodland in Hambach Forest in October, as planned, it will be in violation of the law.

The legality of the forest clearance depends on concrete evidence that using land within Hambach Forest “is necessary, or rather essential, regarding the timescale,” Ziehm wrote.