east german base
Germany has announced that it will turn former military bases into nature reserves. In this photo, the telephone exchange room is pictured at the 'Bunker-Museum' in Rennsteighoehe near the eastern city of Ilmenau October 12, 2013. Reuters/Ina Fassbender

Germany’s government announced on Thursday that it would turn over 60 former military bases into nature preserves, aimed at creating sanctuaries for rare bird species.

Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said that as part of an ongoing revamp of the armed forces, over 31,000 hectares of forests, marshes, meadows and moors would be set aside to be converted into nature reserves.

"We are seizing a historic opportunity with this conversion -- many areas that were once no-go zones are no longer needed for military purposes," she said, according to Agence France-Presse.

"We are fortunate that we can now give these places back to nature."

In recent years, many areas along the borderlands between the former states of East and West Germany, which are ecologically rich but relatively undeveloped, have been turned into nature reserves. From this, the European Green Belt was formed, which encompasses territory from Scandinavia to Greece. By contrast, the 62 bases set aside on Thursday are largely in the relatively populous former West.

The earmarked sites will mostly serve as bioreserves, which Germany’s Federal Agency for Nature Conservation will use to provide habitats for threatened species, including certain kinds of bats, eagles and woodpeckers.

Germany is in the middle of a major military reform that comes amid similar changes being made in other NATO nations at a time of heightened tensions with Moscow. Part of Berlin’s plan involves reducing its “footprint” of permanent military bases in favor of a more compact and efficient fighting force.

Meanwhile, also on Thursday, Britain began moving toward clearing the German soil of British troops for the first time since 1945. The move comes at a time when the NATO is conducting its biggest military reinforcement in Europe since the Cold War.