Back to nature

Renaturation of the Spree floodplains

Creating New Homes

The effects mining has on nature are not only balanced out at the end of operational mining. While mining is in progress there are landscapes being created in another section. One example of this can be seen in Cottbus-Nord opencast mine north east of Cottbus. Between 1981 and 2015 coal was mined here and used to produce electricity in Jänschwalde power plant nearby. Within the boundaries of this approved coal mining area were formerly the Lakomaer ponds.

In 2007 we had to claim this area to mine coal. During a permit procedure which lasted for many years conditions were laid down to relocate ecologically valuable plants and animals from the pond area. The new home or habitat was supposed to be the Spree floodplains north of Cottbus. Over the centuries there were numerous man-made interferences of the Spree River, leading to an unvarying waterway with very few structures.

Man and the Spree River

The Spree River is an important lifeline to Berlin and Brandenburg. The source is in the Lusatian hills and after 382 kilometers it leads into the Havel River. In some areas the gradient is so low that it forms numerous branches and gives the area a special character. Famous for this is the Spreewald.

With construction measures over hundreds of years, man changed the appearance of the Spree River and its riverscape. The shallow waterways were straightened and narrowed for shipping and flat bottomed boats and dykes were built as a flood water protection on lengthy stretches. This led to reduced Spree floodplains and thereby less natural flood retention areas when the water is high.

Over time the Spree River north of Cottbus became an unvarying straight uniform river with little structural diversity. Before the renaturation activities, of the 37 species that once lived in the river only eight were left. Vegetation on the banks and floodplain had almost disappeared .There was next to nothing left in common with the original Spree River.

Restoration of a Natural Riverscape

Before animals and plants could move into their new home, a natural green reverine idyll had to be prepared for the animals and plants, over a period of seven years the Spree river floodplains had to be transformed and restored- 'renaturalized'.

Cut-off meanders were reconnected again, former water courses were reactivated and new floodplains were developed with typical vegetation. By constructing groyns, inlets and islands the river was given more structural diversity and a differing water flow rates. Around 110,000 new willow hard wood cuttings and young plants were planted, enriching the flora of the Spree river floodplains.

Eight new ponds with a 21 hectare stretch of water were built. In the vicinity of the ponds habitat for otters and amphibians developed. Several hectares of reeds provide a suitable place of refuge.

Between Döbbrick and Schmogrow over a total eleven kilometer stretch and an area of 400 hectares the Spree River and its floodplains managed to regain their vigor. With these dimension the Spree floodplains renaturalization is the largest project of its kind in Brandenburg. A five year program has been monitoring the achievements. 

Habitat Spree floodplains

The renaturalized Spree floodplains have become a home to many animal species and plant communities. At last diverse types of life such as water buffalo and common spadefoot toads and others have moved in and made the riverscape their home.

Over 180,000 amphibians were relocated to the Spree floodplains. Amongst these were more than 75,000 fire-bellied toads. In Germany they are regarded as highly endangered. There is evidence that they have acclimatized well to the Spree floodplains, their new home, as can be seen in their increased numbers.

There are also common spadefoot toads, tree, moor and grass frogs, common newts and blind worms hopping about, swimming or wriggling along in and along the Spree river.

Not only amphibians live in the riverscape. Otters have also made themselves at home here, in ideal living conditions. In the richly structured riverine landscape there are suitable habitats for insects as well as bat species such as the pond bat.

The Lakomaer Ponds

Plants from the Lakomaer ponds have also been transplanted to the Spree floodplains. Soil from the bottom of the pond from the Lakomaer area enables certain water plant communities to flourish.

The ponds are managed according to strict nature protection criteria. A third of the ponds have one year old carp in them, one third with two to three year old carp and the rest are not tended at all.

En Route in the Spree Floodplains

There are various inviting topic related walking trails through the area providing an opportunity to watch nature.  Boards along the route tell the story about the Spree River, the renaturation project and the living conditions of the Spree floodplains. From the barrier-free vantage hill there is a wonderful view of the surrounding countryside. A wooden sculpture depicts a Sorbian legend on the origin of the Spreewald, with the deep ruts that were created by ox carts when the devil lost his temper with the oxen and they crisscrossed the land in fright.

Whether on foot or by bicycle; the Spree floodplains can be easily be explored alone. But if you would rather go on a guided tour to learn more in-depth information about the countryside we recommend contacting the natural history centre of the Spree floodplains association. 

Contact:

Verein Naturkundezentrum Spreeaue
Hauptstraße 32 
03096 Dissen-Striesow

Tel.: +49-35606-429030 
Fax: +49-35606-429029 
info(at)spreeaue(dot)eu