LIFE-Projekt „Grünlandentwicklung zum Schutz gefährdeter Wiesenvögel im EU-Vogelschutzgebiete Unterer Niederrhein”
Ministerium fü Umwelt, Landwirtschaft, Natur- und Verbraucherschutz des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen
European Commission - Environment - LIFE Programme
Natura 2000 network - Environment - European Commission

Niederrhein

Meadow orchard in Mehr in the Düffel (Foto: D. Doer)The Niederrhein, meaning ‘lower Rhein’ lies in the north-west of North Rhine-Westphalia along the last section of the Rhine in Germany. The area ‘lower The Lake Wyler Meer/Düffel (Foto: D. Doer)Niederhein’ stretches out from Duisburg along the Rhine through the counties of Wesel and Kleve to the Dutch border. The present day landscape is characterised by farmed cultural land with fields and meadows, hedges and pollarded willows. The riverine landscapes typical of flood plain forests in flood prone areas have become very rare. There are also less natural water bodies than there used to be, when the river Rhine still regularly flooded out over its banks. Nevertheless there are still a few abandoned river channels in past river beds and species rich bodies of standing water. Furthermore there are increasing amounts of artificial quarry ponds as a result of gravel excavations.

Bird species which are native to the marshlands of the Niederrhein are threatened by a number of different developments of the landscape. One of these threats is agricultural intensification on grasslands. Fewer and fewer dairy cows are ever allowed to graze the fields which are now mowed increasingly earlier in the season. There is also the permanent threat of transformation of grasslands to crop lands. Marshy fields are becoming increasingly drier due to systematic drainage. The river Rhine continues to deepen its river bed thereby lowering the ground water level and contributing to the drying out of marsh lands. Other forms of land use such as hunting, fishing and other recreational activities endanger various bird species through human disturbances.

Hedgerow country/Düffel (Foto:D.Doer)

As it became apparent in the second half of the 1970s that the population densities of various bird species were decreasing, public authorities and nature conservation agencies began attempting to counteract the species loss at the Niederrhein.

In the 1980s the entire current Rhine flood plains and parts of the past flood plains between Duisburg and Kranenburg were designated as marsh areas of international importance according to the RAMSAR-convention (named after the convention city in Iran) as well as a European bird protection area. As a bird protection are the ‘lower Niederrhein’ forms part of the European-wide conservation area network NATURA 2000 of the European Union. Despite the early naming of the area, too little was done in the following years to protect important bird species. That is the reason why the EU-Commission launched a complaints procedure against North Rhine-Westphalia in 2000 for not working enough to protect the Niederrhein. The procedure was settled with the compromise that the bird protection area would be enlarged and NRW would commit itself to creating and implementing measures for the area. Today the area comprises a size of 25,000 hectares and is one of the largest conservation areas in North Rhine-Westphalia. The NABU nature conservation centre Niederrhein has been managing the bird protection area ‘lower Niederrhein’ for over 20 years. This area also comprises a nature conservation area of great importance for the project ‘Düffel, abandoned river Rhine channels by Kellen and flood plains’. The implementation of the measures concept for meadow birds is particularly urgent in the Düffel, as there are a number of so called focus areas for measures to improve meadow bird habitats here. In this project a number of suggested measures are to be implemented to increase the quality of the habitat.