Ems-Dynamik+Habitate - Near-natural river and flood plain development of the River Ems at Einen – river dynamics and habitat diversity

LIFE08 NAT/D/000008

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Contact details:

Contact person: Hannes SCHIMMER
Tel: +49 251 411 5717
Email: hannes.schimmer@bezreg-muenster.nrw.de

Project description:


The Ems is one of Germany’s smallest navigable rivers. Its floodplain areas, many of which are designated as Natura 2000 network sites, contain a number of species and habitats protected by the Habitat Directive. As a result of previous conservation actions (including two recent LIFE Nature projects) some of the areas within the Ems river floodplain have recently been re-colonised by rare species of fauna. Further river habitat restoration actions are now proposed to reinforce this process.


The aim of the Ems-Dynamik+Habitate project was to restore near-natural river and floodplain dynamics in the River Ems. Specific objectives included lengthening and widening around 4 km of the river course at Einen; removing river bank stabilisation structures to facilitate natural river erosion and sedimentation dynamics; strengthening existing and new floodplain areas; creating uninterrupted passages for fauna; and demonstrating best practice in these types of conservation actions.


The Ems-Dynamik+Habitate project restored near-natural river and floodplain dynamics along a total length of 4.5 km on the rivers Ems and Hessel at Einen (Germany). The project team changed the appearance of the rivers completely, from canalised water stretches with fixed banks to meandering rivers of diverse structure.

River and floodplains were restored by widening rivers and increasing their effective length by reinstating dynamic meanders. The rivers were widened by about 15 to 20 m over 160 m (covering about 2 100 m2). The project re-created steep banks at intervals along the rivers (about 330 m in total), alternating with sloped sides, to ensure a diverse riverbank. As a result, autodynamic processes now take place along 4.5 km of the rivers to maintain them in a near-natural state.

The project initiated a new main river course of 360 m along the Ems, partly filling the existing canalised channel. Two oxbow lakes were reconnected to the river, and a new one was created (160 m length and 5 to 7 m width) that connects to the Ems via a brook. Important part of the process was land swapping with other private owners. Start of the land swapping management process dates back to 1995 and in this process 94 ha of land on both Ems riverbanks were swapped, in the project area covering 232 ha this was done with 45 farmers. The beneficiary was swapping gradually the privately-owned land owned for other parcels of land along the Ems (owned by farmers) with other parcels of land nearby owned by the beneficiary. In the end the state owned 3,7 km of the river Ems and 0,8 of the river Hessel partly on one or both riverbanks. This allowed for a stretch of the river which became available for the project to improve the continuity of its actions, enabling the deconstruction of flood protections along about 1 800 m of the river Ems without risking the flooding of private property. The project team also relocated a dam to enlarge the floodplain area – increasing the area directly influenced by floods by about 38 000 m2 - and making additional sites available for the development of riparian forest.

Natural regeneration of (mainly) Salix species and Alnus glutinosa initiated the development of alluvial forests. Small trees had already reached a height of more than 5 m by the project end. In 2014, about 28 500 m2 of alluvial forest of alder and seven willow species was under natural development due to the restored water dynamics. The development of riparian forest by natural means will take much longer, and so the success of this action can only be assessed in years to come. To initiate the development of riparian forests, areas were mown and planted with (mainly) Quercus robur, Carpinus betulus and Alnus glutinosa on about 16 900 m2. The project is also encouraging the development of extensively-used grassland (aiming at habitat type 6510), by mowing, fencing and grazing extensively with Galloway cattle.

Trees will now fall into the river naturally as the banks erode, further diversifying water flows and habitat for aquatic species. To start this process, the project team placed dead wood (20 trunks at 8 places) into the river. Whereas the rivers previously had a consistent depth due to canalisation, the combined project actions have created a mosaic of deep and shallow water areas, with the target water courses habitat type (3260) developing at several locations.

At four places where new river courses were initiated, it was decided not to build completely new water courses but to construct small initial channels and then block the main course. Thus, all the water of the Ems had to pass by the new channels and immediately shaped the new course in a dynamic way. This innovative method enabled sandy flat floodplain to be created, which then evolved near-natural structures. This concept for the initiation of new river course stretches was taken up in a guidance document on the development of near-natural water courses in the German state of Nordrhein-Westfalen ('Blaue Richtlinie - Richtlinie für die Entwicklung naturnaher Fließgewässer in Nordrhein-Westfalen, Ausbau und Unterhaltung').

The project area was situated directly next to the commune of Müssingen-Einen. The project team increased levels of interest and awareness among local people, and achieved a high level of acceptance for the implemented measures, by organising numerous guided walks, placing noticeboards along footpaths and publishing information in various formats. The floodplain of the Ems has become much more attractive due to the LIFE project and it now attracts more visitors, who participate in leisure activities such as swimming and hiking. As a consequence, the project team implemented guidance for visitors, to keep people away from sensitive areas like the newly-developed peninsulas. Given the successful engagement of nearby communities, the local heritage society (Heimatverein) helps to reduce disturbance and maintain the positive effects of the project.

The project directly implements the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) and has relevance to the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) and other EU water-related policy.

Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).


Environmental issues addressed:


Habitats - Freshwater


river‚  nature conservation‚  restoration measure

Target EU Legislation

  • Water
  • Directive 2000/60 - Framework for Community action in the field of water policy (23.10.2000)
  • Nature protection and Biodiversity
  • Directive 92/43 - Conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora- Habitats Directiv ...

Target species

 Cobitis taenia   Lampetra planeri   Rhodeus sericeus amarus 

Target Habitat types

  • 6510 - "Lowland hay meadows (Alopecurus pratensis, Sanguisorba officinalis)"
  • 91E0 - "Alluvial forests with Alnus glutinosa and Fraxinus excelsior (Alno-Padion, Alnion incanae, Salicion albae)"
  • 91F0 - "Riparian mixed forests of Quercus robur, Ulmus laevis and Ulmus minor, Fraxinus excelsior or Fraxinus angustifolia, along the great rivers (Ulmenion minoris)"
  • 3150 - Natural eutrophic lakes with Magnopotamion or Hydrocharition - type vegetation
  • 3260 - Water courses of plain to montane levels with the Ranunculion fluitantis and Callitricho-Batrachion vegetation

Natura 2000 sites

SCI DE4013301 Emsaue, Kreise Warendorf und Gütersloh



Coordinator Bezirksregierung Münster
Type of organisation Regional authority
Description The regional authority "Bezirksregierung Münster" is a federal institute responsible for maintenance of the river Ems in the region of North-Rhine Westphalia.
Partners None


Project reference LIFE08 NAT/D/000008
Duration 01-JAN-2010 to 31-DEC -2014
Total budget 2,843,346.00 €
EU contribution 1,421,673.00 €
Project location Nordrhein-Westfalen(Deutschland)


Read more:

Project web site Project's website
Publication: After-LIFE Conservation Plan After-LIFE Conservation Plan (German version)
Publication: Layman report Layman report (English/German version)
Publication: Technical report Project's Final technical report
Video link Project's video (DE - 14')


Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version