The Untere Havelniederung – the lower Havel alluvial plain – and adjacent lowlands make up the biggest area of interconnected inland wetlands in western Central Europe. The area’s outstanding supra-regional importance stems from its lack of fragmentation and the fact that the meadows still flood annually on a large scale in winter and spring. The roughly 90 km length of the Havel river between Pritzerbe and its confluence with the Elbe is mainly bordered by meadows and pasture land, near-natural river banks and oxbows, and large patches of reed beds and meadow woodland. Some 1,000 endangered and protected species have been recorded, including over 150 species of breeding bird, beaver, otter, osprey and common sandpiper.
Major threats to the area are the current widened condition of the Havel, locks and weirs, and the critical nutrient situation. The aim of the project is to return the lower reaches of the Havel and parts of the recent floodplain to a near-natural development state in an approximately 9,000 ha core area along about 86 km of the river. This is mainly to be achieved by reversing earlier river modifications and allowing the natural river regime to run its course. Plans include removing top coverings from about 29 km of river bank, reconnecting 15 oxbows, activating 49 flood channels, removing 17 embankments, levelling two dykes with about 500 ha under polder, establishing 89 ha of floodplain and riverside woodland, bringing river management into line with project objectives, improving water management (by varying water levels behind locks and weirs) and improving grassland management in line with nature conservation needs.
This renaturalisation of a national waterway on such a large scale is unprecedented in Germany and constitutes a model project of importance far beyond the region. The necessary large-scale coordination of nature conservation, transportation and river management concerns for a national waterway is similarly unparalleled.