Case study:Restoration and fish migration enhancement in the Wachau Valley

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Location: 48° 14' 10", 15° 20' 11"
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Project overview

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Status Complete
Project web site
Themes Habitat and biodiversity, Hydropower
Country Austria
Main contact forename Hannes 
Main contact surname Seehofer
Main contact user ID
Contact organisation The Nature Agency, Danish Ministry of the Environment.
Contact organisation web site
Partner organisations
Parent multi-site project
This is a parent project
encompassing the following
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Project summary

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The Wachau is a 33km gorge between Krems and Melk in Austria, with a mosaic of river habitats along the Danube River and tributaries, dry grassland and species-rich slope woods. It is one of the only two remaining undimmed and freely-flowing stretches of the Danubeand part of Natura 2000, the Europe-wide network of protected areas for the preservation of biological diversity in Europe.

Loss of structural diversity has occurred within the past few decades due to elimination of gravel banks and other interventions, and disappearance of the lateral channels has resulted from increasing sedimentation of cut-off river arms during the periodic floods. In addition, dry grasslands have been abandoned for more lucrative orchards and vineyards, while intensive forest management and introduction of non-native species is increasingly affecting the slope and floodplain forest remnants.

This LIFE funded project aimed at reactivating lateral river channels, using gravel structures to serve as spawning ground for the fish fauna and as resting and breeding sites for aquatic birds after completion of a pilot study. A new forest management was created to integrate conservation aspects, increasing the proportion of dead wood and stop the proliferation of exotic tree species. It is expected that approximately 140 ha of dry grassland would be restored.

Restoration actions included structuring the main current of the Danube with gravel embankments and islands, linking old tributaries to the Danube. A fishway (2m long and 12 m of average width) was constructed at the Melk power plant. Dry grasslands and grassy slopes undergo maintenance and management of, improvement of semi-natural forests and creation of a nature protection coordination body.

Monitoring surveys and results

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The new gravel islands enhance the landscape and the Danube as a natural habitat. The LIFE Nature project has linked dry old tributaries to the Danube once again and created refuges for fish fauna. The higher reaches of the slopes which lead down to the Danube are predominantly forested and are of special significance as protection and recreational forests. Dry grasslands & grassy slopes

64ha of forests have been transformed into natural forests and sustainable management has been established for 80 ha of dry meadows. The project has undertaken intensive media work and networking activities with experts from Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, and Poland. The project was awarded first prize in the ‘Milestones - Dr. Erwin Pröll future prize’ in the ‘In Uniso with Nature’ category.

Further information on the monitoring can be found in the project websites and additional links (see references)

Lessons learnt

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Catchment and subcatchment


WFD water body codes
WFD (national) typology
WFD water body name
Pre-project morphology
Reference morphology
Desired post project morphology
Heavily modified water body
National/international site designation
Local/regional site designations
Protected species present
Invasive species present
Species of interest
Dominant hydrology
Dominant substrate
River corridor land use
Average bankfull channel width category
Average bankfull channel width (m)
Average bankfull channel depth category
Average bankfull channel depth (m)
Mean discharge category
Mean annual discharge (m3/s)
Average channel gradient category
Average channel gradient
Average unit stream power (W/m2)

Project background

Reach length directly affected (m)
Project started 2003/06/01
Works started
Works completed
Project completed 2008/06/30
Total cost category
Total cost (k€) 520
520 k€
520,000 €
Benefit to cost ratio
Funding sources

Cost for project phases

Phase cost category cost exact (k€) Lead organisation Contact forename Contact surname
Investigation and design
Stakeholder engagement and communication
Works and works supervision
Post-project management and maintenance

Supplementary funding information

Total budget 5,200,000.00 € EU contribution 2,600,000.00 €

Reasons for river restoration

Mitigation of a pressure
Other reasons for the project


Structural measures
Bank/bed modifications
Floodplain / River corridor
Planform / Channel pattern
Non-structural measures
Management interventions
Social measures (incl. engagement)


Hydromorphological quality elements

Element When monitored Type of monitoring Control site used Result
Before measures After measures Qualitative Quantitative

Biological quality elements

Element When monitored Type of monitoring Control site used Result
Before measures After measures Qualitative Quantitative

Physico-chemical quality elements

Element When monitored Type of monitoring Control site used Result
Before measures After measures Qualitative Quantitative

Any other monitoring, e.g. social, economic

Element When monitored Type of monitoring Control site used Result
Before measures After measures Qualitative Quantitative

Monitoring documents

Additional documents and videos

Additional links and references

Link Description proj id=2448&docType=pdf LIFE Wachau project description LIFE Nature Wachau website LIFE Laienbericht E.pdf Layman's report LIFE Laienbericht E.pdf Fishway at the Melk power plant on the DAnube

Supplementary Information

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