Case study:River Varde Valley and the meadows of Ho Bay (Ho Bugt) environment improvement project

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Location: 55° 33' 24", 8° 16' 20"
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Project overview

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Status Complete
Project web site
Themes Habitat and biodiversity, Land use management - agriculture, Social benefits
Country Denmark
Main contact forename Henrik Lykke
Main contact surname Sørensen
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
Project picture

Project summary

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Varde River runs through the central and western part of Jutland from its out-spring to Ho Bugt, passing by Varde and Esbjerg cities. The river valley is the only remaining estuary in Western Jutland and was an area of great importance for migrating waterfowls with feeding, moulting and resting sites up to the 1950’s. Then, intensive farming based on grass pellets’ production and grazing seriously impaired the area's natural qualities. Fertilisation as well as drainage impoverished the natural vegetation and dependent fauna. Almost no wading birds bred in the area during the 1980’s and 1990’s, and only few migratory birds used the area for resting and foraging. In addition, leaching of nutrients and ochre reduced the water quality of the River Varde and the Wadden Sea.

The restoration project was based in land re-redistribution and initiated in the 1996 by local farmers and their organisations. A restoration plan was prepared in co-operation with the Danish Forestry and Nature Agency, the Directorate for Food, Fisheries and Agri Business under the Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, the Land Owner Committee, Varde Farmer Union, Smallholders of Varde and Neighbourhood and Ribe County.

Most of the funding came from the EU LIFE programme and from 20 year management subsidies under EEC Reg. 2078/92. It was accepted under the EU LIFE funding that the farmers’ 20 year agreements would form the long term management part of the total project.

Natural hydrological conditions in 2,488 hectares of human-induced uniform well drained grassland were restored toward a favourable conservation status for habitats and species in the project River Varde Valley and the meadows of Ho Bay in the future. This was done by raising the water level, stopping the use of fertilisers and pesticides and by adjusting other agricultural practices, such as production periods and grazing regimes, to more extensive and environmentally beneficial practices.

The River Restoration Centre would like to thank Henrik Lykke Sørensen from the The Nature Agency (Danish Ministry of the Environment) for providing the information and photographs for this case study.

Monitoring surveys and results

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After restoration, the raised water level within most of the compartments together with restrictions on the use of fertilisers and pesticides and changed management practices is reducing the leaching of nutrients, ochre and pesticide pollution into the surrounding environment. In addition, conditions have been enhanced for flora and fauna, not only within the project area, but also in Ho Bay and the rest of the Wadden Sea.

The animal and plant populations including fish, mammals, amphibians, birds and invertebrates have increased and obtained a more beneficial conservation status. The same is also true for habitats including the estuary, Atlantic salt marshes, freshwater meadows, and the River Varde Å itself. The Corncrake (Crex crex) has improved its conservation status.

However, changes in the conservation status of the area have not been as effective and fast as might have been expected. This is mainly caused by the farmer’s choice of management by traditional grass cutting and mowing instead of cattle grazing. It is being considered establishing grazing associations through the Danish Rural Development Programme to encourage the farmers to introduce grazing in larger parts of the target area.

Lessons learnt

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Image gallery

Tarphage +Holmen25mar 005
Stenstryg i Ål Enge
Brønd ved Kjelst Bæk, Ho Bugt i baggrunden
snadec02jul 039

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 No
National/international site designation International - RAMSAR site
Local/regional site designations Special Protection Area, Natura 2000, Site of Community Importance, Special area of national interest for the Otter
Protected species present Yes
Invasive species present No
Species of interest The Corncrake (Crex crex)
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
Works started
Works completed
Project completed
Total cost category
Total cost (k€) 23000
23,000 k€
23,000,000 €
Benefit to cost ratio
Funding sources EU financing: EAGGF (agrienvironment), Danish Forestry Nature Agency, Danish Food Industry Agency, EU LIFE Programme

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

The total budget was approximately €23 million with €0.7 million provided by the EU LIFE programme and €20 million from agri-environmental subsidies. The LIFE funding (1996-2002) mainly contributed to the non-recurrent part of the project. The subsidies formed the main basis of financing for recurring environmentally-friendly management activities over 20 years (1999-2019). The remaining parts of the budget, especially pre-project costs and land redistribution costs, were covered by funding from the Danish Forestry and Nature Agency and the Danish Food Industry Agency.

Reasons for river restoration

Mitigation of a pressure Land drainage, Farming, Grazing
Other reasons for the project


Structural measures
Bank/bed modifications water
Floodplain / River corridor
Planform / Channel pattern
Other Creating an extended network of locks and dams to ensure a higher level of moisture
Non-structural measures
Management interventions Detailed description of the actions to be delivered and what the final outcome would be in terms of conservation benefit and subsequent management requirements
Social measures (incl. engagement) Information panels for people, Community consultation
Other Participation in decision process


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 use eu funds.pdf WWF & IEEP. 2009. Innovative use of EU funds to finance management measures and activities in Natura 2000 sites. Output of the project Financing Natura 2000: Cost estimate and benefits of Natura 2000. WWF, Brussels, Belgium. 103 pp. + Annexes. proj id=402&docType=pdf EU LIFE. Wadden Sea - Wadden Sea estuary, nature and environment improvement project LIFE99 NAT/DK/006456. Retrieved in April 2013 COWI. Integrated Water Resources Management: Selected projects, Nature restoration In River Varde Valley. Retrieved in April 2013, from:

Supplementary Information

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