Restoration of floodplain meadows along the Hessian Upper Rhine


Field trip to a restoration area in Leeheim
Field trip to a restoration area in Leeheim

June 7th – 9th 2017: Together with director Professor David Gowing ten delegates of the British Floodplain Meadow Partnership (FMP, were visiting the floodplain meadows along the northern Upper Rhine. The group was guided by Prof. Norbert Hölzel from Münster University and Riedstadt project manager Matthias Harnisch, who prepared also the program of the visit and was in charge of the organisation.
After a short reception by mayor Marcus Kretschmann in the Riedstadt city hall the English colleagues went to the Kühkopf information centre, where they were welcomed by Ralph Baumgärtel, who provided a first impressing overview of the ecological conditions and the history of Hesse’s largest nature reserve. After that, the group took a walk on the Kühkopf to see examples of old alluvial forests as well as the new forest that has been developing after the demolition of the summer dykes in 1983 out of natural succession – one of the really rare possibilities to see an undisturbed by man development of a natural forest in Middle Europe. But of course, the visit on the Kühkopf included different examples of floodplain meadows, too. Apart from an old species-rich meadow the visitors could see different examples of new meadows that have developed since 30 years without further restoration measures just by themselves and a cutting once a year. It could clearly be seen that in spite of favourable site conditions these new meadows are still rather species poor and dominated by common species whereas the rare floodplain meadow species are lacking – and that active restoration is needed to enhance the development of new species rich floodplain meadows.
On the second day of their visit, the FMP delegates went to Leeheim and Erfelden to visit the largest area of species-rich floodplain meadows along the northern Upper Rhine. Here the group could see old meadows in the nature reserves “Riedwiesen von Wächterstadt” and “Bruderlöcher” as well as restored meadows of different age, all situated closely together. Starting with a 1-hectare-pilote-project in 1997 up to now there are more than 70 ha of new floodplain meadows here, the latest restoration measures dating back just to 2016.
The destination of the third and last day of the visit was the nature reserve “Lampertheimer Altrhein” 25 km further upstream, where the group explored old floodplain meadows as well as an restoration area of 10 ha in the vicinity. Here, the Lampertheim project manager Alexander Ochmann explained the measures undertaken to restore floodplain meadows and an alluvial forest in a newly created flooding area that directly connects the Rhine to the old oxbow in the Lampertheimer Altrhein.

The English visitors were amazed by the remains of semi natural landscape in the midst of the densely populated conurbation Rhine-Main-Neckar and by the species richness and diversity of the floodplain meadows here. The English experts were quite astonished that at the northern Upper Rhine floodplain meadows could be found in areas where the groundwater table can fall below 3 metres under surface – as is the case just now. The visitors could so experience one of the main ecological characteristics of the floodplain meadows (and all the landscape) in the region, namely the strong hydrological dynamic with fluctuations with up to 7 m between the lowest and highest water level. This high dynamic is further intensified by the fact that floods at the northern Upper Rhine occur neither frequently, nor always in the same period of the year. In some years, there are no floods at all, in others even more than one and they might occur in autumn, winter, spring or, as the last bigger flooding in 2013, even in summer. This leads to a so-called “concertina-effect” when in dry periods drought-tolerant or –loving species can migrate to lower, potentially wetter elevations and vice versa in wet times. In accordance with that the species tolerating draught are presently better developed than the wet loving ones, even in the lower situated meadows.
Apart from that, the colleagues from the Floodplain Meadows Partnership were deeply impressed by the scale and the success of the restoration measures undertaken in Riedstadt since 20 years. After three intensive days the English visitors went back home to England with a lot of impressions - of which a picnic at the Rhine with some bottles of white wine from the Queen Victoria vineyard was not the least memorable.


In York, Riedstadt project manager Matthias Harnisch hands over two bottles of Champagne as a present of the City of Riedstadt
In York, Riedstadt project manager Matthias Harnisch hands over two bottles of Champagne as a present of the City of Riedstadt

9./10.05.2017: At the invitation of the British Floodplain Meadows Partnership (FMP) Riedstadt floodplain meadows project manager Matthias Harnisch has taken part in the conference „Floodplain meadows for the future“ in York. There he presented the restoration and monitoring of floodplain meadows along the Hessian northern Upper Rhine to an audience of 130 participants and visited floodplain meadows in the vicinity of York. 

The FMP is an umbrella organization for all beeing concerned with floodplain meadows and their conservation in England and Wales. It is coordinated by the Open University in Milton Keynes under the direction of Professor David Gowing. The FMP collects centrally all relevant data about floodplain meadows - as e.g. vegetation samples, hydrological and soil data - and makes them available for further research and for  practical use as the planning of conservation measures and the managing of floodplain meadows.

Since some years there exists a professional exchange between the British experts and the people concerned with floodplain meadows in Riedstadt, which will be deepend further in June, when ten British colleagues will visit the floodplain meadows in Riedstadt.

For further information have a look at:    

The picture by Dr. Michael Dodd shows (from left to right): Matthias Harnisch (Project manager Riedstadt), Professor David Gowing (Project director FMP), Emma Rothero (Outreach coordinator FMP) und Dr. Irina Tatarenko (Open University Milton Keynes). 

April 2014 - June 2014: The Frankfurt Airport Company (Fraport) supports the floodplain meadow projects in Riedstadt with another donation of 10.000,- Euro.The money was handed over on April 7th by the Chairman of the Executive Board of Fraport AG, Dr. Stefan Schulte, and was used for a scientific monitoring of the vegetation on the new meadows. The survey of the vegetation took place in May and June 2014 and was carried out by Polish botanist Dr. Dorota Michalska-Hejduk, who has assessed the vegetation an 150 permanent plots of 10 to 10 m as well as on 10 restoration areas in the whole. The monitoring shows that the restoration of floodplain meadows in Riedstadt was extremely successful and that the new meadows are very specious rich, including many endangered and protected species.

February, 20th 2014: Release of the specialist book "Restoration of floodplain meadows with green hay transfer". The book was written by Matthias Harnisch, project coordinator in Riedstadt, Tobias w. Donath, Ralf Schmiede and Annette Otte (all: University of Gießen) and was edited by the renowned publishing house Ulmer in Stuttgart. For further information, extract reading or ordering have a look at the website of Ulmer's here

March, 7th 2013: A new flyer about the floodplain meadows project was released (download here (pdf), only in german)

March, 5th 2013: Together with a delegation of politicians and experts the minister for the environment of the Georgian Republic, Miss Khatuna Gogaladze, informed herself about the floodplain meadows restoration projects in Riedstadt. Further information here (article in the local newspaper, only in german)

Contact / Reference

Text, Cartography and Pictures, where not otherwise marked: © Matthias Harnisch, City of Riedstadt
Unauthorized use of pictures and text - in whole and partially - without official consent of the authors and without naming the authors is not permitted.

Matthias Harnisch
City of Riedstadt
Rathausplatz 1
D-64560 Riedstadt

Telephone: 0049 - (0)6158 - 181322
eMail: Matthias Harnisch, Riedstadt