The Elbe river landscape

There is hardly a river in Central Europe that flows as freely as the Elbe and changes its appearance over the years so distinctly:

In late winter the water rises, and the floodplain turns into an impressive lake landscape: forests stand under water. Ice floes drift down the river and crunch into the banks.
The skies echo with the cries of thousands of wild geese, swans and ducks. It is migration time: The winter guests head north, taking their leave with impressive formations in the sky until they return in the autumn.

When spring returns, the water retreats. Meadows and pastures become visible, and colours return along with spring: Cuckoo flowers, common meadow rue and marsh peas bloom in the floodplain pastures.
Gradually, the floodplain comes to life: frogs and toads gather in the numerous small ponds and lakes, striking up an impressive chorus. Storks return home and move into their nests on barn roofs. Godwits, oyster catchers and snipes can be observed in search of suitable nesting sites.

Summer on the river Elbe: The water level continues to fall, uncovering the banks. What is revealed here is a joy to both man and animal: a sand beach, fine-grained and white. Sand which invites you to walk on it barefoot and look for tracks: The tracks of the family of grey geese that has spent the night here. If you're lucky, you may find the distinctive tracks of an Elbe beaver on its way to the water.
The air above the river whirs in the heat. Cows and sheep gather in the shade of the mighty oak trees. A family of storks circles above the marshes, already rehearsing for their long journey south.

In the autumn, mists drift across the floodplain of the river Elbe. Everything seems to be standing still. The storks have long since finished breeding and set off to the warm south.
But the calmness dos not last for long. Suddenly they are here: The first winter guests return from their northern breeding grounds. They stop over on their long journey south, and some will spend the winter months by the Elbe. Then the nights are filled with the loud trumpeting of the cranes and the sonorous calls of the whooper swans.

 

The floodplains of the river Elbe are not just a uniquely beautiful landscape. They are also a uniquely valuable landscape, as they are home to typical habitats, animals and plants over hundreds of kilometres.

On the path of the beaver
The floodplain of the river Elbe was originally woodlands, which used to extend as far as the flooding areas. Floodplain woodlands are the most species-rich habitats in Central Europe: A wide variety of insects provides the basic food for more than 40 types of songbird. They are the nursery for fish, and the Elbe beaver uses the softwoods as food and as building material, black storks and cranes breed in the damp forests. Most wetland woodlands were sacrificed to civilisation in the last few centuries. Only a few remains of wetland woodlands in Central Europe were preserved in the Middle Elbe region.

Like a fish in water
The low point of fish life in the Elbe fortunately lies some years back: Until 1990, huge quantities of industrial wastewater had transformed the Elbe into a stinking sewer. Since then the water quality has seen a huge rise, considered impossible by many, due to water treatment plants. Today some forty species of fish live in the middle Elbe region, and are the most important staple food for species such as the otter, sea eagle and osprey.

A feast for the stork
What would the river Elbe landscape be without its small lakes and ponds in the far-reaching flooding areas? The Elbe is home to twelve different types of amphibians and provides a variety of optimal spawning grounds.
The richly laid table of the wet meadows feeds snipes, herons and of course, Master Stork. Close to 500 white stork couples brood in the Elbe floodplain, and there are 40 alone in Rühstädt, the European stork village. This means that the floodplain of the river Elbe is the most important distribution axis in Germany for Master Stork.

The great cackling
In the cold season the expansive floodplains of the river Elbe are an important resting place for wading birds and waterfowl. They come from the far north of Scandinavia and Russia, and continue on their way south. Huge groups of white-fronted and bean geese, ducks, mergansers, whooper and Bewick's swans can be observed here. The undisturbed marsh areas provide food and shelter for the birds to recuperate and accumulate important fat reserves for their future journey. The floodplain of the river Elbe is also ideally situated for cranes, between their autumn congregation sites on the Baltic coast and their winter quarters on the Iberian peninsula.