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'Germany’s Blue Belt' programme

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Water conservation 'Germany’s Blue Belt' programme

The German government intends to promote the renaturalisation of watercourses and natural flood plains. The idea is to create river landscapes that are valuable in terms of natural environment and that offer attractive leisure opportunities and a place to relax and recuperate.

3 min reading time

The Cabinet has decided on this.

In the Coalition Agreement, the governing parties agreed on the federal Blue Belt project for Germany, which is to promote the renaturalisation of watercourses and natural flood plains. The federally owned waterways crisscross the entire country, like a "blue belt".

The secondary waterways in particular, which are today barely used for commercial transport, are to be developed in an ecologically sound way in future and made more attractive for leisure and recreational use.

Getting closer to nature – especially on secondary waterways

Goods transport on federal waterways concentrates on a core network comprising the country’s larger rivers and main canals. But Germany also has numerous secondary waterways, which are today no longer used to transport goods to any real extent.

It is in these secondary waterways in particular that the German government is investing under the "Blue Belt" programme, with measures to renaturalise watercourses and natural flood plains. New priorities are to be set to ensure enhanced conservation and water protection, as well as taking precautionary measures to prevent flooding, while encouraging water-based tourism and leisure-time sporting activities and creating a place where people can relax and recuperate.

Biotope network – the "Blue Belt"

Rivers, canals, natural flood plains and coastal waters are to be linked in one nationwide biotope system. Stepping stones, or links, are needed within the core network of federally owned waterways in order to ensure a properly functioning biotope network. These are to be realised wherever they are compatible with shipping and goods transport.

The concept of the "Blue Belt" builds on the "Green Belt", Germany’s national biotope network along what used to be the East-West German border.

Valuable impetus for the region

The federal "Blue Belt" programme once again looks at river landscapes as a whole, rather than dividing them into watercourse, banks and flood plains. The German government will be working with the federal states, and local stakeholder to create space for the ecological development of water bodies and to enhance people’s opportunity to experience the natural environment, thus generating valuable impetus for the development of entire regions.

The programme is based on a comprehensive scientific study, which indicates where action is needed and identifies ways in which the federal waterways and flood plains can in future be renaturalised. The study was produced jointly by the Bundesanstalt für Gewässerkunde (BfG, German Federal Institute of Hydrology), the Bundesanstalt für Wasserbau (Federal Waterways Engineering and Research Institute, BAW), the Wasserstraßen- und Schifffahrtsverwaltung (Waterways and Shipping Administration), the Bundesamt für Naturschutz (Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, BfN) and the Umweltbundesamt (UBA, German Environment Agency).

Development concept for the River Lahn, a secondary waterway

The "Living Lahn" project is to develop the ecological value of the river while making the Lahn a more attractive place to live. A development concept is being devised for the River Lahn, which is classed as a secondary waterway, meaning that it is used primarily for recreational rather than commercial purposes. This concept is to draw together the renaturalisation options and the various interests of river users with the participation of all stakeholders. With its approach, the "Living Lahn" is a pilot project that could point the way forward for development concepts for other secondary waterways.

The European Union is contributing to the "Living Lahn" project, on which the German federal states of Hesse and Rhineland Palatinate are cooperating, along with the federal waterways and shipping authority, the Wasserstraßen- und Schifffahrtsverwaltung, and the BfG.

Renaturalisation of the banks of the Rhine

The "Kühkopf-Knoblochsaue" pilot project involves a strip of land about 2.5 km long along the left bank of the Rhine in the federal state of Hesse. The planned measure aims to reform the existing riverbank structures adjoining some 600m of restored natural river bank, and to return the area to as near a natural state as possible.

Along the bank of the Rhine, flood plain-like structures are to be created, along with new habitats for flora and fauna. Within Hesse’s largest protected area , the "Kühkopf-Knoblochsaue European reserve", a natural transition to the Rhine, as a waterway, is thus to be created.