Why Natural Rivers And Streams Are Important

Why Natural Rivers And Streams Are Important

Flowing water creates very special habitats. How can animals, plants and people get along well there?

Many streams are to become wilder again in the coming years. That means they are to be restored to a natural state. Because “wild” streams and rivers are not only very beautiful. They are also valuable for nature. Among other things, many animal and plant species live in the water and on the banks.

Not only fish need the water, streams and rivers are also important for other animal species. For example, for the kingfisher and many amphibians such as the fire salamander.

But it is also good for people if streams and rivers can flow as naturally as possible. Natural floodplain landscapes can absorb a lot of water during heavy rain, for example. This helps prevent flooding in villages and towns.

Why have so many streams and rivers been straightened?

Why Natural Rivers And Streams Are Important

Experts refer to rivers and streams collectively as “flowing waters”. Because that is their most important characteristic: water flows here. The origin is precipitation, i.e. rain and snow. In mountain regions, where it rains regularly, there are particularly many springs and small streams. The water always follows gravity and flows downhill. It collects in depressions and valleys and forms streams and rivers. These flow towards the sea.

Natural rivers and streams are constantly changing. Depending on how much rain falls, more or less water flows. It carries sand and stones with it, which are deposited again in other places. In some places the bank is undercut, in others sand and gravel bars form. Sometimes the water looks for completely new paths in this way.

But the vast majority of rivers and streams are no longer in a natural state. They have been straightened, and many banks have been fortified. Dikes have also been built along some rivers. In some villages and towns, streams have even been piped and diverted under streets and houses.

The reason for this is that many rivers and streams got in the way of people over time. More and more fields were laid out and roads and settlements were built. In the process, wild watercourses that meander in zigzags through the landscape became a nuisance. In addition, they repeatedly overflow their banks and flood the surrounding countryside.

Why are natural rivers and streams valuable habitats?

Why Natural Rivers And Streams Are Important

Stream and river landscapes are very valuable for nature when they are in a natural state. Then a particularly large number of animal and plant species can live in the water and on the banks. This is because natural rivers and streams provide a great diversity. In some places the water flows faster, in some slower. Some banks are steep, some flat. There are many species of animals and plants that specialize in these different conditions.

The kingfisher, for example, needs steep banks in which to make its nesting hole. There must be plenty of fish in the water, and to hunt them, kingfishers need plenty of perches – higher places from which they can look for prey and launch.

Some fish species, such as the mud whip and bitterling, prefer to live in calm, shallow waters, with lots of plants and muddy bottoms.

The fire salamander, on the other hand, needs clear, cool streams for its offspring. Such waters are more likely to be found in mountainous and hilly areas. It lays its eggs there, and the larvae that hatch from them also grow up in the water.

Floodplain landscapes are particularly valuable. Floodplains are flat areas on the banks of rivers streams that are repeatedly flooded.

A good example is the Kühkopf-Knoblochsaue nature reserve on the Rhine. There, the Rhine formed large bends, side arms and islands. The nature there is very diverse. There are flowing waters and standing waters, forests and meadows. Again and again, parts of the area are flooded by the Rhine. An exceptionally large number of animal and plant species live there.

Why are natural waters also useful for us humans?

Why Natural Rivers And Streams Are Important

Natural riverine landscapes are also valuable to humans for a variety of reasons. When water levels are high, they can absorb a lot of water and thus protect against flooding. Fertile fields in the floodplains provide food, and trees on the banks provide wood. Natural riverine landscapes are also particularly suitable for sports and recreation.

How can we protect rivers and streams?

There are already many efforts to protect rivers and streams. In many places, rivers and streams are also being restored to their natural state.

There are also requirements for this, which are laid down in laws. For example, in a law of the European Union (EU), which applies in all member countries – including Europe. According to this law, water bodies must be protected as habitats. They must also be in a “good ecological condition” within a certain time.

Other nature conservation regulations also apply to streams and rivers. Very many banks and floodplains are nature reserves. This means that people have to take special care there.

Many people work as volunteers to protect nature along rivers and streams. For example, members of nature conservation organizations such as NABU or BUND. They often help to restore natural stream courses. Or they help protect certain species, for example by building nesting aids for endangered bird or bat species.

Rivers and streams are becoming “wilder
The Hessian state government wants to help restore 100 streams to their natural state. It is supporting Hessian cities and communities in this effort.

In many places, this has already happened in the past. For example, on the Eder. There, among other things, fortifications on the banks have been removed so that the river can once again form its own path.

What do natural river landscapes mean to me?

Everyone can help to protect streams and rivers. Of course, this includes behaving considerately in nature. This applies, for example, to overgrown banks of streams, because many animals find shelter there.

If you behave considerately, you can enjoy nature along streams and rivers. One advantage of near-natural waters is that they are particularly beautiful and there is a lot to discover there.

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