DRAVA LIFE project teamBirgit Egger
DRAVA LIFE project team

Excursion to Allier and Loire Rivers in France

Finally, after 2 years of the pandemic, in July of 2022, the DRAVA LIFE team could visit one of the wildest and most impressive rivers in Western Europe: river Allier, a tributary to river Loire, in France. Thanks to an early initiative of restoration actions starting in the 1980ies, including dam prevention and removal plus land purchase, river Allier has a model reference character for similar rivers in Europe due to its natural condition. River Allier nowadays is largely protected as Natura 2000 sites and partly as “Réserve Naturelle Val d Állier”. The river is 421 kilometres long. It has its source in the Cevennes mountains 50 kilometres east of Mende and flows 5 km west of Nevers into the Loire river.

View on Allier from the steep bank in Chemilly

View on Allier from the steep bank in Chemilly (c) WWF

14 persons of the DRAVALIFE team plus four other interested colleagues went on this trip from Austria and Croatia to Le Veurdre in France. A majority of the group went by night-train and connecting trains from Vienna and Zagreb via Zurich until Le Veurdre in France. The small, charming village is based just on the shore of river Allier. It was the perfect place to stay for our river expeditions.

The DRAVALIFE team went all this way to France in order to see and learn from river Allier. The excursion consisted of several stages. Dr. Gregory Egger, ecologist and professor for landscape ecology at the Karlsruher Institute for Technology (KIT), introduced the team to the special situation on river Allier. During an excursion to Allier and its floodplains close to Chemilly we learned about the natural development of different floodplain habitats. In several scientific studies over the past years the succession processes of the vegetation and the long-term riverine development have been documented. Especially the development of the black-poplar (Populus nigra) floodplains, the xerothermic grasslands as well as the invasive neophytes Fallopia japonica were highlighted during the excursion.

Excursion in Chemilly_Explanations of Gregory Egger(c)Birgit Egger

Excursion in Chemilly_Explanations of Gregory Egger (c) Birgit Egger

Furthermore the history of “Le Grand Plan – Plan Loire Grande Nature” (The Big Nature Plan for the Loire catchment) which enabled the development of the “Espace de Liberté”, a concept that gives space to the river through land purchase and law regulation, was introduced by Gregory Egger. The historical happenings that made this major plan possible was presented by Mr. Roberto Epple, President “European rivers network” ERN and part of the “river freedom fighters” at this time. In the 1980ies the river development (hence flood protection, irrigation, etc.)  was planned on the Loire river catchment. Against this “the Comité Loire Vivante” was formed which resulted in the concept of “Espace de Liberté” instead of further ”river development”. Later on the NGO “Allier sauvage” has been founded in order to protect river Allier which was presented to the team by its president Mr. Joel Herbach. Today even the Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) is again migrating up Loire and Allier.

Roberto Epple and Joel Herbach presenting (c) WWF

The second stage of the excursion was a canoe excursion supported by a canoe rental company (Canoë en Terre d’Allier, Base du Veurdre) on river Allier which started from Moulins to the medieval village of Apremont-sur-Allier. Canoeing and swimming down 55 kilometres of the river gave the best impression of the intact riverine ecosystem: natural steep banks, vast gravel and sand islands, a rich diversity of waterfowls, bordering meadows with cows drinking from the river, and a lot of space for the river. Sometimes, the team could not believe that such a riverine paradise over such a long stretch is still possible in the middle of Europe.


Canoeing (c) WWF

On the last day the confluence of Allier and Loire river close to Bec d´Allier was visited before heading to Paris to catch the night trains back home. Definitely, the concept of river restoration through land purchase and strict regulations for riverine space plus dam prevention and removal is a lesson learned that the DRAVALIFE team took home to river Drava and our restoration efforts.

Sand martin colony in a steep bank

Sand martin colony in a steep bank (c) WWF


Cattle herd drinking at the river

Cattle herd drinking at the river (c) WWF


Relaxing after canoeing

Relaxing after canoeing (c) WWF

Visiting restauration site in ObergottesfeldREVITAL
Visiting restauration site in Obergottesfeld

Useful workshop on river restoration in Nußdorf-Debant

This May the DRAVALIFE project team took part in a river restoration workshop in Nußdorf-Debant, Austria. The course was organized by the Integrative planning office REVITAL  and WWF Austria.

The participants from water management, nature conservation and NGOs learned about river restoration measures to improve sediment balance of rivers according to the newly published river restoration toolbox.

Besides the two days of indoor course and discussion, an excursion to best practice examples of river restoration measures was undertaken. The team visited fresh and old restoration sites at the rivers Schwarzach, Isel and Drava, and were able to learn about measures as well as about long-time development of river restoration.

Rijeka Schwarzach u blizini Gîrtschacha

The Schwarzach River close to Gîrtschach

The team was guided by an expert team of REVITAL (Klaus Michor and Stephan Senfter), by Herbert Mandler from the Carinthian water management and by Gregory Egger from “naturraumplanung egger”. A special highlight was the visit of the “water house” of the national park Hohe Tauern in St. Jakob in Defereggen (https://www.hausdeswassers.at/), where the team was fascinated by simple water experiments, outdoor education and a vivid presentation done by biologist Brigitte Eckle. This was of special interest for the new water school close Legrad in Croatia, that was established in the DRAVALIFE project by Croatian Waters.

Restauracija rijeke Drave kod Obergottesfelda

Restauration of The Drava River near Obergottesfeld

The “lessons learned” will be transferred to our river restoration measures on Drava within the DRAVALIFE project.

DRAVA LIFE Kick off u Legradu

DRAVA LIFE – Integrated River Management for people and nature

Last Friday, the 5-year EU project “DRAVA LIFE – Integrated River Management” was officially launched in Legrad, Croatia. The kick-off event had a varied programme, ranging from speeces, musical entertainment to a joint Drava descent. The project aims to improve the ecological status of the Drava and its ecosystem and to improve flood protection along the 300 kilometres long stretch of the Drava River in Croatia. The project partners, led by Croatian Waters, plan to achieve this goal through various restauration activities, cross-border cooperation, awareness raising and the reduction of human disturbance to river birds, such as the little tern.

22 hydropower plants were built in Austria, Slovenia and Croatia along the Drava, leaving only a short free-flowing section of the Drava, located mostly in Croatia, which is one of the last semi-natural rivers in Central Europe.

“The benefits of the project will be multiple. Not only for the environment, but also for the people who live in the area. The introduction of modern, environmentally friendly management methods will contribute to a better flood protection in populated areas. How important that is can be seen on the catastrophic floods of 2012, when the burst of embankments caused flooding of residential houses, industrial and agricultural facilities, infrastructure and agricultural land in Varazdin and Medjimurje County. The total damage reached a total amount of over € 65 million. However, the activities within the project will also greatly benefit a number of endangered species and habitats in Natura 2000 areas. The project will increase the recreational value of the area which is used for fishing, swimming and other activities”, said Deputy Minister of Environment and Nature Protection, Dr Mario Šiljeg at the opening of the project.

Through the cooperation of Hrvatske Vode, public institution for water management, County Institutions for nature protection, and non-governmental organizations, the key features of the Drava’s natural ecosystem will be restored by opening and creating new side arms, removal and adjustment of river dikes and other water structures, as well as through the preservation of natural retention areas and steep river banks. These procedures will benefit numerous endangered species and habitats within the Natura 2000 sites.

“Restoration of the river’s backwaters will provide better flood protection within the existing floodplain areas; contribute to local lowering of water levels and diversion of watercourses in urban areas, near bridges and villages during floods. The project will also have a positive impact on groundwater supplies because it will improve the reclamation of river infiltration into the groundwater and therefore stabilize and raise the groundwater level” Sc. Zoran Đuroković, General Manager of Croatian Waters said.

The main activities of habitat restoration will be carried out at seven locations along the Drava: Island Warwick (312 to 314.3 river km), Old Country Varazdin (289.3 to 292 river km), Donja Dubrava – Legrad (240 to 241.45 rkm) Most Botovo (226.6 to 227.9 river km), Novačka (214-217 rKM), Miholjački Martinci (104-106 rKM) and Podravska Moslavina (96-98 rkm). The project partners want to restore and preserve 1,000 metres of dynamic river banks, create 13 hectares of new dynamic river zones with gravel, sand and clay shores, restore or create 14.5 kilometres of backwaters and improve 300 hectares of floodplain forests.

“DRAVA LIFE project proves that a constructive cooperation between the non-governmental sector, government institutions and local governments is possible and that all can work together for the benefit of nature and the local population. The project is also a positive example for cooperation and the work to preserve natural values, not only for Croatia, but for the whole region”, Mr Sc Martin Solar, director of WWF Adria said.

During the project period partners will seek to reduce human disturbance of river birds during the breeding season and to improve the knowledge of the different Natura 2000 instruments to raise awareness amongst people. Furthermore, educational centres and paths along the Drava, information boards and points, as well as various communication and educational materials will be created. In addition, several exhibitions and campaigns will be held in cooperation with local people and schools.