Blue Belt Germany (Blaues Band Deutschland)

Waterways are not only an important part of Germany’s transport infrastructure: rivers, riparian zones and floodplains represent valuable ecosystems for plants and animals and offer attractive opportunities for leisure and recreation. Restoring the federal waterways to a more natural state is the declared objective of the programme ‘Germany's Blue Belt’, a joint initiative by the Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport (BMDV) and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV). Here the German government relies on the expert knowledge and many years of experience of the German Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration (WSV).

One focus of the programme is to create a network of ecological stepping stones that connect valuable habitats along highly frequented waterways. Stepping stones promote the exchange between species and facilitate the animal and plant colonisation of larger areas by increasing their geographical range. Additionally, areas along waterway sections that play a minor role for transport offer larger-scale opportunities for renaturation: old river branches are reconnected to their main waterway, bank protection structures are removed or replaced with nature-orientated alternative protection measures and valuable riverine and floodplain habitats are expanded. As one of the specialist agencies involved in the ‘Blue Belt’ programme, the BAW contributes expert input to discussions of specific model projects for the River Weser and the River Rhine. The BAW also supports other specialist institutions with the implementation of projects by advising them on questions of hydraulic engineering, geotechnics, shipping and maintenance.

Even though each project requires complex investigations and considerable planning, monitoring and documentation work, initial successes demonstrate that even in the core network of intensively used waterways economic improvements can be reconciled with ecological enhancement.