For hydropower and wildlife conservation

3/3/2021Vienna

With often uniquely diverse wildlife around the VERBUND hydropower plants, nature itself is an outstanding witness for the company’s achievements. Areas totalling 4,000 hectares were placed under conservation after construction of the power plants. And by 2028, VERBUND will have invested around another €280m in improving the coexistence of hydropower, nature and the environment.

“Hydropower is most efficient and reliable form of renewable electricity generation,” says VERBUND CEO Michael Strugl, stressing the importance of hydropower for the energy revolution. The technical structures undoubtedly leave their mark on nature, but Austria’s waterbodies were modified by settlement and for shipping long before the arrival of hydropower. Here as well as, Strugl emphasises the positive strengths of hydropower: “The VERBUND hydropower plants are now one of the driving forces behind the ecological upgrade of the Austria’s waterbodies and thus support wildlife diversity. The practised sustainable use of hydropower means creating value added for people and the environment. With often uniquely diverse wildlife around the VERBUND hydropower plants, nature itself is an outstanding witness of the company’s achievements.”

Wildlife diversity on the Danube increasing

VERBUND has assumed a leading position on the Danube for rewilding projects on a European scale. Spectacular success has been achieved in recent years with the support of the European Commission, the Federal Ministry for Agriculture, Regions and Tourism, the provincial governments of Upper and Lower Austria and the regional fishing associations. 
Many plants and animals are benefiting from the extensive ecological projects along the Danube, in particular the key fish species of Danube salmon and common nase, as well as rare amphibians and insects. Shining examples include the new mouth of the Traisen at Altenwörth (LA) and European’s longest fish pass in Ottensheim-Wilhering (UA). Surveys performed after completion show the enormous growth in quantity and species diversity. For example about 52 of the 60 known species of fish have already been identified.  The goal of VERBUND is not simply to fulfil statutory requirements, but also to create a coalition of all stakeholders for large-scale measures, whose effects are felt far beyond the actual project area. The huge investments already made in this regard are creating ecological value added for coming generations. Further projects with EU participation have already been submitted.

Habitat on the Inn in Bavaria and Upper Austria

The Inn, over large distances the border river between Bavaria and Austria, also clearly shows how people have changed rivers in centuries past. In a similar way to the Salzach, the Inn along the border is also strongly characterised by land reclamation, flood defences and navigability, but above all by the desire for a defined, unchanging course of the border, which was the reason for making structural changes to the river’s flow.  At the same time, the section of river on the Lower Inn is a model example of how hydropower can strongly and positively accentuate the opportunities for new habitats. A well-known example is the Bavarian-Upper Austrian conservation area around four large power plants on the Inn, which has developed over a good half century into a natural habitat of global importance. Large shallow water zones and unique floodplain forest islands were created in the Lower Inn European Reserve – new habitats for a large number of unique plants and animals.

VERBUND is working continuously to create ecological accents. For example, at the Ering-Frauenstein power plant, it has been possible to (re-)create habitat over a length of around 2.6 km by designing a large, structured fish pass and connecting it to the Inn. This will have a substantial impact on species diversity on and in the main river. 
VERBUND is also a partner of the interreg project “Innsieme”, which is dedicated to wildlife conservation and the creation of environment on the Inn from source to mouth under the leadership of the WWF. With the EU-funded project “LIFE Riverscape Lower Inn” launched at the end of 2020, VERBUND and the project partners are taking on the task of making the river landscape on the Lower Inn more attractive. 
Until 2027, VERBUND is investing around €80m alone in the ecological upgrade of the Inn habitat in Bavaria and on the section of border between Bavaria and Austria.

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Florian Seidl Florian Seidl

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