The Natura 2000 site “Salzachauen” covers an area of 1 145 ha and is located on the right side of the River Salzach. It stretches from the north of the town of Salzburg up to the border to the Upper Austria region. The Natura 2000 site includes an SCI site and a SPA site (Salzachauen), which largely overlap.
Within the project area the lower parts of the River Salzach belong to the few rivers in the alpine upland that are not dammed. About 60 km of free flowing river course stretches from Salzburg to the mouth of the River Salzach into the River Inn. The floodplains of the Salzach belong to the largest wetlands of Austria. Despite being surrounded by urban structures of a densely populated region, the alluvial area is home to numerous endangered species and habitats. It provides important habitats for protected breeding and resting birds.
Currently, the ecological conditions in the Salzachauen are unfavourable and the natural potential of the region is not satisfactorily developed. The main problems are intensive forestry associated with a high share of non-natural vegetation, insufficient morphologic dynamics, hunting, lack of alluvial water bodies, as well as unsatisfactory cooperation with the fishery and tourism sectors.
The LIFE Salzachauen project aimed to significantly improve the condition of the Salzachauen as one of Austria's most important alluvial forests. This would be achieved in a demonstrative way by using the high potential of Salzachauen’s habitats and species and by adopting sustainable tourism practices. The project would carry out conservation measures on 118 ha of alluvial forest ecosystem and optimise natural processes for target habitats and species.
The specific objectives of the project were to: 1. Optimise the habitat qualities of the alluvial forests in the Weitwörther Au; 2. Improve hydrological and morphological dynamics; 3. Carry out ecological wildlife management instead of trophy hunting; 4. Increase the spawning grounds for amphibians; 5. Transform the “Ausee” into a rich habitat for fish and birds; and 6. Inform visitors about Natura 2000 conservation objectives.
The LIFE Salzachauen project resulted in the successful restoration of the alluvial area of the Weitwörther Au in Austria, and the creation of an exemplary visitor infrastructure.
The core measure was the purchase of 127 ha of land by the state of Salzburg, where the following ecological improvements were realised:
- 6.6 ha of the floodplains of the
Reitbach creek were lowered (by about 1.5 m) to improve local characteristics in the riparian zone, by removing topsoil. On a length of 1.4 km, water body structures were modified to restore dynamic water flow aspects; the Ukrainian brook lamprey (Eudontomyzon mariae) was reintroduced in the Reitbach creek;
- 14 amphibian ponds were created;
- The lake Ausee was transformed and revitalised on an area of 10.5 ha, for example, using excavated soil to create shallow banks, fishing was terminated and fishing infrastructure removed, and populations of the native fish species, including European bitterling (Rhodeus amarus), were boosted through habitat improvements;
- Spruce stands were converted on around 15 ha by harvesting, 14 000 individuals of native tree species were planted. 54 ha of near-natural alluvial forests were left to natural processes, and an additional 35 ha of forest conserved after implementing the initial measures;
- A management concept for wildlife ecology was developed, for example, on 247 ha hunting is now aligned with ecological targets of the Natura 2000 site;
- An attractive and barrier-free riparian forest experience path (“Auenerlebnisweg”) with points of interest, and a bird hide and viewing platforms were built. Ten information boards and an accompanying brochure tell stories that invite people to discover more about the site and related wildlife issues;
- Intensive public relations work was done (39 excursions and 2 actions days). Visitor regulation and awareness raising for Natura 2000 were significantly improved;
- Two expert symposiums and further networking activities were organised, resulting in an "expert publication" with valuable good practice content.
The project's activities are well embedded in the overall concept for the Natura 2000 site.
With the complementary project "Auenwerkstatt", two jobs (FTE) were created for site management and educational activities. All actions are being continued and sustained after the LIFE project.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report (see "Read more" section).