Practical water protection - Big Jump Challenge - Toolbox

Practical water protection

What is there actually to do practically speaking, at our river, stream or lake? What measures will help to improve the water quality or habitat diversity in our waters? And where can we ourselves be active?





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Why must we do something about our rivers, streams and lakes?

Most of our freshwaters have been greatly changed: the rivers have been straightened and their banks secured. There are weirs that regulate the water level, groynes, which direct the flow and protect the shore from erosion, and dikes holding high water and floods at bay in the riverbed. Even in smaller rivers, streams and lakes, human influence is apparent: trenches have been artificially created to drain the water from wet meadows. Streams flow in a fixed bed or even underground in a tube. Some small ponds and bogs have simply been filled. Often lacking at our freshwaters are bushes and trees that would have normally grown on their shores. They have been cut down, because otherwise one can not take machines into the freshwaters, for example to remove fallen trees and large branches, or dredge the waters. Today you can't see these changes only as positive: too much has been altered and destroyed.

Why don't we just leave freshwater in peace?

If we simply left our freshwaters be, nature would reclaim the river landscapes. That sounds great, however, that is not without its problems. On the one hand, this can sometimes occur quite quickly, but also cause great damage. For example, if fallen tree trunks and branches are not removed from the water, they can get caught at a bridge during the next flood or high tide. This can result in a jam and a terrible flood can occur, or the bridge could be strongly damaged, perhaps even ripped apart and torn down. On the other hand, it's entirely possible nature could take many, many years to wear down levees and flood protection walls, wash away an old weir or decompose a tube so that the stream flows above ground again at some point. If such artificial systems are no longer used today, it's better that people remove them immediately. We could also fasten tree trunks in the water which don't disturb the path of flow, so that fewer risks of destruction are posed, in cases of higher water. Thus people can help the restoration go faster, while at the same time ensuring that not so much damage is wrought. However people have to give a bit more space to allow rivers to be.

Isn't this a job for experts?

Water must not simply be changed for no good reason, and even if you have a permit, special equipment and expertise you're still often required to actually do some good. But there are a few things that each of us can do. And even professionals often have a need for helping hands who have a handle on implementation of water conservation measures. Below you can find tips on how you can plan your own action, and where you can learn who could use your help.

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The use of freshwater is always a great experience because you can see what you've done. Nevertheless, a conservation action requires good planning. Just getting started and rebuilding a body of water may either not be allowed, or something good may not always come out of it. Here you will find out about proposals for action, which your lake or river will really benefit from.

Session I: Clean-up

You are least dependent on the support of professionals if you first do the most obvious thing, which seems to have really nothing to do with freshwater directly: remove waste. Here you will find a guide to what you should consider, how you can do a little trash-research and the ideas that arise when one has first realized how much garbage in nature there actually is lying around - then you can also really get creative!

Session II: Restoration

River restoration means to make an artificially modified body of water return back a bit to being wild and natural. We actually need expertise here. Nevertheless, you can help, because even the experts often have to do a lot of manual work, and the money available in nature protection is always scarce. So one is therefore usually very pleased to have a committed volunteer squad!

Here's how it could work:

1) Just ask your local council or a conservation organization that is active locally in water protection, where help is needed. If you do not know which clubs are, ask the relevant national partner organizations on the Big Jump Challenge site, they can certainly help you.

2) Make an appointment and get clear about exactly what you offer and how you shall prepare yourselves. This can be quite different depending on the action

Possible tasks for restoration measures are:

  • remove non-native plants

So-called neophytes are plants that do not really belong here. Sometimes they are harmful to the stream banks or displace native species that require insects as food because they do not like or can not tolerate the newcomers. For this purpose, you need gloves, a good eye and a little bit of advanced knowledge of botany, lest you end up weeding the wrong plants. Moreover tick protection is very helpful when you are walking through tall grass and bushes.

  • Plant trees and shrubs

Protective strips on riverbanks provide cover, food and nesting sites. However, many freshwater shores are free of shrubs and trees, so that no branches fall into the water, allowing excavators to drive up to the lake or river to excavate or remove deadwood. To some extent, this has now been reversed. Therefore, so that animals seeking shelter don't have to wait so long for shrubs and trees to be sown and grow, you can help out here a little. Gloves are just as important as sturdy shoes and a good spade.

  • Set stones and dead wood

If there are obstacles in the water, a lot happens immediately: turbulence and quiet zones are created where the water flows slowly. Small stones and sand stick and form small sandbanks. Animals can climb on rocks and woods from the water or sit on them to drink the water. Many small animals use stones also to hide under. If you can help build such "water works", you should take your wellies or waders with you.


  • Even more inspiration

Learn what actions a school class can do at their stream from our interview with teacher and Big Jump Challenge participant Sabine Pemberneck. There you will find practical advice and encouragement as to what can be achieved with a little use imagination!

Big Jump Challenge Participants in the Mühlenriede Working Group (Fallersleben High School) check out what is happening at the stream after restoration measures have been implemented: there's a lot of life among the stones! Photo: Sabine Pemberneck






Have you conducted a special conservation action and can create a planning and instruction guide for it? Or do you have an instruction manual for a particularly great upcycling idea, e.g. a building guide or a template? Then bring it on and share it with us! We publish good ideas in the toolbox so that other teams can copy your ideas, and you raise your collaboration score!

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Get inspired by actions worldwide on river action day:



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Go back to the Toolbox Overview and pick another interesting topic!!

Come by and check it out again, we regularly update the Toolbox with new ideas!