The Peene - a wild river?

by Admin

A wild river report by Kristin Eisele.

In May-June 2017 I tested the wild river module for the river Peene, in the North-East of Germany. It is also called the Amazon of the North. It is known to be a highlight for kayaking because of its “untouched” scenery.

Below you can find the results of my explorations. I also add some hints and suggestions that could be helpful for you and your wild river in case you plan a similar investigation. For this reason, I also add photos. I believe that pictures (or other media) can be a helpful way to reflect on and to communicate the experience of a “wild” place.


Photo: Kristin Eisele

Short presentation of the River



Tip/Guidance for your own river exploration

Total length of the river

137 km

Look it up on the Internet or find a sign at the river

Length of the potentially wild section (min. 7 km!)

20 km

You can explore an undisturbed area by foot or boat and use apps to count the km you passed or you can determine the length of a suitable section with the help of Google Earth or Maps

Width of the river on the lower reach of the chosen section

69,50 meter

There is an easy tool on Google Earth that helps you measure the width. Otherwise you can take a rope and get wet (it is recommended to do this with at least 2 people)

GPS-coordinates of the border on the lower reach of your section.

13°33’11,84” E

53°51’36,48” N

You can find these on Google Earth for every point your mouse rests on. If you want to know what exactly is described by GPS-coordinates have a look here:

Wetland or water reserves, National parks, Natura 2000 or other protection status or labels of the river

Naturpark Flusslandschaft Peenetal since 2011

(covers 35.000 ha, developed from a big scale nature conservation project that ended in 2009).

There are several protected areas included and it is also protected by European law within the Fauna- Flora-Habitat Directive

Join forces with ambitious people or institutions that might already have most of the information you need. It is also important to know about the status of your area, so that you don’t accidentally cross the law or harm fragile habitats during your investigations. It is very likely that sections that are protected from human impact appear most wild to you but it could also happen that you discover a section that might need a label so it can be preserved! Try to find institutions via web search, your local NGOs, Tourist- and Info centers or ask the Environmental Agency

Formation & History of the river

[note: a criterion I added because it helps with the exploration!]


The Peene originated as a glacial runoff and naturally forms a huge riverine fen. For a longtime it was extensively used for meadows and small scale peat extraction. In the 20th century more intense agricultural use was implemented and large areas were drained.

To evaluate if a landscape is in a “wild “condition, it is important to know how this landscape you now face came into being. That includes it’s natural formation during the ages and also its development under human influence


Criteria for identification - PEENE, ARe YOU A WILD RIVER?


Sensible wilderness: When you walk along the river, do you feel like being in a natural surrounding?



I visited the Peene and when I was looking far up and downstream I had the impression to see a wild place. Only from my point of view in my direct surrounding, it was different. There were rubbish bags lying around, signs for anchoring, boats with loud music, anglers, and tourists talking to me, cars coming and going. I felt that it is a great advantage for this river to be surrounded by wetlands so that there is only few places where people can access the Peene. It is wild but only where I cannot enter it, and I admire this wild places although I cannot consume them and I cannot stay there.

Spend some time at the river. Try just to be there and to observe.

What are your impressions?

Are there many people around? Are  there other signs of human presence? Are there other living beings around that you would not see somewhere else? Is it calm or noisy? This is an intuitive question, there is no right or wrong. It can be helpful to channel your impressions with other media, make a recording, a photo or express your image in picture or poetry.

More than 90% of the riverbed are in a natural condition



As a lowland river, the Peene naturally lacks the dynamics of an alpine river, so straightening wasn’t necessary. Although the Peene flows very slowly it still is an official waterway and the bed was dredged at a few locations. But other than that the riverbed itself wasn’t modified much.

Consult your resources about the history of the river. You don’t necessarily have to find a number but try to get a solid impression on how much of the riverbed has been modified in your section, for example by straightening.

More than 90 % of the riverbanks are in natural condition



The Peene valley is one of the last big riverine fens of Central Europe. Its natural riverbanks are plain peatlands dominated by brown mosses. Strong melioration and large polder-systems changed the appearance and structure of the wetlands strongly.


There are no dams preventing the river from flowing freely




Dams or other obstacles in the stream disturb the ecological continuity of a river and can lead to severe changes in ecological processes like sedimentation or migration of species

There is less than one artifact per km in the streaming waters



Due to the big wetlands surrounding the Peene, it isn’t covered with construction

Artifacts in this case means; human made obstacles like bridges , fish traps or other objects in the stream that are only a minor disturbance to the ecological continuity of the river.

You can again find out with the help of google earth or count them during a boat trip.

Less than 10 % of the bottom of the valley are used for intense agriculture, infrastructure or human settlements



The Peene plains have been restored in the section examined here. Big parts of the degraded peatland are flooded again and there agricultural use isn’t possible anymore. Wetlands dominate the floodplains, and mainly meadows and little bits of forest are found in the surrounding. The nature park zone extends to approximately 5 km on both sides of the river

The size of the bottom of the valley usually is calculated as the width of the river multiplied with 20, but this is a rough estimation and cannot always be applied directly. There are handy maps and tools on the internet that show you the form of land use in a specific area, especially for floodplains too. For Germany:

More than 80 % of the river bank are inhabited by appropriate species. Is there special or rare species that inhabits your river?



The big swampy floodplains of the Peene are habitat to many bird- and amphibian species. Such habitats become increasingly scarce in Europe. The European otter finds refuge here and species that prefer nutrient poor grassland like the rare birds-eye-primrose can flourish.

What is an appropriate species?  A river is an ecosystem compiled of many different habitats that all hold a different set of typical species associations. In addition, it is dynamic rather than static and especially in times of globalization, migration of species is rapidly increasing. Nevertheless, you can define differences between species that are in an invasive phase and harm the characteristic ecological processes of the area. Also, there are some species that function as keystone species and indicate a sound balance of processes. To find out about the fauna and flora typical for the ecosystem of your river, try to find literature on the area in general. It can be a lot of fun to go out and see what you can actually find out there. Search for reports of local NGOs or environmental agencies (for the Peene case e.g. Maybe there has been some research done on the species composition? Maybe you want to have a look on google scholar, or you scroll through some general information on invasive species first:

The section of your river is classified to be in a “very good” or “good” status according to the European Water Framework Directive




The EU-Water Framework Directive is available in all EU-languages

To obtain information about your specific water body, you should inquire at your local environmental agency.



The exploration of this section of the Peen with the river action toolbox module aims at the question: is this section of the Peene “wild”?

It meets 7 out of 8 criteria and is therefore very close to being a wild river in the sense of these criteria. Unfortunately, the modification of the riverbanks was too severe to be disregarded. It is difficult to decide whether long-term damage by peat subsidence and degradation are dominating or the consequent activities of renaturation since 1992 play a greater role with regard on the wilderness of the Peene.

The obstacles for this ecosystem to find back to a natural state of a vivid lowland fen are the remains of intense agricultural production, drainage systems and polders, which cause severe peat degradation. Since the establishment of a large scale conservation project, there are efforts to stop the ongoing process of peat mineralization but as ecosystems are complex, slowly growing and reacting the output still concentrates on damage reduction rather than on renaturation. It isn’t easy to decide in what state this area can be called wild again or maybe it already is since industrial use stopped!? 

Much of this depends on the definition of a wild river . . .The river is still frequently used by humans, not for agricultural production but for recreation. In the river section discussed here, there are strict rules of interference with the river and people are being sensitized for the unique ecosystem they face, via Info-centers and many eco-tourism opportunities. So in this sense, the Peene is already recognized as a valuable and rare entity that deserves conservation and attention and which gives people the chance to feel its  wilderness coming back. Still, I think it would be a beneficial treat for the reputation of this section to be labeled as a wild river.

So over to you, wild river foundation?


Photo: Kristin Eisele


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