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LIFE+-Lavant: Habitats network for endangered small fish species (LIFE+ Lavant)
Start date: Oct 1, 2011, End date: Dec 31, 2015 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Background The Lavant was historically known as the richest fish river in the Austrian region of Carinthia, in terms of the occurrence of fish species as well as their density. The main reason for this was the high variety of specific river habitats (meanders, gravel banks, canyon courses). Through massive interventions, including straightening of the water course, disconnection of tributaries, reduction of the river width, bed and bank stabilisation, energy generation and inflow of sewage, only a few fish populations remain. These are mainly bound to a nearly-natural river segment: the canyon courses segment above Lavamuend (the “Lower Lavant”), a designated Natura 2000 network site. However, low numbers and lack of genetic exchange are threaten remaining fish stocks with extinction, especially rare species such as the Habitats Directive Annex I-listed Danube gudgeon (Gobio uranocopus), Danube barbel (Barbus petenyi), Streber (Zingel streber), Danube roach (Rutilus virgo) and Danube whitefin gudgeon (Romanogobio vladykovi). Objectives The LIFE+-Lavant project’s overall aim was to improve the number and size of highly-endangered small fish species populations in the river Lavant: the Danube gudgeon (Gobio uranocopus); Danube barbel (Barbus petenyi); Streber (Zingel streber); Danube roach (Rutilus virgo) and Danube whitefin gudgeon (Romanogobio vladykovi). Specifically, the project targeted a significant enlargement of the existing Natura 2000 network site and the restoration of important water and forest habitats found there, as well as improvements to the river continuum. The aim was to link specific habitats and allow the migration of small fish species. Another important goal was to inform local people about the project, the target species and the Natura 2000 network. Results The LIFE+-Lavant project created a continuum along the river Lavant, in particular to facilitate the movement of small fish species over a 21 km stretch upstream from its mouth into the Drava River. It achieved this through the implementation of a series of restoration activities. The project also raised awareness about the habitats and species of the Lower Levant (Untere Lavant) Natura 2000 network site. Concrete conservation actions involved reconnecting six tributaries and two oxbows to the Lavant, creating a new dynamic meander of 400 m length and a side arm of 300 m length, and re-structuring the riverbed over 440 m. The re-meandering of the river Lavant near Mettersdorf led to the creation or improvement of 6 ha of floodplain habitats and the creation of 0.08 ha of ponds. Establishing a river continuum for small fish species also involved the removal of drop structures (sills and barriers) at four locations. Restructuring the riverbed enabled 440 m of dynamic river habitats to be restored, including around 1 ha of the habitat types ‘Alpine rivers with herbaceous riverside vegetation’ (3220) and ‘Alpine rivers and their ligneous vegetation with Salix eleganos’ (3240). An area of ‘Alpine rivers and their ligneous vegetation with Myricaria germanica’ (3230) was restored with the planting of 10 German tamarisk on the riverbank. Habitat restoration for small fish species has increased the area suitable for spawning for certain species. The project team initiated a series of monitoring activities to assess the effectiveness of the restoration actions, including fish, amphibian, dragonfly and bat monitoring programmes. Hydro-morphological monitoring was conducted in 2012 and 2015, with the project finding the water level to be similar after the restoration work. Generally, the restoration measures were based on established best practice; though the project also implemented an innovative measure involving horizontal structures inserted in the riverbed, which needed to be a minimum distance from each other to avoid sedimentation. The coordinating beneficiary will monitor the further development of these re-structured riverbed sections. The project oversaw the enlargement of the Lower Levant Natura 2000 network site by 44.7 ha. Restoration actions in the new and existing Natura 2000 site area led to considerably improved habitat conditions for small fish species. The most significant improvement, assessed through fish monitoring, was an increase in the total taxa number. This increased at nearly all the measurement sites. The occurrence of the rare barbell species Barbus petenyi was documented in the whole restored part of the Lavant and in several tributaries. The project created a management plan for the future development of the Lower Levant Natura 2000 site. For this, all habitat types were mapped, zoological data gathered, conservation status analysed, conservation targets defined, and restoration measures formulated. Within the Natura 2000 site, the project established five visitor resting points with information boards and constructed an observation tower, which considerably improved the attractiveness to visitors of the hiking and biking trail along the river Lavant. Workshops, three excursions and three actions days were organised. Awareness was also raised through the project website, folders, postcards, posters and other dissemination materials. Cooperation with the public, and in particular with school classes, led to a better understanding of the project’s work and nature conservation in general. The involvement of local construction firms with experience in the area proved successful, as they could efficiently react to changed conditions and optimise the construction processes. The removal of berms and the widening of the river banks at one site also led to flood prevention benefits.
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