The project of Meers is one where gravel mining was combined with natural development in a successful manner. Floodplains and dikes were lowered to increase the inundation of the floodplain. Floral development mimics that of the gradual slope of the floodplain, leading to a diverse community structure. The natural dynamics have been given more room which has led to the creation of islands in a rapid flowing part of the river. This part is well suited for macrophytes and fish that favor high flow velocities.
The site near the village of Meers is home to a very dynamic stretch of the Meuse river. The river has a strong declining slope near the current exit of the pool. This leads to a rapid in the river which has led to the formation of both the 'old' and the 'new island'. At the same time the river's dynamics have, in the past, led to the river trying to cut off the meander near Meers. This led to dangerous situations for the nearby inhabitants. To protect the village dikes were build to restrain the river. The banks and floodplain of the area are used for gravel mining.
To restore the dynamic character of the river a cooperation between the Dutch Water Authority (Rijkswaterstaat), a nature protection organisation (Natuurmonumenten) and the local gravel mining company (L'Ortye) was initiated. The dykes were lowered to allow more inundation of the floodplain. At the same time the gravel mining company started to lower the area by undeep mining of the gravel in the floodplain. This was done in such a way that a slow rising gradient was created in the landscape; the area being lowest near the river slowly rising. Also, a high water channel was dug as a safety measure during peak discharges. The area held an old pool which originated from earlier gravel mining activities. This pool was partially filled with excess materials of the site. This to make the pool more shallow and through this a more suitable habitat. All this work has led to dynamic landscape with many different habitats and river dynamics. The main advantage was that part of this project could be carried out by making arrangements with a gravel mining company in such a way that both the company and the ecological state of the area benefited.
No clear success criteria were found, perhaps because this was a trial project.
Macrophytes and phytobenthos
There has been a study into some indicative species of macrophytes in the area. It was shown that the site is home to a number of rare and characteristic species. Most of these occurred in the rapid, and are characteristic species for high flow velocities. Prior to the project a study was carried out which identified much of the same macrophytes, however it should be noted that the study was carried out in a year with very favorable conditions for macrophytes. All in all it is difficult to say with certainty if the macrophytes have been positively affected by the measure. In the worst case scenario they have remained the same, whereas in the best case they have developed well.
No study was conducted into benthic invertebrates.
The site is suitable for rheophilic fish, particularity the rapid and adjacent whirling pools serve as ideal habitat for these types of fish. Monitoring data could not be located, as such nothing sensible can be said about this.
The flora of the area shows a remarkable diversity in species. This diversity is much higher then it was prior to the project. As such it can be stated that the creation of a more diverse landscape has led to a more diverse floral composition. At the same time it should be noted that as succession progresses some rare species may well disappear and also the diversity may decline.
Traditionally the area of the project has been relatively scarce in the sense of bird occurrences. Since the project the numbers and species of birds have remained fairly constant. However, there has been a distinct change in the species composition in comparison to the composition prior to the project. The bird species have shifted towards a more characteristic composition for a river valley landscape.
The insects have been positively affected by the project. Both butterflies and dragonflies show an increase in rare species. The butterflies seem to be increasing still.
The river's hydrology has been affected in such a manner that it now has more space to flow into its floodplains. At the same time the high water channel was made to limit small peak discharges of the river, this to protect adjacent areas from flooding. As sensible as this is, it in fact limits the natural hydrology of the river somewhat.
The river has room to freely erode and deposit its sediment again. This has led to the formation of an island in the channel. The rising gradient of the floodplain has led to a gradient in flooding frequency which in turn is reflected in the flora of the site. Especially the rapid and the whirling pools nearby are great examples of morphological freedom of the river.
Monitoring before and after implementation of the project
In 1996, prior to the project, data was collected on the occurrence of macrophytes by Bureau Natuurbalans. For the project 'Maas in Beeld' data on macrophytes was collected from 1998 to 2006. This data was collected by Bureau Drift. For the same project data on birds, dragonflies and butterflies was also collected.
Ecosystem goods and services
Recreational use possible in the area, but only outside of the areas where active mining is taking place.
Conflicts and synergies
This project was carried out in synergy with flood defense. Increased room for the river was made and as such a lower chance of flooding exists during high discharges. Also, the high water channel helps with this. Another synergy in the project is the gravel mining. Gravel was mined for commercial uses and at the same time the floodplain was lowered, creating a win-win situation for both the gravel mining company as for the natural development of the area.