Vindel River LIFE – Restoration of tributaries of the Vindel river combined with monitoring and evaluation of ecological responses of species and habitats (LIFE08 NAT/S/000266)

Vindel River LIFE is a collaborative project between Umeå University, Vindel River Fishery Advisory Board, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and after a decision in April 2014 also the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management. The original project time was 2010-2014 but due to prolonging the project will end 31 of October 2015.

The project aims at reducing the effects of fragmentation and channelization in the Vindel River catchment by removing former timber-floating installations. The objective is to achieve a good water status in the river and an increased conservation status for the species in the area. To achieve this 25 tributaries along a total river stretch of 44 km have been restored. 

Two different types of restoration actions have been used. The first one, “best practice action”, is based on methods previously used in other restoration projects in Vindelälven. The other one, “demonstration action” has previously only been used in a few smaller studies.

All work carried out during the project period has led to new experiences that have developed the restoration work.

Best practice action

Parts of 19 tributaries and in total about 40 kilometres of rapids have undergone best-practice restoration. This includes:

  • opening of migration routes past dams
  • opening of side-channels
  • restoration of fish habitats
  • restoration of spawning areas

18 splash dams which were obstacles to fish migration have been removed by the project, which means that about 250 kilometres of inaccessible rapids have been made available. Furthermore, a large number of side channels which were closed during timber floating have been reopened. Together, these two actions facilitate the migration of salmon and trout. Of course, the new waterways also facilitate the dispersal of other animals and plants.

It was earlier believed that only the large boulders in the water were important for fish. Today, we know that access to areas with riverbeds of gravel and pebbles, where many fish spawn and leave their eggs, is determining for example for the long-term status of trout stocks. Therefore, the project has restored almost 1 000 spawning beds in the watercourses in question.

Constructing spawning ground. Photo Anders Fredriksson

Demonstration action

Demonstration restoration has been performed in ten tributaries which underwent best-practice restoration during the 1990s or early 2000s. Back then, the restoration was done in a very cautious way, compared to the best-practice restoration done by Vindel River LIFE. Often the action was limited to returning the blasted stone pieces from the riparian areas, and watercourses were only rarely widened. In the demonstration restoration, the project has gone one step further. Large boulders and whole trees have been taken not only from the stream edges, but also from the surrounding areas, and placed into the watercourses.

New spawning beds have also been constructed in these watercourses. Demonstration restoration has been applied to nearly four kilometres of rapids.

To assess the effect of the demonstration action, follow-up studies have been done where the demonstration stretches were compared with traditionally restored reference stretches which in most cases were situated upstream in the same river. The studies focused on the ecological effects of the restoration where the impact on production and distribution of various fish species were investigated, as well as how the plant community in the riparian zone is affected.

More from these studies can be found on the page Results.

Life-OlsbäckenBoulders are taken from the forest and placed in the stream. Photo Daniel Jonsson

Why restoration?

The restoration will generate wider and more complex tributaries, which will lead to more diverse water flow and increased water levels. This will decrease erosion during high flow and reduce the risk of losing spawning areas. Improved conditions regarding velocity and dynamics will reduce the flood risk in lower reaches during high flow. The reinstated boulders are expected to ease the formation of a protective ice layer on the streams during winter, which prohibits the formation of frazil ice and anchor ice.

The conditions for aquatic biota are expected to improve directly (via changes in habitat) and indirectly (via changes in the availability of food). The increased water volume will lead to increased retention of organic material and increased detritus storage and processing, which in turn will increase the insect biomass and hence the promotion of ecological processes in which insects are involved. The opening of side channels that have been inaccessible during timber-floating operations will improve fish migration between suitable habitats. Eventually this might lead to changes in distribution of fish species.

Restoration is also expected to improve conditions for species in the riparian zones, such as riparian plants and mammals. It will improve land-water interactions, favoring riparian as well as bottom and water habitats. Restoration will also increase heterogeneity in substrates, vegetation and riparian structure; favoring naturally occurring species, including otter (Lutra lutra) that depend on fishable river reaches in the winter.

Why mess with the watercourses?

Before the rapid development of the forest industry, and timber floating, the streams were bordered by large, largely untouched forests. They provided dead wood to the water as trees blew over or died. These riparian forests were the first to be cut down when floating was initiated. One reason was that they were close to the watercourses, which made timber transportation simple, another reason was that they were an obstacle to timber floating. As the riparian forests disappeared, the number of dead trees in the streams diminished. This has been a great loss to the aquatic environment since the trees act as dams, causing regular floods of nutrient-rich water in the riparian zone, and also serve as a larder, since organic material, such as leaves and grass is trapped by the branches and eaten by aquatic insects, which in turn are eaten by fish.

In the same way as large boulders, dead wood also slow down the water and cause local flooding, thereby providing good conditions for a species-rich and productive vegetation. Large boulders also offer perfect holding sites for fish and promote the formation of a protective ice layer on the watercourses in winter. Such an ice layer prevents the formation of frazil ice and anchor ice, which otherwise cause major problems for plants and animals.

Primary school education

The so called Nature School in Umeå has played a central part in Vindel River LIFE by being responsible for education and professional development. This school has visited school classes along the river and invited the staff to participate in conferences and seminars. The aim has been to create awareness, interest and knowledge of the cultural heritage and ecology of watercourses and surrounding areas. Some of the activities have taken place in the classroom, but most teaching has been taken place outside, on the edges of the Vindel River.

Here you can download a brochure in Swedish about the project Vindel River LIFE

Here you can download our Project Management Plan

Here you can download our Workplan for Demonstration sites