Living Lab Upper Peene Valley, Germany

The Living Lab “Upper Peene Valley” is located in the north-easternmost federal state of Germany Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania. The River Peene gives the region its name, a river measuring 100km in length from its source at Lake Kummerow to its estuary at Szczecin Lagoon at the Polish-German border. The River Peene has an extremely small hydraulic gradient of only 20cm over 85km. When water levels in the Baltic Sea are high or when strong winds blow from the East, an unusual phenomenon can be observed: the Peene flows upstream. The Upper Peene Valley lies within the Teterow and Malchin basin, which are natural depressions with many peatlands.

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History of the Upper Peene Valley & relation to climatic issues

Valley mires are a common landscape feature in northern Central Europe. The Peene Valley is known to be one of the largest contiguous fen areas in Central Europe, stretching partially up to 2km width and hosting around 15,000 ha of fen complexes. These peatland areas were formed approximately 10,000 years ago after the last ice age in the former meltwater runoff that formed the Peene Valley. Even though, the narrowness of the Peene Valley made it easily accessible and enabled an early use since medieval times. It is the least affected, most natural river valley mire in Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania.

Particularly over the last 100 years, the area was heavily drained and agriculture strongly intensified. Nowadays, almost 70 % of the approximately 100,000 ha Living Lab area is used for agriculture. About half of the area is arable land, of which 668 ha are peatlands. Approximately 20 % is used as grassland for grazing with dairy cattle and mowing, of which 10,138 ha are on peatland. Thus, two thirds of the total peatland area in the focus region is under agricultural use, a large part of it poldered by a complex system of dikes, pumps and drainage ditches. Due to this ongoing drainage on most of the peatlands in the focus region, peatlands degrade permanently and subside continuously. This means, that the peat is compacted and mineralized and the carbon bound in it escapes into the atmosphere as CO2. The drainage-based agricultural use of peatlands makes these already deeply drained peatlands less and less economically competitive, and their ongoing use is associated with high energy and cost expenditure (maintenance of dikes, operation of pumping stations, soil degradation) – a vicious circle.

Green House Gas emissions from peatlands in the Upper Peene Valley © Greifswald Mire Centre 2020

Restoration of peatlands & Paludiculture

But not all peatlands in the focus region are still being drained. So far, restoration measures have mainly taken place in the protected areas. Drainage was stopped in peat meadows near Lake Kummerow and the River Peene and the infrastructure of the polders was removed. Former peat cuts in between the Lake Kummerow and Lake Malchin, have been flooded and now create protected wetland and water habitats.

If the water levels of further areas were raised, the peatlands could develop into wet wilderness and managed habitats or continue to be available for agricultural production. In the rewetted parts with “nationally representative importance for nature conservation” of the protected area, land use is gradually decreasing after large-scale rewetting. On other peatland areas in the focus region, a continuation of agricultural use with paludiculture could be realised and developed. Small rewetted areas around Lake Kummerow are already used as wet meadows with adapted harvesting techniques.

Mowing of wet meadows close to Lake Kummerow © T. Dahms

Peatlands: both a challenge and an opportunity

The region around Malchin is strongly characterised by agriculture. Croplands, grassland and pastures shape the countryside. Along with agriculture and forestry, tourism is an important economic branch.

As previously explained, drainage-based agriculture not only has negative consequences for climate protection, but is also associated with rising costs. But as the drainage-based use of peatlands is still being subsidised via Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) payments, it lacks a political support for a shift to wet use/paludiculture. The current funding schemes don’t fit the needs on the ground because they are complicated, highly bureaucratic and address only single land users. But single land users can’t do the shift on their own, especially in poldered areas. For rewetting measurements, it needs consensus of all land users and land owners within hydrological units.  

However, in addition to its importance for the characteristic landscape and as recreational and leisure areas, the agricultural sector holds great potential for the further expansion and strengthening of regional value chains. In the public perception peatlands need to be recognized as a special feature and a great opportunity for the region with many potentials.

Co-creative workshop on transformation towards wet peatland utilization

Mid-November Michael Succow Foundation held a first workshop in the historical waterworks station of the city of  Malchin, in the centre of the Living Lab area. The question, worked on co-creatively during the workshop using various interactive methods, was “How can we achieve the transformation to wet peatland utilization in the Malchin region?

The aim of the workshop was to discuss concerns and opportunities and to develop possible solutions. The “system mapping” method was used as a kind of inventory to map perspectives and possible courses of action.

“Thanks to many years of collaboration with various institutions and organisations of the region, the discussions within the workshop were very solution- and practice-oriented. A wide range of different stakeholders – from agriculture, nature conservation, municipalities, forestry, administration, education, tourism, politics and science took up on the workshop invitation, bringing together a great diversity of knowledge and interests.”

Team of the Michael Succow Foundation

In the coming months, two further workshops in different formats and with additional methods will follow up on this. In order to collectively find an answer to the question posed at the beginning.

For further reading about paludiculture, the productive use of wet peatlands, have a look at the Information platform of the Greifswald Mire Centre.

Author of this post: Marie Lorenz

Header image: Landscape Walk in the Upper Peene Valley, © Sophie Hirschelmann

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