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Natura 2000 – facts and figures

Large parts of the biosphere reserve with its 56,760 hectares have been designated as Natura 2000 European Protection Areas.

They include the special area of conservation (SAC) ‘Elbniederung zwischen Schnackenburg und Geesthacht’ (‘Elbe lowlands between Schnackenburg and Geesthacht’) covering 22,654 hectares as well as the 34,028 hectares of the Special Protection Area (SPA) according to the Birds Directive for the Lower Saxonian Middle Elbe region. (Large parts of the two areas overlap each other.)

The SAC has been designated to promote the protection of certain types of habitat and species, some of which are accorded a special degree of protection. Current estimates return the following figures in respect of larger scale measures for different habitat types:

- Alluvial meadows of river valleys of the Cnidion dubii: 553 ha,
- Lowland hay meadows: 1,207 ha,
- Hydrophilous tall herb fringe communities of plains: 170 ha,
- Rivers with muddy banks: 401 ha,
- Oligotrophic to mesotrophic standing waters: 227 ha,
- Inland dunes: 20 ha

as well as various forest habitat types:

- Alluvial forests with Alnus glutinosa and Fraxinus excelsior 180 ha,
- Riparian mixed forests 108 ha,
- Old acidophilous oak woods with Quercus robur on sandy plains 95 ha,
- Asperulo-Fagetum beech forests: 68 ha

The biosphere reserve provides a habitat for a very wide range of plants and animals. About 1,080 vascular plants have been identified within its borders, of which 260 species are included on the Red List of threatened species. Added to this there are 113 moss and lichen species.

The animal kingdom is also remarkably well represented in the biosphere reserve, for instance with 110 [diurnal] butterfly species, 16 types of bat, 11 amphibians, 44 molluscs and 40 species of fish.

The hermit beetle (Osmoderma eremita), which can be found in the reserve, has been given highest priority according to the EU's FFH Directive. Many other animal species are listed in Annex II of the Directive, including the fire-bellied toad (Bombina bombina), the greater Capricorn beetle (Cerambyx cerdo) as well as the beaver (Castor fiber) and the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra), of which the Lower Saxonian populations are concentrated mainly in this region.

The SPA for the Lower Saxonian Middle Elbe region covers a little less than two-thirds of the biosphere reserve. 71 percent of the area lies within the administrative district of Lüneburg and 29 percent in the district of Lüchow-Dannenberg.

The Birds Directive lists groups of species which serve as value indicators for a given area. 29 of the nearly 150 different breeding bird species of the Elbe lowlands are protected by the Birds Directive, as well as 41 migrant species.

In view of the numbers of birds which use the reserve as a resting area in winter, its importance as a refuge is on an international scale.

The following average figures were determined for visiting birds over the past few years: 1,400 whooper swans (Cygnus cygnus), 700 Bewick’s swans (Cygnus bewicki), 37,000 white-fronted geese (Anser albifrons) and 22,000 bean geese (Anser fabalis). In some years peaks of 2400 for whooper swans, 1,500 Bewick’s swans, 40,000 bean geese and 76,000 white-fronted geese have been observed.

white-fronted geese

In some years peaks of 76,000 white-fronted geese have been observed.

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