Who would have thought that the glorious Engadin nature could become even more beautiful? Yet, the revitalisation of the Inn’s riparian zone did in fact add a unique charm to its attractiveness. Learn more about this prime example of effective landscape conservation.
It always did have a wild streak, the Inn at Bever. Since the mid-19th century, the locals sought to protect their borough from its floods that, with an eerie regularity and brimming with the force of nature, devoured pastures and meadows. However, their dams did not make much of a difference and the river gods continued to play their untamed games with the people.
Eventually, the 1950s were to be the «Decade of Floods»: In 1951, 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1957, the deluges of the Inn’s water haunted the region, not allowing the Engadin people enough time to finish repairing the damages of the last flood. Particularly severe damage was caused by the flood of August 1954 when wide breaches in the dams let the floods pass. Naturally, the water did drain off after some time but mud, sand and gravel were left behind and covered vast areas.
In the late 1950s, two additional dams were constructed in Bever that provided better protection. However, 50 years later considerable damages were revealed: Due to cracks and subsidence restructuring proved to be inevitable. More precisely: a 700,000 Swiss Franc-restructuring proved to be inevitable. Aside from this huge investment, a simple “just pave it!”-method was out of the question, because by that time the cracks already served as a habitat for many protected reptiles, such as adders.
A case study of students of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich regarding the widening of the canalised Inn gave the decisive impulse to action: It pointed out that the wet meadows along the river were valuable breeding areas and as such already classified as a “Riparian Zone of National Importance”. However, because they were not connected to the river, this important biosphere was in danger of drying up. Returning the Inn to the wild could provide a remedy, as this measure would result in the considerable widening of the riverbed.
Of course, they could not simply tear down the dams and wish the Inn «Well, good luck then …». The revitalisation was divided into two stages with extensive measures: From 2012 to 2013, the first phase on the left riverbank included among other things the evacuation of the adders as well as the tearing down of the dams, while since 2017 the second phase sees to new wilderness along the right riverbank.
Finally freed from its 1950s-corset in 2012/13, the Inn now flows with a width of 210 m and a length of 610 m through its new bed. As expected and hoped for, it proves to be a fickle builder: Here it flows slowly, there it flows quickly. Here it creates a new branch, there it completely floods a meadow. Flora and fauna say thank you, because the Inn now provide a new habitat for many animal species and pioneer plants: River trouts and graylings find new spawning grounds, sandpipers hatch on the gravel banks, and in the groundwater ponds grass frogs and Alpine newts bustle. Small mammals as well as insects benefit from the improved habitat conditions, and indigenous plant species take roots on the gravel and sand banks.
In order for the river to change its appearance to such an extent that this new biodiversity has room to develop, small and big floods are necessary «stages of life». Without these floods, foreign plants like Scots pines or spruces would overgrow the breeding sites of protected bird species and would drive out indigenous riparian vegetation. Knowing of this valuable natural cycle, we gladly put up with seeing – instead of flowers and blossoms – bare branches and roots lying around in flood plains.
Since 2011, revitalisation is an essential part of the Water Protection Act, which obligates the cantons and municipalities to strategically plan and implement revitalisations. However, the state does not only demand, it also supports the projects financially – a fact from with the Inn’s riparian zone benefitted visibly: It makes a vital contribution to biodiversity as well as to the local recreation for locals and guests.