Emån river

The main purpose with the LIFE CONNECTS in Emån river is to improve connectivity and river habitats to gain favorable conservation status for prioritised Nature 2000 habitat types and species, especially Atlantic Salmon, Freshwater pearl mussel, Thick-shelled river mussel and Eurasian otter. 

The Emån river is located in the southeastern part of Sweden and is 229 km long with a catchment area of ​​approximately 4500 km2. Its sources is in the Småland highlands in Nässjö municipality and flows through a very varied landscape, with pine forests and marshes in the upper parts and agricultural land as well as deciduous forests in its lower parts, to finally enter in the Baltic Sea at Em in the northern part of the Gulf of Kalmarsund.
Emån river is designated as a national interest in nature conservation and parts of the river basin are also designated as national interest in cultural environmental conservation and outdoor life. Although the river is considered one of Europe’s most valuable water for Brown trout and European catfish, it has moderate ecological status today (classification according to the Water Framework Directive, WFD). This is mainly due to lack of connectivity as a result of a large number of migration barriers that adversely affect  fish populations in the system. In addition, the river has been straightened and cleaned from riverbed structures during the the timber era, which has largely reduced the diversity of habitats and structures in the watercourse. Acidification from acid rain in 1970 poses another threat to biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in the river, especially in its upper part, but has largely been reduced as a result of extensive liming. Similarly, the supply of nutrients has decreased as a result of improved agricultural and rural management. However, eutrophication is still a problem in the lower parts of the basin.

The Emån river has high natural values ​​and about 30 of the 50 freshwater fish found in Sweden are found in the system, including the Natura 2000 species of Atlantic salmon (Salmo trutta), asp (Leuciscus aspius), spined loach (Cobitis taenia) and European bullhead (Cottus gobio). The Atlantic salmon population in Emån river is in poor condition due to lack of connectivity, impact on hydrology and and the lack of suitable spawning areas. The hydropower plant at Högsby, which is located approximately 55 km from the sea, represents the upper limit for salmon production in the river, including tributaries.
Two of Europe’s most threatened freshwater mussels, Freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) and the Thick-shelled river mussel (Unio crassus) are found in Emån river. However, the density of Freshwater pearl mussels has decreased dramatically since 1986, when the first density estimates were made. The reduction of mussels can be directly linked to the reduction of host fish (i.e. salmon for the Freshwater pearl mussel), acidification, eutrophication and loss of habitats.
Emån river also has a high value for the terrestrial plants and animals living near the river. Bird species associated with running water, such as the Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) occur on stretches of bank erosion that create suitable sites for excavation of nests. The White-throated dipper (Cinclus cinclus) uses ice-free sections to search for food during the winter. Mammals such as Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra), which is listed as a protected species under the Habitats Directive, are also found in the upstream parts of the catchment area.

The proposed restoration measures, river restoration and removal of barriers, will be carried out at about 55 km of the Emån river. This will result in that  migratory fish once again can reach the spawning areas and habitats that have been inaccessible for a long time. In addition, the habitats for mussels and other aquatic and semi-aquatic species will be improved, especially in areas where the river sometimes is divided into several smaller streams and re-joined. These habitats are considered very valuable areas for biodiversity. Consequently, the actions of LIFE CONNECTS in Emån river will improve connectivity, hydrology, water quality, biodiversity, fish production and habitats, and thus improve the conservation status and conditions for the Atlantic salmon,  Freshwater pearl mussel and  Thick-shelled river mussel.
The main river of Emån and several of the tributaries are designated as Natura 2000 areas. The dominant habitat types are “Natural larger watercourses of the Phoenician type” and “Watercourses with floating leaf vegetation or aquatic mosses” (Natura 2000 codes: 3210 and 3260). Designated Natura 2000 species are Atlantic salmon, asp, spined loach, Eurasian bullhead, freshwater pearl mussel, thick-shelled river mussel, lemon-spotted marshland dragonfly, and Eurasian otter.
Once the target species has re-established in the Natura 2000 areas, management plans will be updated in accordance with post-restoration conditions (both habitats and species). Similarly, the plan for national interest of outdoor life will be updated at the next upcoming revision. Emån river is important for recreation activities such as hiking, canoeing and fishing, education and tourism in Kalmar County. The river is perhaps best known for its large and fast-growing brown trout and thousands of tourists and anglers from all over the world visit and experience the river every year. The current world record of 15.3 kg was caught at Em near the mouth of the river in 1993. The restoration of Emån river will serve as a tool for education that raise public awareness of natural values ​​and the importance of preserving valuable species and habitats. LIFE CONNECTS will promote more people to visit Emån river.

This post is also available in: Svenska (Swedish)