Helge å river - Vramsån tributary

The main purpose with LIFE CONNECTS in Helge å river – Vramsån tributary is to improve connectivity and river habitats to gain favorable conservation status for prioritised Nature 2000 habitat types and species, especially Atlantic salmon, Freshwater pears mussel and Thick-shelled river mussel.

Helge å river is located in the southeastern part of Sweden and the catchment area is 4 750 km2. The river has its source on the southern Swedish highlands in the area of ​​Rydaholm in Jönköping County and Lake Femlingen in Kronoberg County and enters into the Gulf of Hanöbukten in the Baltic Sea in Skåne County. Within LIFE CONNECTS, it is mainly in the second largest tributary of Helge å river, Vramsån tributary, that measures will be implemented. Vramsån is just over 56 km long and has a catchment area of ​​almost 375 km2.
Vramsån has a winding character with riffel and pool sections surrounded by deciduous and coniferous forests and small-scale agriculture in its upper parts. In the lower part of the catchment area, land use is gradually becoming more intensified agriculture. Vramsån tributary has been altered by human activities for a long time and affected by straightening, cleaning of riverbed structures and dams, which affects the longitudinal connectivity of the tributary, ie the possibility of migration for animals and natural transportation of plants, sediment and organic material within the tributary and to the headstream of Helge å river.

The ecological status of Vramsån tribytary is classified as moderate (classification according to the Water Framework Directive, WFD) due to problems such as eutrophication and lack of connectivity. Despite this, the river has high natural values ​​and it has been reported that 12 fish species is present in the tributary, including three of LIFE CONNECTS target species: Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), European eel (Anguilla anguilla) and European river lamprey (Lampetra fluviatilis). Salmon is one of the protected species in the Habitats Directive and prioritised in the management plan for the Natura-2000 area of Vramsån tributary. Noteworthy, is that all seven larger mussel species found in Sweden is present in Vramsån, including the endangered Freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) and Tthick-shelled river mussel (Unio crassus). Both of these species are protected species in the Habitats Directive and are designated as target species in the management plans for the Natura-2000 area. However, the recruitment of these two mussel species is considered to be poor in Vramsån and measures are needed for both the mussels and their host fishes.
Vramsån also has a high value for terrestrial plants and animals living nearby the river, especially bird species such as Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) and White-throated dipper (Cinclus cinclus). Other species that move around the watercourse are the Whiskered bat (Myotis mystacinus) and Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra), which are protected in the Habitats Directive. The rare plant River water-crowfoot (Ranunculus fluitans) is also found in Vramsån tributary. It grows in about ten places in the tributary and in the nearby Mjöån tributary. These are the only known locations in the Nordic region and constitute the northern limit of the species’ distribution. The ability for seeds to dispers within the tribytary and downstreams to the headstream of Helge å river is very important for this rare plant.

The restoration of  habitats and creation of fauna passages at barriers in Vramsån tributary, is a strategically important measures, as already existing spawning areas will become available for migratory fish species as well as the mussels when increasing numer of host fishes will be present in the tributary. Vramsån tributary is one of the most valuable watercourses within the Helge å river catchment  and improvements in the biodiversity of the tributary is of great importance. When the tributary is opened for fish migration, the amount of host fish for mussels, such as Atlantic salmon and Brown trout for the Freshwater pearl mussel, as well as Spined loach and European bullhed for the Thick-shelled river mussel, will increase, which promotes the reproduction of mussels in the long term. In order to strengthen the mussel populations in the short term, mussel reintroduction is also needed.
Almost the entire Vramsån tributary are designated as Natura 2000 area, 39 km of the main river and at 10 km in three of its tributaries. The Natura 2000 sites are dominated by the natural habitat 3260, “Watercourses with floating leaf vegetation or aquatic mosses”. Of the projects target species Atlantic salmon, Freshwater pearl mussel and Thick-shelled river mussel are designated Nature 2000 species at the sites.
Once the target species have recolonized the area, the management plan for the Natura-2000 area will be updated. Similarly, the plan for national interest in outdoor life will be updated at the next upcoming revision. Vramsån tributary and its surroundings are a popular place for hikers, bird watchers, fishing, horse riding and other outdoor activities. Many tourists visit Vramsån tributary every year to see and experience its beauty and power. LIFE CONNECTS will promote more people to visit Vramsån tributary.

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