Virån river

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

Virån river is located in the southeastern part of Sweden and runs from its source, the lakes Ver, Illern and Hummeln, in Småland County to the Gulf of Kalmar Sound, where it enters into the Baltic Sea north of the city of Oskarshamn in Kalmar County. Together with the tributaries, it is 160 km long. The catchment area consists of a complex system of oligotrophic lakes and rivers in a steep ravine landscape surrounded by farmland and forests with large parts of deciduous trees.
Virån river has moderate ecological status (classification according to the Water Framework Directive, WFD) mostly due to lack of connectivity and morphological changes. The river has been altered by human activities for a long time and is affected by hydrological changes as a result of drainage, straightening and barriers. Within LIFE CONNECTS, around 16 km of the river will be restored through river restoration measures, ie block restoration and laying of pebbles, as well as removing barriers and constructing fauna passages. The measures will help improve the migration possibilities for fish and restore habitats for fish and other aquatic organisms in and around the river Virån.

In Virån river, there are reported to exist about 20 fish species, of which Spined loach (Cobitis taenia) and European bullhead (Cottus gobio) are prioritized in the management plan for the Natura 2000 sites. A glacial relic, Fourhorn sculpin (Myoxocephalus quadricornis) is also found in the river. Six species of Swedens larger mussels are found in Virån river, including the threatened Thick-shelled river mussel (Unio crassus). The population in Virån river represents one of the largest population of this mussel species in Kalmar County, which makes it especially valuable for conservation.
The Virån river also has a high value for terrestrial plants and animals that live near the river , as it contributes to a mosaic of habitats and excellent sites for nesting and dormant birds, such as the Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) and White-throated dipper (Cinclus cinclus). In the upstream parts of the cathment the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) is present, a species that are protected according to the Habitats Directive.
Within LIFE CONNECTS, measures will be implemented to improve connectivity, hydrology, water quality, biodiversity, fish production and habitats in Virån river. The project will  improve the conservation status of, among other things, the Thick-shelled river mussel. In particular, the habitats in flowing waters will increase since riverstretches with fast flowing water are missing today as a result of human activities  through damming, straightening and cleaning of riverbed structures. It has contributed to lack of migratory paths for fish and reduced complexity in the form of removal of structures (boulders, larger stones and dead wood) that reduces biodiversity. The measures will restore free migration pathways and habitats, ie spawning and nursery areas, for salmon and other migratory species. This will also increase the populations and spreading of host fish for the Thick-shelled river mussel in the river. Increased quantities of these fish species, in combination with the recreation of suitable mussel habitats, will strengthen the mussel population and improve the conservation status of this threatened species. Mussels provide ecosystem function services such as purification of water and nutrients which significantly increases biodiversity and reduces nutrient transport locally and downstream to the sea.

Most of the Virån river is designated as Natura 2000 sites and the dominant habitat typses are “Estuaries”, “Oligo-mesotrophic lakes with shoreline, bream grass or annual vegetation on exposed beaches” and “Waters with floating leaf vegetation or aquatic mosses” (Nature 2000 codes 1130, 3130 and 3260). Designated Natura 2000 species are European bullhead, Spined loach, Thick-shelled river mussel, the dragonfly Yellow-spotted whiteface and Eurasian otter.
When the effects of the measures show favorable conservation status, the management plan for the Natura 2000 sites will be revised. Similarly, the plan for national interest in outdoor recreation will be revised. Virån river is an important area for outdoor activities such as hiking, canoeing, fishing, education and tourism in Kalmar County. Thousands of tourists visit and experience the beauty of the Natura 2000 sites in Virån river chatcment every year. Restoration in Virån river will further raise public awareness of natural values ​​and the need for river restoration.

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