The Oder is one of the largest rivers in Central Europe. It rises in the Oder Mountains (Oderské vrchy) in the Czech Republic, from where it flows towards the border with Poland. For a short section it is the border river between Poland and the Czech Republic. The longest section is in Poland (503 km). From the confluence of the Lusatian Neisse river to the dividing into Western Oder and Eastern Oder, it marks the border between Germany and Poland (163 km).
Like other large rivers, the Oder has played a key role in the lives of the people living in its neighbourhood. Systematic work on flood protection and to facilitate navigation took place in the middle of the 18th century. Dozens of crosscuts were made to bypass the narrowest bends in the river, thereby shortening the course of the river by around 160 km. In the 19th century there was a further intensification of the regulation work to make the river bed navigable for larger barges. New locks for shipping were built and the groyne system was expanded using new technologies. Constantly new floods with serious consequences meant that the dyke system was further developed and flood polders were created.
Despite this extensive remodeling of the natural environment, there is still a high diversity of biotopes and species along the Oder river. Again, and again we find well-preserved large forest complexes, species-rich floodplains and meadows, as well as backwaters typical of river valleys, which testify to the earlier natural character. Many of the plants and animals resident here are included in regional and national Red Lists of endangered species. The Oder also represents one of the most important ecological corridors in Central Europe for species migration and connection between distant areas. It is one of the last rivers in Europe through which fish and other animals can travel more than 500 km barrier-free to the sea.
The enormous biodiversity of the Oder is recognized at European level and therefore many areas are protected. Within the European Union, areas of special interest are protected by the Natura 2000 network, the aim of which is to ensure the survival of the species and habitats listed under the European Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive. The waters of the Oder river landscape are protected by the EU Water Framework Directive. In addition, there are many national parks and landscape protection parks in the Oder river landscape.
An impressive corridor of Natura 2000 areas stretches along the Oder:
Natura 2000 sites in Poland
Natura 2000 sites in Germany
Natura 2000 sites in the Czech Republic
Get to know just a small selection of the impressive native animals and plants of the Oder river landscape:
At the end of the 1960s, the last Atlantic sturgeon was caught in the Oder. Fishing, water pollution and river engineering had wiped out the once rich stocks. But the water quality of the Oder got better again. This quality, momentum and, above all, the continuity of the Oder up to its confluence with the Baltic Sea make it the main resettlement area. After 10 years of preparation, the first 2,000 sturgeons were released in the Oder in April 2006, and now there are over a million.
The aquatic warbler is Europe’s rarest migratory songbird. It is threatened worldwide and its population is declining. In the Red List of Endangered Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) it is endangered worldwide. The aquatic warbler needs wetlands to survive. The small songbird used to be widespread on the Oder and is now found in very few populations. Polesia, which is also threatened by the expansion of the river, has the largest part of the world’s population. In the winter months, the aquatic warbler moves to winter habitats in West Africa.
The little tern is the smallest and rarest tern in Central Europe. It indicates dynamic processes in rivers. The habitat of the little bird are sandy beaches and shallow gravel banks of the large rivers, as they are still present on the Middle and Lower Oder. The little tern is vulnerable in Poland and even threatened with extinction in Germany.
Like the sturgeon, the maraena whitefish (Coregonus maraena) is a migratory fish. Both in the Red List of Endangered Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the HELCOM, an intergovernmental commission responsible for the protection of the marine environment in the Baltic Sea area, the maraena whitefish is classified as endangered. The spawning habitats of the maraena whitefish are the underwater dunes in the Oder. If the planned extension of the Oder is implemented, this fish species will decline dramatically and permanently lose its spawning grounds in the middle of the Oder river bed.