The Rhine flows a distance of 1,325 kilometres from the Saint Gothard Massif in Switzerland, where it rises, to the North Sea in the Netherlands; it crosses the Alsace Plain for 183 km between Huningue and Lauterbourg and marks the border between France and Germany.
Brought under control by stream flow regulation
The upper section of the Rhine has undergone various developments: correction, stream flow regulation and channelling between the 19th and 20th centuries. Starting at the Iffezheim locks, the Rhine has undergone correction and stream flow regulation works and is free-flowing to its mouth in the North Sea and encounters no dams. The waters of the Rhine bathe the riverbanks (18 km) at Beinheim, Seltz, Munchhausen, Mothern and Lauterbourg. The banks of these five French towns on the free-flowing Rhine are therefore subject to variations in water levels caused by snow melting in the Swiss Alps, the Vosges and Black Forest massifs and any rain storms.
During the correction works, the waters of the Rhine were corralled into a low-water channel between two banks or corrective dykes 220 m to 250 m apart; in periods of flooding, these corrective dykes are submerged and the Rhine flood plain is delimited by flood dykes or high water dykes. During a major spate on the Rhine, each local town on the Rhine is required to participate in flood control (monitoring the high water dykes) pursuant to the bylaw of 2 July 1891. Walking on the corrective dyke and depending on the water level, you can spot the groynes put in place during the stream flow regulation works in the 20th century; they are made of rockfill and are positioned at 90 degrees to the banks of the Rhine. You can distinguish between short groynes and long groynes, which are intended to:
- Increase the length of the navigable channel;
- Slow down the speed of the currents and divert them into the navigable section;
- Enable self-dredging of the navigable channel and therefore facilitate navigation;
- Trap any gravel carried by the Rhine.
A degree of utility to trade
It has to be said that the Rhine is very busy in this sector; daily traffic is approximately 110 vessels carrying approximately 100,000 tonnes of very diverse freight (goods): cereals, metallurgical products, fertilisers, gravel, wood, petroleum-based products, chemical products, etc. Shipping by container carriers grows each year, making it possible to transport several hundred containers by boat per day, thereby relieving the road network. You can admire the cruise ships, floating luxury hotels heading for the Romantic Rhine, Rotterdam... as well, in summer, as many pleasure yachts and, on this international waterway, you can identify the flags of a dozen nations.
River activity on the Rhine is continuous, 24/7 and 365 days a year. It is not slowed down by fog or at night. High water alone may disrupt traffic and the boats are directed into the ports as a safety measure. Thanks to the modern, on-board equipment on the boats (radar, radio, echo sounder, cartography, GPS positioner... navigation on the Rhine is safe and accidents or other incidents are rare.
Noah’s ark on the doorstep of the Rhineland town
The Sauer Delta, prestigious area, is renowned for its important natural wealth. Its fauna and flora, typical of damp areas, flourish in Rhineland forests, reed beds and floodplains. There are numerous species of birds, mammals, batrachians, fish and plants, some rare, to discover.
The Rhine Forest
The Rhine forests of the canton form a curtain of greenery round Seltz. Not far away, Celtic holy places, the forests of Seltz and Niederroedern, as well as the Bois de l’Hôpital (Hospital Wood) at Kesseldorf are ideal places for long walks. In the heart of the valley, the Seltzbach murmurs through woodland to rejoin the river Sauer which threads its way (along the former Rhine riverbed) from Seltz to Munchhausen.
Along with the forests of Mothern and Beinheim, these forests form a veritable eco-corridor, a sanctuary conducive to wildlife and, more particularly, to wetland-dependent species (du
cks, waders, amphibians, etc.). These forest spaces are now managed to safeguard this natural heritage and enable the attentive rambler to discover there richness...
The high point of these remarkable areas, the Sauer Delta Nature Reserve, where the visitor can explore a patchwork of reed beds, alluvial forests, water meadows... In this protected environment, he can delve back into the Rhineland landscapes of earlier times and picture the work of the fishermen of yore aboard their flat-bottomed boats.
Another natural curiosity awaits the rambler: the Lower Rhine willow, the emblematic tree of the Rhine forests. As the result of the regular pruning which once provided the raw material for making clogs, baskets and wicker fish traps, trees in phantasmagorical shapes inhabit these forests, sculpted over the generations. Some wonderful specimens can be seen in the municipal forest of Mothern.
A rich fauna and flora
Regarding the fauna, one can find rare amphibians such as the brown toad or the green tree fog. Bird life is also abundant with perching birds such as the blue throat, warblers (reed warblers for example).
In the delta in winter there are water birds of passage such as winter teal, pintail ducks or the rarer smew or certain waders such as the Great White Egret. Regarding the flora, one can recognise such rare and protected plants as the violet. Euphorbia, several orchids, Epipactis helleborus among others, and also the creepers which have carned the Rhine forest its nickname of “jungle”. But other sites such as the Woert of Seltz merit a detour. This former loop of the Rhine is home to a remarkable combination of vegetation. One can find dry-habitat flora such as brome and hawthorn not to mention orchids. These habitats are very interesting from an ecological point of view.
Backwater of the Rhine
In former days the Rhine used to flow in large loops which would move from one year to another. After the river was regulated different biotopes developed in numerous dead branches. The Aspenkopf at Beinheim is one of them. With time it stilted up and began to lose its richness of flora, fauna and fish. A major restoration programme has created a flow of water from the Rhine, unsilting the main bed and unplugging water table springs. In creating a current and subjecting the sector to repeated influences of variations in the river, man has revived the biotope much to the joy of not only naturalists, but also of its inhabitants – the animals, fish and plants.