C Schilf Rheindelta, Bodensee (c) Joachim Negwer / Vorarlberg Tourismus
The sun is low in the sky. It twinkles through a jungle of reeds, meadows and gnarled old willow trees. The Old Rhine flows in its wildly romantic manner through the middle, reflecting all shades of green now in the warm backlight. We walk, following the course of the river, as far as the shore of Lake Constance. The path takes us right through the middle of the Rheinholz, the alluvial forest on the Rheinspitz peninsula. Parking is not allowed right next to the water which means that, even on lovely summer days, these natural pebble beaches next to Lake Constance aren’t too busy.
“The Rheinholz is my favourite place in the Rhine delta,” Ruth Swoboda, the Manager of the inatura Erlebnis Naturschau in Dornbirn, tells us. That is because there are so many breeds of animal and species of plant. And because the moment the forest opens up to reveal the lake is always something special – from the darkness of the forest to the blazing sunlight sparkling on the water. At least, that is how it is today. Yet even on a rainy day the alluvial forest – which is part of the Rhine delta European nature reserve – is a great day out. The wetness and the mist that sometimes rises make it into an almost mystical place for Ruth Swoboda. Today, she accompanies us through the Rheinholz and explains the nature it holds.
The New Rhine washes up sediments and paints fascinating interplays of colours in Lake Constance.
The most biodiverse nature reserve in Vorarlberg is to be found there where the Rhine flows into Lake Constance.
Polder dams of the New Rhine – they stop the shore zones from silting up
Green meadow: with irises and white storks
First of all, let’s take a look at the geography – and an oddity. Coming from Switzerland, the Rhine actually flows through Lake Constance. It enters in the south-east, and comes back out in the west, bringing with it around three million cubic metres of suspended matter per year. The milky, colder water of the river is visible from well out on Lake Constance. The Rhine delta in the south-east of Lake Constance extends from the Old Rhine on the Swiss border via the Rhine avulsion close to Fußach, the so-called New Rhine, as far as the Dornbirner Ache in Hard. The European nature reserve, the second-largest in Vorarlberg and the most biodiverse, is home to four villages.
The Rhine is a veritable doer –
it keeps on creating new biotopes
“In addition to Fußach and Hard, we have Höchst and Gaißau as well as the state of Vorarlberg as members,” Walter Niederer, Manager of the Naturschutzverein Rheindelta, tells us. The association sees itself as a mediator between the interests of the villages on the one hand and issues pertaining to the nature reserve on the other hand. “The Rhine delta is extremely attractive for cyclists, for walkers and, of course, for bathers,” says Niederer. “However, several areas have to be especially protected at certain times of the year.” This is to help Mother Nature to keep her massive shallow water zones as uniquely biodiverse as they are.
The Rhine delta is extremely attractive for cyclists, for walkers and, of course, for bathers.
Take Fußach bay as an example: many boats anchor here in the summer. Bathing guests enjoy the beautiful nature. Between the months of October and March, however, the region belongs to thousands upon thousands of resting waterfowl. The bay is closed off to people during this time. On the other hand, other places are not accessible during the summer months since this is the breeding season for some of the around 330 species of bird already spotted in the Rhine delta.
“Of course, the high tide of the river makes it dangerxous for us humans,” says Walter Niederer. “Yet the Rhine constantly changes the landscape, pours sand onto it, and keeps on creating new biotopes the likes of which no longer exist anywhere else.” It makes the Rhine delta into the wildest region on Lake Constance. In the form of marshlands and two peninsulas, the Rheinspitz in the west and the Rohrspitz somewhat further to the east.
Rhesi – flood protection on the Rhine
“Rhesi” is a flood projection project between Austria and Switzerland, and in this case stands for: Rhine – relaxation and security. Its objective is to provide the Rhine with space and people with increased protection against floods, as well as an increased number of leisure activities. Sustainable solutions are currently being worked out and discussed.
Walter Niederer’s tip for cyclists: the Rhine delta tour, about 20 km in length, which follows the polder dam of Lake Constance, the Old and the New Rhine. The tour starts and ends in Fußach. Walking tips for the winter include, in particular, the estuary of the New Rhine, since you can spot an especially large number of birds there during the cold season. You can take a walk along the two Rhine dams which take the water of the Rhine a way out into the lake itself. They were constructed
to prevent the shore zones from silting up too quickly.
The best thing of all is that you can access most of the nature reserve areas.
Not only can you bathe in the Rheinholz – you can even barbecue in specially designated spots. If you are not there for pure relaxation purposes but rather to hone your view of the details of this constantly changing landscape, feel free to take any one of the numerous excursions offered, for instance, by the Rheindeltahaus in Fußach.
The Rhine delta is home to 330 species of bird, 160 species of wild bee and around 600 plants
And suddenly you discover in the meadow not only white storks but maybe also a lapwing. You stroll not only through the green countryside, through the reeds, past willow trees. Now you can also see Siberian irises, marsh gladioli, sundew and the dwarf cattail. It is well-known that around 600 different species of plant grow in this paradise of nature. You can hear the croaking of frogs in the evening – however, nobody had picked up on the 160 species of wild bee living in the Rhine delta to date.
It is a lovely morning as we set off on the Rhine delta tour by bicycle. First of all we cycle along the Rhine dam, then along the polder dam. We cycle towards Rohrspitz, one of the two peninsulas in the nature reserve. There, we want to stop off for lunch at Salzmann in the harbour, try some fish freshly caught from the lake. The sky is pastel-coloured. It is still pleasantly cool at this time of day. We look out to the water. You can see every shade of blue in Lake Constance – as well as any amount of birds. Their twittering and song accompany us on our tour.
Red sunset: reeds and small boats on the Rohrspitz in Fußach bay
Break in the shade of a tree: by bike through Fußach bay