UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Elbe River Landscape

Sustainable Development along wild river banks

The Elbe River Landscape is Germany's largest inland UNESCO biosphere reserve. With a length of 400 kilometer along the Elbe from Wittenberg to Lauenburg, this is one of the last near-natural river landscapes in Central Europe, framed by the largest continuous alluvial forests. In total, some 270,000 people live in the biosphere reserve.

The centuries-old cultural landscape is home to many near-natural habitats, which are linked by the biosphere reserve across five federal states. In the world network of biosphere reserves, the Elbe river landscape stands for river habitats, alluvial grassland, oxbows, and adjacent deciduous and mixed forests. Numerous plants and animals, including many endangered species, live here. The beaver - almost extinct decades ago - has reclaimed the entire river course as a habitat and is home again with more than 2,000 individuals. White storks in grassland are part of the daily picture in summertime.

Much of the working population is employed in manufacturing industries, in trade, transport and construction, in service industries and public services. Agriculture, forestry fisheries and hunting are also important employers, particularly in the more northerly regions.

Cultural heritage is rich, from colonisation in the Middle Ages, the golden age of the Hanseatic League, and centuries of rule by small princedoms, to the influence of the Allies at the end of the Second World War and the division of Germany. World Heritage Sites within or adjacent to the biosphere reserve include the Garden Realm of Dessau-Wörlitz, the Bauhaus Dessau and Lutherstadt Wittenberg.

Contributions to sustainable development

The biosphere reserved is managed by four teams, one for each federal state (excluding a small area in Schleswig Holstein). Thus the work is varied and rich. Examples are "guest bird management" for migratory swans and geese in order to minimise conflicts with agriculture and thus preserve the value of the Elbe floodplain as a resting area for birds. With contractual nature conservation, low-interference resting areas are secured, extensive cultivation promoted and, where possible, power lines laid in the ground. Ripe grain is left on "deflecting areas" and the expected crop failure is reimbursed to the farmers. The "Arche Region Amt Neuhaus" preserves old, robust and endangered domestic animal breeds adapted to their habitat by means of protection through use: Only the processing and marketing of the products of these domestic animal breeds can secure their population, for example the Pomeranian Coarsewool.

In several places in the biosphere reserve it is exemplarily demonstrated that moving dikes further away from the river in order to give the river more space in the event of flooding will protect people and their settlements. This dike relocation also creates valuable habitat for many animal and plant species. Some of the largest projects of this kind in the whole of Europe are being carried out here along the Elbe.

International cooperation

The biosphere reserve has cultivated close ties with other biosphere reserves, e.g. in Russia (Great Volzhsko-Kamsky), Ethiopia (Kafa), and Romania (Danube Delta). It has also been among a number of German biosphere reserves that have supported their partners in Myanmar to establish the Indawgyi Lake Biosphere Reserve.


  • Year of designation: 1979 (Middle Elbe), 1997 (cross-country)
  • Federal states: Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Lower Saxony, Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt
  • Size: 2,822.5 km² (71.29 km² core area and 562.42 km² buffer zone)
  • Represented landscape: Middle Elbe Lowlands and North German Plain
  • Website: www.flusslandschaft-elbe.de