The marriage between the Environmental Sciences group of Utrecht University and one of the last undisturbed river floodplains in Central Europe has been a long one. Since the late 80’s, researchers from our group have visited the river floodplains and peatlands and brought it to the attention of the scientific community. The Biebrza valley in North-Eastern Poland is one of the last extensive undrained valley mires in Central Europe. The natural character of the valley peatlands is reflected in a very regular pattern of peat-forming plant communities (fig. 1).
Encounter with the Biebrza
The first encounter with the Biebrza valley was simply stunning. Alone in the field, silence with only the occasional trumpet of Cranes (Grus grus). It was still freezing cold and night fell early. Every morning a thin layer of ice covered the water in the valley – sometimes deeper than the height of my boots. Because of the water that covers everything, the river was hard to find from the edge of the valley. One day I started on a courageous expedition to find it, driving up a muddy road through swamps, between alder trees with their feet in the water and birches standing in reed fields like white ghosts. It ended when my car got stuck in the mud (fig. 3).
'Then on a still night, when the campfire is low and the Pleiades have climbed over rimrocks, sit quietly and listen to a wolf to howl, and think of everything you have seen and tried to understand. Then you may hear it - a vast pulsing harmony - its score inscribed on a thousand hills, its notes the lives and deaths of plants and animals, its rhythms spanning the seconds and centuries.'
Reference: Keizer, F.M., Schot, P.P., Okruszko, T., Chormanski, J., Kardel, I., Wassen, M.J. (2014). A new look at the Flood Pulse Concept: The (ir)relevance of the moving littoral in temperate zone rivers. Ecological Engineering 64, 85-99. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoleng.2013.12.031.