The Oder Delta is a large lagoon in Poland and Germany encompassing approximately 13000 km². The lagoon is surrounded by wetlands and small villages in an agrarian culture landscape with a very rich flora and fauna.
It is one of the most important resting and feeding places in the Western-Palearctic migration route and it is a crucial link for migratory birds between east and west. The Polish side of the Oder Delta holds the highest density of White-tailed Eagle in Europe. Nowadays 150 breeding pairs nests in the Oder Delta, which is 25 percent of the total Polish population.
The Wolin National Park, one of the main core areas in the Pan-European Ecological Network, can be found here in the north-eastern part of the Oder Delta.
The 7th of October 2005 the Oder Delta Nature reserve was offically opened. This 3000 acre reserve is the first reserve in Poland that is not the property of the Polish governement, but owned by a NGO. With a large amount of support from the Netherlands, the Polish branch of the EUCC has over the last 10 years succeded in buying an area of approximately 1200 acres. The rest of the reserve consists of water.
Location: North – west Poland, Westpomeranian Vojvodship; Local Communities: Swinoujscie, Miedzyzdroje, Wolin, Kamien Pomorski, Stepnica, Trzebiez, Police and Nowe Warpno.
Size: The Polish side of the Oder Delta comprises 2900 km² water and local river catchments; the Oder Delta Nature Park is planned on an area of 2000 ha.
Manager & owner: State, Local Communities, private owners included European Union for Coastal Conservation (EUCC) – Poland.
The actual landscape started to be formed about 18,000 years ago when the glacier period had retreated and waters from the glacier’s bottom sculpted the river valley as the River Oder. From that time, the moraine hills of Wolin and Usedom were formed. However, even 8000 years ago, the Oder Delta had still not formed. The River Oder provided its water via a system of channels on a flat area; the sea level of Pra-Baltic was 30 m lower and the coastline 100 km more to the north and north-east then is observed today. About 6,000 years ago, the level of the sea started to rise rapidly. The sea waves destroyed the old system of coastal dunes and the waters filled the flat area creating, more or less, the actual basin of the lagoon. From that period on, sea and coastal processes have created the landscape. The waves have eroded the moraine cliffs and material has been deposited east from Usedom. About 5,000 years ago, the water of the bay was closed as a lagoon. From this period, human settlements are dated: firstly as hunters mixed with agrarian, peoples and, afterwards, agrarian communities with fisher-folk.
The historical aspects of landuse can be considered for the last 300 years. Firstly, forests and coastal meadows started to change into an agricultural landscape with pastoralism and hay-growing meadows (XVII-XIX century). The industrial development in Szczecin and an increasing role in communication and transport of the Oder Delta was characteristic for the first half of XX century. Industrial development of the largest Polish chemical industry and intensive agriculture as well as seasonal tourism development occurred in the second half of XX century. Intensive agriculture has been characteristic after 1945 year on most land. From the mid 90ies up to present extensive or even no management on many meadows has been observed. Today, Szczecin is an important industrial harbour city with shipyards. The second centre is Swinoujscie with a very important harbour and the typical functions of a coastal city.
The earliest traces of settlements on the Oder Delta territory occurred in the Neolithic period. Under Duke Mieszko I, Poland’s first historically known ruler (in the 10th century) land belonged to Poland, but over the subsequent centuries it often changed hands. It was always a country of many cultures and influences - German, Slavic and Scandinavian- which left its imprint on the local art and architecture. After the Second World War almost the entire area of Pomerania was given to Poland.
Nature & Landscape
All the area of the Oder Delta and Szczecin Lagoon is designated as a “Natura 2000” site.
Sea and coastlines
Coastline is mostly natural or protected by dykes. Natural sandy beaches are located near Czarnocin, Stepnica, Nowe Warpno, Wolin whilst other stretches are a type of grassland.
Old coastal dunes from the period of the open gulf (7000 BC) can be found on the east coast of the Lagoon, covered now by pine forests. Some dunes naturally covered by peat deposition (Czarnocin).
Mixed forests, wet leafy forests are characteristic for the south west part of the coast; more coniferous forests can be found on the east coast.
Natural periodically flooded wetlands like meadows are situated on Row Peninsula; others are protected by dykes, however connected with lagoon waters (Skoszewo – Czarnocin, Kopice – Stepnica).
Back Delta of Swina River
Occasionally the heavy storms pump the seawater into the lagoon. After deposition of coastal and sea materials the “back delta” processes are building a system of unique islands in the northern part (Bielawki Island).
The development of Szczecin harbour and its connection with the open sea via Swinoujscie has caused dredging of the existing water channel since XIX century. The materials have been deposited as islands or peninsulas. The most interesting is Chelminek Island.
The Polish part of the surface water of the Oder Delta is only 0,15%, but it collects waters from all the river Oder catchments. The waters, because of the contact with the sea, are brackish, particularly in the northern part.
There are some unique small rivers with various nature regimes. The system of human-made channels is characteristic for the eastern agrarian part.
Currently there is 1 National Park and 6 protected areas managed by NGOs, include 5 owned by EUCC-Poland. Here we have:
- Smiecka Kepa and Czarnocin Basin. A combination of activities to maintain biodiversity necessary for wetland birds is carried out e.g. extensive agriculture, control of water and channels system, education and agro-tourism. Special areas of protection are strict reserve areas.
- Row Peninsula. A wetland with reduced amount of reed to keep the terrain open. Extensive agriculture, education and eco-tourism all take place.
- Bielawki Islands. Reintroduction of grazing and preparation for some aquatic eco-tourism is taking place.
- Lysa Island. Here is maintained a natural succession of reeds.
- Podgrodzie Peninsula. Reduction of reeds to keep the possibilities for salt vegetation occurs. There is also some grazing; education and eco-tourism activities take place.
Flora & Fauna
The Oder Delta is extremely rich and abundant in unique flora species including many protected or threatened water plants. Species exist here which are extinct in the rest of Poland.
Among the fauna species, birds are especially interesting: it is possible to observe 240 species here, (including greylag goose, garganey, shoveller, lapwing, dunlin, ruff, snipe, black-tailed godwit, and redshank), including European and globally endangered birds species, like: white-tailed eagle, corn crake, aquatic warbler and the crane. The large open areas, in combination with forests, are also an interesting habitat for various herbivorous animals: red deer, roe deer and elk. Other European rarities are found here also: wild boar, fox, otter, beaver and muskrat.
Wolinski National Park has a Museum in Miedzyzdroje, the EUCC-Poland Oder Delta Nature Park Headquarters has a visitor and training centre in Czarnocin and there is also an EUCC-Poland Terrain Station in Podgrodzie.
The Westpomeranian Vojvodoship started some preliminary works connected with Integrated Coastal Zone Management for the Oder Delta since 1995. EUCC-Poland runs the Oder Delta Nature Park fulfilling the main aims like: a fruitful combination between nature conservation and sustainable agricultural practices with important educational aspects, recreation possibilities and proper water management. Wolinski National Park manages an area of 5000 ha with traditional conservation methods.