The river valleys

Varde Å - Holme Å - Vejle Å - Meadows and meadow irrigation

Varde Å

The mouth of Varde Å at Ho Bugt

The mighty Varde Å gains water from Grindsted Å, Ansager Å and Holme Å and sends it to sea at the bay of Ho Bugt. Varde Å is the only river flowing unhindered into Vadehavet, the South West Jutland coastal mudflats – without sluices or locks. As a consequence, the meadows at bottom part of the river are influenced by the tide. Varde Å is still a natural habitat for salmon and for houting, a rare species of salmon. Furthermore, the area below Karlsgårdeværket is the only area in Denmark where you will find pearl-producing river mussels.

The river used to be very winding with good habitats for salmon. However, the Karlsgårde Hydroelectric Plant became the beginning of the end of the lovely winding river. A major straightening of the river was initiated in 1930 during which 20 river meanders below the hydroelectric plant were eliminated.

Between 1940 and 1960 it was the upper part of Varde Å’s turn. A 10 km canal to the lake Karlsgårde Sø was made to make sure that the hydroelectric plant was able to use 90% of the water from Varde Å. This stretch of the river was straightened and deepened and 35 meanders disappeared. As a consequence of the numerous regulations and of the pollution from the old Grindstedværk, salmon and pearl-producing river mussels were all but exterminated. 

Nature restoration of Varde Å

Restored river meanders at Kongens Kær

As a consequence of the numerous regulations, a large-scale restoration of the river has become necessary to recreate a natural animal and plant life in the river. A minor start of this project has been the reopening of 4 meanders in Varde Å at Kongens Kær in 2000 (map 4). Here, the length of a straightened stretch, which used to be 1,400 m long, has been doubled by recreating the meanders. Furthermore, 11 gravel banks have been laid out at the bottom of river for the salmon and mussels.

An extensive restoration of the river between Ansager and Nørholm has now been approved in connection with an EU Life project for the endangered houting salmon. Approximately 35 meanders will be re-established and the stream will be lead back into Varde Å. This is done by removing Ansager Stemmeværk and closing down the Ansager canal. However, there will still be plenty of water in Lake Karlsgårde. Work will commence in 2008/2009.

Holme Å

Outing at Holme Å

Along Holme Å a natural winding river can be experienced – which is rare in Denmark. The many meanders provide habitats for a diverse animal and plant life, which are not found in the straight rivers. The river runs through beautiful surroundings with meadows, marshes and forests. However, it is not perfect idyll. Six fish farms dam up the water on the stretch, making it difficult, sometimes impossible, for the river’s migratory fish – salmon and trout – to reach their spawning grounds.

The lower part of Holme Å does not have enough water flow and is very damaged by ochre. The reason is that the Hostrup Stemmeværk dam (Map 5) diverts 95% of the river’s water through a canal to the artificial lake Karlsgårde Sø. The lake was established in 1920 as a reservoir for Karlsgårdeværket. During the first years the plant was very important for the electricity supply in western Jutland but today it only produces enough electricity for about 1000 households. In connection with the reestablishment of Varde Å production will stop at the plant and in the future production at Karlsgårdeværket will be for museum purposes only.

Vejle Å

Vejle Å. Photo: Cees van Roeden

The river valley of Vejle Å stretches from the bottom of Vejle Fjord to Spjarup. From Vejle Fjord straight to the west, the valley lies wide and vast. At Skibet the valley suddenly narrows down to a width of just one km and from here it continues southwest as a deep and steep valley until Spjarup. At Lihmskov, Vejle Å changes its direction to the northeast, where it has its rise in Engelsholm Sø. This part of the river valley was probably shaped through water erosion and as such it is geologically different from the rest of the river valley, which was primarily shaped by the ice.

The type of nature in the area varies from dry, nutrient poor commons on the slopes of the river valley to the lush, nutrient rich water meadows in the bottom of the valleys. Here you will find meadows and thickets as far as the eye can see, surrounded by valley slopes along the stream.

Vejle Å has been affected by many adjustments, both for hydroelectricity and in connection with drainage. No less than 35 water mills have used the water power over time.

Nature restoration

In 1998 a stretch of the river’s natural meanders was restored at Haraldskær. In the coming years a wide range of nature projects in the river valley will further improve the area and the recreational possibilities. The meanders will be restored in several areas. Wildlife passages, spawning grounds and the shutting down of fish farms will contribute to a better water environment.

Meadows and meadow irrigation

Meadows, which are still grazed in Vejle Ådal. Photo: Cees van Roeden.

Earlier, all the meadows along the rivers were cropped or used for the production of hay. To make the meadows as fertile as possible, they were irrigated with the nutrient-rich water from the river. By raising the water and directing it through canals along the river, the water could seep in and fertilise the meadows. Along the streams, it is still possible to find remains of the old meadow irrigation canals but you have to know what you are looking for. With artificial fertilization, the meadows lost their value. Grazing and the production of hay have become rare. As a consequence, many of the meadows in the river valley have become overgrown with willow scrubs and reeds.