R.J.W. de Nooij (1,6), H.J.R. Lenders (1,6), D. Alard (2), G. de Blust (3), N. Geilen (5,6), D. Mueller (4), R.S.E.W. Leuven (1,6,7), P.H. Nienhuis (1,6), I. Poudevigne (2) & M. Rink (4)

1 Department of Environmental Studies, University of Nijmegen, The Netherlands; 2 Laboratory of Ecology, University of Rouen, France; 3 Institute for Nature Conservation, Brussels, Belgium; 4 Department of Ecology, Federal Institute of Hydrology, Koblenz, Germany; 5 Institute for Inland Water Management and Waste Water Treatment (RIZA), Arnhem, The Netherlands;. 6 Participant of the Netherlands Centre for River Studies (NCR), Delft; 7 Corresponding author: Department of Environmental Studies, Faculty of Science, Mathematics and Informatics, University of Nijmegen. P.O. Box 9010, NL-65OO GL NIJMEGEN, E-mail, tel. ++31 24 365 20 96, fax ++31 24 365 30 30.


This paper presents BIO-SAFE (Spreadsheet Application For Evaluation of BIOdiversity), an assessment model to express species biodiversity values for several taxonomic groups on the basis of political criteria derived from national and international policy plans, laws, treaties and (European) directives. By linking habitat/biotope preferences of the species selected to landscape ecological units on different scale levels, the method allows the user to quantify biodiversity values in actual and potential situations. In this way, the effects of reconstruction measures and scenarios on biodiversity can be assessed in a political and legal context and the information can be aggregated to different levels of scale. BIO-SAFE yields information at the landscape ecological level that is complementary to more established biological biodiversity indices. Possible fields of application of BIO-SAFE comprise descriptions of basis, design and evaluation of ecological rehabilitation and other physical planning projects, and comparing ecosystems for the purpose of, e.g., Environmental Impact Assessment. This paper focuses on the elaboration of BIO-SAFE as a tool for evaluation of impacts of flood prevention measures on biodiversity in the floodplains of the rivers Rhine and Meuse. This will provide an instrument for decision making regarding river management and biodiversity within the framework of the European Union.

Keywords: biodiversity assessment, flooding prevention, floodplains, Interreg Rhine Meuse Activities, IRMA-SPONGE, nature conservation policy, riverine ecosystems

1. Introduction

Recent flood prevention plans, such as the Rhine Action Plan on Flood Defence (ICPR, 1998), the Meuse High Water Action Plan (ICPM, 1998), the Declaration of Arles (Anonymous, 1995)and the Dutch policy plan Space for Rivers (Dutch Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management & Ministry of Housing, Physical Planning and the Environment, 1996), aim at improved water management and flood damage prevention through spatial planning. The ultimate goal of these plans is protection of people and goods against flooding while integrating ecological improvement of the rivers Rhine and Meuse and their floodplains. The INTERREG IIC initiative of the European Community supports activities regarding flood risk reduction. The operational programme IRMA (Interreg Rhine Meuse Activities) contributes to enhanced implementation of specific measures in the field of flood prevention along the Rhine and Meuse. Because of the scale of the problem it is imperative that the consequences of the IRMA joint operational programme are evaluated thoroughly and that a strong scientific basis for the measures exists. It is this perspective that gave rise to IRMA-SPONGE, a project organised by the Netherlands Centre for River studies (NCR). The umbrella project IRMA-SPONGE is a cluster of innovative, mutually consistent and complementary project on flood risk and vulnerability assessment. The deliverables of these projects will be made operational in water management and in the spatial planning process. The IRMA-SPONGE project aims at: The present paper describes the project goal, conceptual framework and approach of the IRMA–SPONGE project BIO-SAFE. The launching of large-scale flood risk reduction measures will substantially influence the present values and ecological potency of the rivers Rhine and Meuse. Therefore, in planning such measures, it is important to take into account the present and potential value of river related biotopes/habitats. On the one hand, flood reduction measures offer opportunities to recover lost biotopes/habitats by giving literally more space to rivers, thus allowing natural processes to take place again. On the other hand, flood risk reduction measures can endanger present natural values. The outcome is largely depending on the degree of effort put into tailor-made designs that optimise the balance between flood risk reduction and improving the ecological situation of the river and its floodplains. According to international and national legislation, an evaluation of impacts of these measures on actual and potential ecological values (e.g., biodiversity) is required for planning and implementation of large scale spatial flood prevention measures in floodplains. However, the overall impact of these measures on biodiversity is only partly known and suitable methods for assessment and valuation of such impacts from an ecological and policy point of view are as yet not available (Lenders et al.,2000).

  1. Development and application of models and spatial planning instruments;
  2. Identification of vulnerable areas, comprehensive risk assessment and implications spatial planning and flood hazard management;
  3. Promotion of public awareness and expertise (Ten Brummelhuis & Van Os, 1999).

2. Project Goal

The goal of the present IRMA-SPONGE project is the development and application of a practical transnational method for policy and legislation based assessment of impacts on biodiversity values, suitable for integration in a comprehensive IRMA decision support system (DSS). The project focuses on the development of a Spreadsheet Application For Evaluation of impacts of flood prevention measures on BIOdiversity in floodplains of the rivers Rhine and Meuse (BIO-SAFE). It will be constructed in such a way that it can be easily linked to other river models and management tools which comprise species or biotope variables. BIO-SAFE will be implemented in a stand alone version for water management, spatial planning and research purposes. It will be applied in a number of case-studies, i.e., floodplain areas for which flooding risk reduction plans have already been drawn up.

3. Project phases and activities

Compatible linkage with IRMA-SPONGE projects INTERMEUSE and Cyclic Rejuvenation of Floodplains is aimed at (Ten Brummelhuis & Van Os, 1999). The project will be completed before 2002 (Leuven et al., 2000).

  1. Construction of a transnational database on flora and fauna species characteristic for riverine ecosystems of the Rhine and the Meuse and development of a method linking species to river-floodplain characteristics.
  2. Determination of policy based valuation criteria for biodiversity (i.e. the flora and fauna species selected in phase 1).
  3. Implementation of biodiversity and valuation criteria in a model, followed by application of BIO-SAFE in case-studies (evaluation and improvement of the model).
  4. Implementation in a users friendly spreadsheet application (stand alone version) and writing of a users guide.

4. Conceptual framework

The conceptual framework of BIO-SAFE (see figure 1) concerns the political dimension of biodiversity, on the level of species and their biotopes/habitats in floodplains. The key issue is the relation of flood prevention measures and policy and legislation concerning protection of biodiversity and ecological improvement.

Values of species are derived from (inter)national policy and legislation. Assignment of values to species allows one to valuate an actual situation of for example a floodplain on the basis of data on species presence in that particular area. Using the habitat demands of the species, they can be linked to physical and biological characteristics in the floodplain. This linkage is the basis for valuation of the biodiversity potential in the area studied. Effects of floodplain reconstruction measures alter the physical and biological conditions and the subsequent potential situation of the area. Comparison of the actual situation, before reconstruction, and the target situation or scenarios described in the reconstruction design results in a valuation of impacts on biodiversity that are to be expected. The input data, which is used by BIO-SAFE will be generated by the reconstruction projects to be evaluated, in the form of flora and fauna surveys and different reconstruction scenarios.


Figure 1. Conceptual framework of BIO-SAFE.

5. Approach and challenges

A selection of species with a politically and legally relevant status will be made, i.e., species present on list of conventions, (European) directives, national policy plans on species protection and Red Data Lists. Subsequently, experts in the field of riverine ecology will select the species that are characteristic of riverine areas. Values will be assigned to the conventions, directives national policy plans and Red Data List by an international panel in which different groups of actors are represented. The species, their autecological data and their values will be embodied in a transnational database. By integration of German, French, Belgian and Dutch typologies, a transnational river ecotope typology will be constructed. The database and the ecotope system will provide the possibility to link species to river-floodplain characteristics and to value actual and potential biodiversity situations. Thus, an assessment of impacts of floodplain reconstruction projects in terms of policy and legislation criteria will be carried out.

This approach has been tested for the Dutch situation and proved to work (Lenders et al., 2000). The challenge is now to elaborate BIO-SAFE in such a way that it will be internationally applicable. In doing so we will have to deal with the differences between riparian states as regards species protection policy, valuation aspects and landscape ecological classification. We will also have to deal with the bio-geographical aspects and differences in river function. Another challenge is to ensure scientific soundness as well as policy relevance. Linking of the BIO-SAFE model to other IRMA-sponge project requires compatibility and ongoing mutual attuning.

Transnational applicability and successful use of models is partly determined by international co-operation and attuning of planning procedures and methodologies. It should also be remembered that output quality is dependant on the input data which is generated during the planning process of reconstruction projects.

6. Surplus value of the project

Assessment of impacts of reconstruction measures that are planned within the IRMA framework on biodiversity, on the basis of political and legal criteria can provide a useful tool during the planing process. Besides assessment of effects of reconstruction measures, BIO-SAFE can also be applied as a model for analysis of long-term scenario’s on different scales and trend analysis. However, it is only one of the possible approaches towards the problem. BIO-SAFE should be regarded as an additional method, complementary with network analysis on the population level and supplementary to detailed single species models for impact assessment.

Assessment and valuation of ecological impacts contributes to integrated problem solving approaches and improves the quality and societal acceptance of policy decisions with respect to flooding prevention measures. This may result in shorter and cheaper planning procedures. Moreover, thorough evaluation preceding execution of reconstruction measures can prevent sub-optimal results. BIO-SAFE can be used by governmental institutes and private companies (e.g. consultancy firms) for underpinning spatial planning reports and environmental impact assessments for large scale activities in river basins.

BIO-SAFE is a management tool to optimise mutual attuning of nature conservation policies and other interests in spatial planning and water management. It contributes to preservation, protection and improvement of the quality of the environment, including the conservation and development of natural habitats of wild flora and fauna, which are essential objectives of general interest pursued by the European Commission. Due to international co-operation the project contributes to harmonisation of valuation criteria and landscape ecological classification in riparian states of the rivers Rhine and Meuse (Leuven, 1999).


Anonymous. 1995. Declaration of Arles on tackling the problems caused by the high water level of Rhine and Meuse. Ministers of Environment of France, Germany, Luxembourg and The Netherlands, Arles.

ICPR (International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine). 1998. Action plan on flood defence. ICPR, Koblenz.

ICPM (International Commission for the Protection of the Meuse), 1998. Meuse high water action plan. ICPM, Namur.

Lenders, H.J.R., Leuven, R.S.E.W., Nienhuis, P.H. & Van Rooij, S.A.M. 2000. BIO-SAFE: A method for evaluation of biodiversity values on the basis of political and legal criteria. (Submitted to Landscape and Urban Planning).

Leuven, R.S.E.W. 1999. Application form proposal IRMA-SPONGE. Development of a spreadsheet application of BIO-SAFE. University of Nijmegen, Nijmegen.

Leuven, R.S.E.W., Lenders, H.J.R., De Nooij, R.J.W. 2000. Working programme IRMA-SPONGE project 11; Development of a spreadsheet application of BIO-SAFE, a model for the assessment of impacts of flood prevention measures on biodiversity in river basins. University of Nijmegen, Nijmegen.

Dutch Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management & Ministry of Housing, Physical Planning and the Environment. 1996. Space for rivers. Policy plan. Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management, The Hague.

Ten Brummelhuis, P.G.J. & Van Os, A.G. 1999. Umbrella project IRMA-SPONGE. IRMA-SPONGE proposal. Netherlands Centre for River Studies, Delft.