Ausblick auf den Wupperlauf, © Gunnar Bäldle

The Wupper

An industrial river reclaimed for nature and recreation

The Wupper was once known as a polluted industrial river. Today, it has been reclaimed for nature and recreation.

“Where the Wupper runs wild on its stony course, winding its way past cliffs and crags.” This is how the 19th-century “Bergische Heimatlied” folk song describes the Wupper in its charming landscape of green hills – while in the next line extolling the smoke-belching chimneys nearby. The Wupper, which joins the Rhine at Leverkusen and which has given its name to the city of Wuppertal among other places, has for good reason long had the reputation of being an industrial river. A few decades ago, it even had to be thoroughly diluted in some sections to ensure the survival of so small an organism as the water-flea. But such pollution is a thing of the past. Today, the river not only moves at a more lively pace – it also contains plenty of life. 

The river’s upper reaches near Wipperfürth in Bergisches Land are in any case still unspoilt. This is part of a floodplain landscape with a wealth of different species which have historically made their home in Germany’s low mountain ranges. Diverse riparian woods such as bog forests, floodplains with peat moss and orchid-filled wetland meadows dominate the landscape of the river and its source streams. Further downstream, between Solingen and Leichlingen, the Wupper again assumes an attractive appearance. Between in parts very steep hills, the river winds its way past meadows, small farmhouses and idyllic half-timbered villages. Even the remnants of former industry have a peculiar romantic appeal, like the historic grinding works with their water-wheels. One good example is the Wipperkotten grinding mill.

Salmon have returned to the Wupper

Life has also returned to the river’s waters. Salmon, which had been absent since 1841, can now be found again in the Wupper. After being released here, they are now returning to the river to spawn. This is not the only example of human efforts to bring the Wupper back to its natural state. River bank reinforcements and other structures restricting plant and animal life are being demolished, floodplain meadows are being re-established and native tree species are being planted. 

Projects like the “Wasserquintett” (Water Quintet) and “Wuppervielfalt” (Wupper diversity) ensure that visitors can discover and enjoy this new aquatic biodiversity. In Hückeswagen, for example, a floodplain park has been created and a bird-watching hide has been built in Wipperfürth. The “Wasserquintett” visitor centre provides a wealth of information on nature conservation in and alongside the Wupper. Incidentally, the name “Water Quintet” was inspired by the five reservoirs which are dominant features of the Bergisches Land and Wupper landscape: the Wupper, Bever, Brucher, Neye and Lingese reservoirs. The Water Quintet cycling path connects all of these lakes. The route is easily manageable even for inexperienced cyclists as it runs along former railway lines, and as such has few steep gradients.

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