AQUARIUS - Farmers as water managers in the North Sea Region

Background and Goals

Climate changes and stricter environmental regulations may pose new challenges to farmers in the North Sea Region, but also hold new opportunities. Higher levels of precipitation increase erosion, as well as the introduction of nutrients and pathogens into waterbodies. At the same time, extended periods of drought impede the natural dissolution or diffusion of these pathogens. In order to maintain an efficient agricultural production under these new conditions, farmers must adapt their crop cultivation and production methods. This is the backdrop against which the AQUARIUS Project has been set up, a cooperation of 15 partners from 6 countries in the North Sea Region. Seven pilot projects are being conducted in the different countries, with the common aim of establishing farmers and landowners as managers of a "good water environment" by encouraging good (and effective) farming practices.

Objective: A sustainable, integrated land-water management is to be implemented through the involvement of "land managers".

The pilot projects:

  • Germany: The Ilmenau-Jeetzel region of the Lunenburg Heath in Lower Saxony, which has a high average summer water deficit. The region is an EU "Objective 1" area and the activities will affect about 250 square kilometres of irrigated arable land.
  • The Netherlands: The Midden-Delfland region, specifically comprising about 25 square kilometres of agricultural grassland in the Haaglanden area and the Drenthe region, with around 10 square kilometres surrounding the villages of Stadskanaal, Musselkanaal, Valthermond and Buinerveen.
  •  Norway: The catchment area of Vansjø is 337 square kilometres with a lake which is an important recreational area and drinking water reservoir for 60,000 people. It is threatened by eutrophication due to high phosphorus levels originating mainly from erosion and subsurface drainage on farmland.
  •  Scotland (United Kingdom): The catchment of the Tarland Burn, a tributary of the River Dee, encompasses an area of 73 square kilometres. That area has a mixed use, divided between livestock farming and forestry. The main challenges were to limit flooding and improve the water quality.
  • Sweden: The 227 square kilometre catchment of the river Smedjeån in Halland on the west coast of Sweden, comprising about 43% forestry and agricultural land, suffers from severe flooding on a regular basis as well as from a deficit in precipitation.
  • Denmark: The catchment area of Mariager Fjord in Jutland, an endangered estuary, encompasses some 572 square kilometres, 2/3 of which is used for agriculture and 1/3 of which are natural or urban areas.

The following text concentrates on the German pilot area and project, under the title "Aquarius – Managing Water the Intelligent Way!". With this effort, the District Office of Uelzen of the Chamber of Agriculture of Lower Saxony aims to introduce the farmers in the region to new insights on dealing with precious groundwater reserves. In addition, the project will contribute to safeguarding the ecological requirements of the water resources as well as the needs of the local agricultural community, ensuring the prospects of the region can be sustained in the future.

Content time


Research area/region

  • Denmark
  • Germany
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Scotland
  • Sweden
Region of implementation (all German federal states)
  • Lower Saxony
Natural spatial classification
  • coasts: North Sea-/Baltic Sea coasts
  • North-West German lowland

Steps in the process of adaptation to climate change

Step 1: Understand and describe climate change

Approach and results 

For the German pilot area, the climate scenario is being developed in cooperation with the the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA).

Parameter (climate signals)
  • Heat waves
  • Flash floods
  • Altered rainfall patterns
  • Higher average temperatures
Further Parameters 

Precipitation (seasonal), temperature (seasonal), climate-dependent water balance, temperature variability, days with heavy rain, hot days

Step 2a: Identify and assess risks - climate effects and impact

Approach and results 

Examined climate effects on agriculture: prolonged growth periods with higher water requirements, higher risk of crop yield losses, reduced water supply in summer and higher drought risk, increase in periods with negative climate-dependent water balance due to higher evapotranspiration rates during the growing season, increase in extreme rainfall events with increased erosion and introduction of plant nutrient into waterbodies, increase in flood risk.

Step 3: Develop and compare measures

Measures and/or strategies 

The German subproject examines the possibilities and methods for increased groundwater withdrawals without jeopardizing the local streams. Studies will be performed to improve water efficiency in agriculture and to develop agricultural water conservation guidance measures. Overall, a number of different methods will be developed to help farmers deal with the consequences of the climate change. To this end, participatory planning will be adopted as well as technical and financial approaches. In this respect, the individual pilot regions have developed and tested different methods.

The evaluation of the different adaptation approaches in water management has led to the following recommendations:

  • stakeholders need to be involved from the beginning,
  • the effects of the proposed measures need to be explained, and, where possible, demonstrated with showcase projects,
  • farmers need to take a leading role in in communicating new insights within the agricultural community,
  • field trips and excursions to farms in other regions that already use the new techniques will support the adaptation measures.
Time horizon
  • 2036–2065
Conflicts / synergies / sustainability 

The water management options available to the farmers are governed by European and national regulations.

Step 4: Plan and implement measures

Costs of the measures 

The acceptance and participation of the farmers will be higher wherever problems can be identified locally and cost-effective water management solutions can be suggested for the farms concerned.


Funding / Financing 

European Fund for Regional Development (EFRD), Interreg IVB North Sea Region Programme;
Financing for the German pilot area: Chamber of Agriculture of Lower Saxony; Ministry of the Environment and Climate Protection of Lower Saxony; Johann Heinrich von Thünen Institute, Brunswick

Project management 

The Danish Agricultural Advisory Service, National Centre


Denmark: The Danish Agricultural Advisory Service, National Centre; Danish Ministry of the Environment, Nature Agency Aalborg;

The Netherlands: Hoogheemraadschap van Delfland; Provincie Drenthe; Waterschap Hunze en Aa’s;

Germany: Chamber of Agriculture of Lower Saxony;

Norway: County Governor of Østfold; Bioforsk Institute;

Great Britain: Aberdeenshire Council; Macaulay Institute;

Sweden: Halmstad University; Rural Economy and Agricultural Society of Halland; Municipality of Laholm; Regional Development Council; County administration of Halland;


LWK - Chamber of Agriculture Lower Saxony, district office Uelzen
Wilhelm-Seedorf-Str. 3
D-29525 Uelzen

Printer-friendly version
Fields of action:
 agriculture  water regime and water management  woodland and forestry