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biotop auersthal

About pond ‘Biotop Auersthal’: From a reservoir for flood control to a hotspot of urban wildlife

geographical location of the pond in the wine-making district in austria

The pond ‘Biotop’ (48°22’50.9''N, 16°37’27.3''E) belongs to the wine-making village Auersthal. It is located at 160 m above sea level in the Weinviertel district in Lower Austria, about 30 km distant from the centre of the capital Vienna. The pond comprises two water basins. The main basin has an area of 2400 m2 and a maximum depth of about 1 m. The second basin is much shallower and smaller, of 350 m2 only. The two basins are connected. The pond is embedded in a small woodland.

the new face of the pond in the recent decade

Pond-BiotopAuersthal-TeubnerPond 'Biotop' in Auersthal, 2013:
The smaller water basin of the pond that is mainly covered by water plants.

VIDEO Biotop Auersthal, 2022:
Small wetland hotspots, such as ponds, increase the structural landscape diversity and thus form ecologically important habitats for many animals, such as frogs. "Each village has its own pond created as a biotope!" is a valuable contribution to enhanced biodiversity in urban areas. Small biotopes that are not too far distant build a network connecting these habitats. Short distances ensure a stable exchange of birds, small mammals, amphibians, and insects between these hotspot habitats. Such pond, however, is also valuable for local people - it is "nature in close neighborhood that has remained touchable in urban settlement" - in many ways this biotope is a local place of urban childhood adventure of exploring nature "in muddy boots".
Even the pond was in the past and is still at present a man-made water basin, but it's character has changed with time. The pond was originally used as a reservoir for flood control (Büchler 2003 R and Büchler 2005 R) and hence was a temporary water basin only, to retain and to store the water after heavy rain protecting the farmland and the housing area in the village Auersthal. At that time, the basin was embedded in riparian softwood-land. The wood was mainly built by stands of Populus indicating the relic of an earlier flood plain with a streambed. This former stream, named 'Mühlbach', was flowing through the wood ‘Hochleithenwald’ and was then entering the area of meadows, farmland and vineyards of Auersthal.
The pond habitat has much changed in the past decade, when volunteers of Auersthal initiated the project named 'Biotop Auersthal' to design this pond area. The pond was very close to an indoor swimming pool that was opened in 1971 ("Europa-Bad",  ) and the settlement Badsiedlung (Europabadsiedlung)’ that was founded at that the same time. With a twinkle in their eyes, local people sometimes even call this settlement ‘Gimpel-Siedlung’ acknowledging the many woodland birds as ‘Gimpel’ (Chaffinch, Fringilla coelebs) that are regularly visiting this housing area edging the ‘Biotop’ and that is not far from further woodland in Auersthal ('Gemeindewald'). Meanwhile, the indoor swimming pool has been removed but the settlement has even grown in this area of the wine-making village.
Project ‘Biotop Auersthal’ was in part financially supported by a local government initiative through the foundation ‘Dorf-Erneuerungs-Verein’ (DEV, Büchler 2003 R   and Büchler 2005 R  ). The aim of this charity association can be described as to ‘upgrade the life in villages – keep good old traditions alive in the modern life style’. It was the successor of the charity association ‘Verschönerungs-Verein’, a common volunteer initiative in Austria simply saying ‘make our villages and towns look more beautiful’. The aim of the project ‘Biotop Auersthal’ was to re-design the pond as an area of higher recreational value. The natural rural-riparian woodland was replaced by planting a large variety of trees, bushes and shrubs, which are common in the Pannonian plain and were available by local market gardens (Büchler 2003 R ).

BiotopAuersthal-Teubner Pond 'Biotop' in Auersthal, 2000:
The main water basin of the pond ’Biotop Auersthal’ shown before the project started in 2001.
BiotopAuersthal-TeubnerPond 'Biotop' in Auersthal, 2001:
Volunteers of the charity association ’Dorf-Erneuerungs-Verein’ were involved in the planning and implementation of the project ‘Biotop Auersthal’.

BiotopAuersthal-TeubnerPond 'Biotop' in Auersthal, 2011:
Volunteers are twice a year maintaining the trails going through the wood around the pond ‘Biotop Auersthal’. Some of them were involved in the project right from the start, contributed their expertise and carried out the project work.
BiotopAuersthal-TeubnerPond 'Biotop' in Auersthal, 2003/2004:
Short wooden bridge over the watercourse connecting both water basins.

BiotopAuersthal-Teubner Pond 'Biotop' in Auersthal, 2010:
Trail in the wood ’Biotop Auersthal’: About 3500 trees and shrubs were planted in this artificial pond-wood area ten years ago, in 2001.

BiotopAuersthal-TeubnerPlants found in 'Biotop Auersthal', 2009-2015:
From left to right, line 1 to 4: Cornelian Dogwood - flowers, unripe and ripe fruits (Cornus mas); Elder - flowers and fruits ( Sambucus nigra); European Bladdernut - fruit and bough (Staphylea pinnata); Common Sea-Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides); Dog-rose - flowers and fruits rosehips (Rosa canina); Willow (Salix spec); Guelder-Rose (Viburnum opulus); Wild strawberry /(Fragaria vesca ); Violet (Viola spec.); Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara; White water lily (Nymphaea alba); Common reed (Phragmites australis); Great Willow Herb (Epilobium hirsutum) and Bulrush (Typha latifolia); Yellow Iris (Iris pseudacorus) and Hard Rush (Juncus inflexus); Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria).
As described in a more detail in the section about the birds seen in the ‘Biotop Auersthal’ (see text and bird species list by Kerschbaumer, the large variety of berries and other fruits from shrubs, bushes and trees (e.g. wild apple tree) certainly attracted the singing birds (see photos about shrubs, bushes and birds in the gallery and the summary photo about „plants found in ‘Biotop Auersthal’“ in the text; see also Büchler 2003 R and DEV 2016 folder R ).
According to the records by Kerschbaumer, an increasing diversity of birds has been observed recently with building up the biotope. It thus agrees that diverse landscape structure (pond plus reed belt plus wood = 'Biotop Auersthal') can enhance the number of species in habitats. The number bird species observed over 12 years can be seen as a reference for biodiversity of birds in 'Biotop Auersthal'. The change over time in view of the number of birds per bird species (number of individuals), i.e., whether the number of individuals of songbirds has remained stable or has increased or decreased over the years is not shown here. To show up what the trends are would mean to count how many blue tits, how many sparrows, how many hoopoes, etc. are in the 'Biotop' every second or every five years. Such investigations are carried out in some habitats (bird watching, bird surveys, bird ringing, see e.g., Biological Station Neusiedlersee Illmitz or National Park Neusiedlersee-Seewinkel), to see how the birds are going on globally. That kind of investigations are important measure environmental change but require in case of birds a larger team of 'bird watching people', and are therefore rarely undertaken and usually done in particular habitats only. It is therefore very valuable when somebody like Ottmar Kerschbaumer regularly notes the bird species that live in a habitat like the 'Biotop Auersthal'. His notes are invaluable information about the birds in the biotope that we would not otherwise have and would indeed miss. The same as for birds could be surveyed for other animals and plants in the 'Biotop', such as insects (e.g., butterflies), earth worms, gastropods, arthropods, amphibians (e.g., frogs), fishes, mammals, mushrooms, trees, bushes, and other herb plants. All these many animals and plants live densely together in such an environment and thus finally make up an ecosystem as it is in case of 'Biotop Auersthal'.
Otmar Kerschbaumer, who regularly surveyed birds in the biotope Auersthal, recorded 6 waterfowl species, with Little grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis), Common moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) and the Common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) being particularly worth mentioning here. Of the 5 species of birds of prey in open sparse deciduous stands, the Tawny owl (Strix aluco) and the Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) deserve special mention. Of the two species of meadows and forest fringes, reference should be made to the Grey partridge (Perdix perdix). The diverse number of remaining 43 bird species recorded by Kerschbaumer in the biotope is particularly high and refers mainly to songbirds. Here the Eurasian hoopoe (Upupa epops), Eurasian golden oriole (Oriolus oriolus), and European bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) are named as thermophilic species. Also included are the Common nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos), Goldcrest (Regulus regulus), Eurasian wren (Troglodytes troglodytes), European robin (Erithacus rubecula), Eurasian blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus), European serin (Serinus serinus), Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella), Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes), European goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis), Eurasian blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), White wagtail (Motacilla alba), Common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) as well as Eurasian treecreeper (Certhia familiaris), Eurasian jay (Garrulus glandarius) and Common blackbird (Turdus merula). The complete list by Kerschbaumer of a total of 56 bird species observed in the Auersthal biotope is available here: R , see also Büchler 2005 R. Some of these mentioned bird species can be seen in the photo gallery at the top of this page. In addition to the bird species list by Kerschbaumer, Gray heron (Ardea cinerea) and Common starling (Sturnus vulgaris) are further two bird species observed at floodplain pond 'biotop Auersthal'.
Of the 58 bird species in total, the heron, wren, tree sparrow, yellowhammer, house sparrow, goldfinch, black redstart, great tit, blackbird, and starling are shown in the photo in the DEV 2016 folder R . Other animals from the biotope that are not birds are the Scorpion fly (Panorpa communis), the Green rose chafer (Cetonia aurata), the Leopard slug (Limax maximus), the Violet oil beetle (Meloë violaceus), the Common water frog (Pelophylax kl. esculentus), the European toad (Bufo bufo), the Northern white-breasted hedgehog (Erinaceus roumanicus), the European hare (Lepus europaeus) and the Grass snake (Natrix natrix) are presented in the photo. Among the plants are Willow (Salix spec.), European bladdernut (Staphylea pinnata), Guelder-rose (Viburnum opulus), Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), Sea-buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), European elderberry (Sambucus nigra), Dog rose (Rosa canina), the Wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca), the Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) and the Violet (Viola spec.). The DEV folder also contains animal and plant puzzles about the biotope R .
As could be shown by birds and other animals and plants, that inhabit this artificial pond, for example, the 'Biotop Auersthal' is of great value as an aquatic habitat for wild life. With global warming and thus more frequent drying out scenarios, however, small ponds and wet-lands belong to most threatened habitats in the wine-making region around Auersthal.

The main basin of 'Biotop' was a clay pit for the wine village Auersthal

About 50-100 years ago, before the pit of the later pond was used for flood control, mud was taken from the site of the main basin to make bricks. These bricks were called ‘Kot-Ziegel’ (mud bricks, the local word for mud is ‘Kot’) and were of low quality only when compared with the commonly produced bricks made from loam-clay material in this region. During the period from 1850 to 1950, local brick manufacturing was quite common in this region and for example, the village Auersthal had up to five small brick yards at that time. The surface-clay bricks were processed by forming and drying, and those of high quality were even further treated by firing. Individual labels were marked on the surface of the bricks during manufacturing and indicate until these days from what local brick yard in or nearby Auersthal the bricks of an old house originate. The plentiful brick labels give a further signature for the many loam-clay digging sites (brick yards) in this area at that earlier time, even if only a few of these sites ended up as a pond today as described here for the ‘Biotop Auersthal’. Another example of valuable man-made ecosystem is the loam pit pond of  the brickyard Schönkirchen nearby Auerstal (for gravel pit lake/gravel pit pond 'Kiessee' see shallow urban lakes Gr Mueggelsee S and Naturally designed Wildlife and swimming ponds S).

BiotopAuersthal-TeubnerPond 'Biotop' in Auersthal, 2010:
Main basin of the biotop seen along the longitudinal extension.
BiotopAuersthal-TeubnerPond 'Biotop' in Auersthal, 2013:
View as the left photo but three years later with more dense stands of water plants. In the foreground seen are mainly stands of Broadleaf Cattail, Bulrush (Typha latifolia, used as 'Binderrohr" for sealing the doors of wooden barrels for wine-making in Auersthal). This plant grows well in nutrient-rich shallow waters.

The water in the main basin is quite well retained due to the fine grain size of further brick-yard-material on the bottom of the basin. The volunteers monitor and maintain a certain water level here and thus at least the main basin can be now characterized as permanent stagnant water. The pit of the small basin, however, looks different. It was mainly the result of the removal of the humus layer used as soil for fields and gardening. The ground layer of the small basin might be of rather coarse material, and hence it dries out from time to time, in particular, in years of low precipitation (see photo 4 in the gallery on top). The maintenance of a certain water level in the pond today becomes even more difficult as the ground water level in this region is now much lower than it was decades ago and perhaps might decrease further.

BiotopAuersthal-TeubnerPond 'Biotop' in Auersthal, 2009:
Enjoying the frozen pond in winter time.
BiotopAuersthal-TeubnerPond 'Biotop' in Auersthal, 2013:
Some popular banks are suitable to let the dogs swim without disturbing the wild life in the pond.

‘Biotop Auersthal’ is now a popular place for the local people. You can meet here people of all ages. People are having a chat while walking through the wood or coming to have a rest, doing exercises, biking or letting their dogs go swimming. Some young kids are coming with their fishing rods! Whatever people might expect to enjoy most here: The ‘Biotop’ is certainly a place for getting in touch with nature.

VIDEO Cellar lane 'Wunderberg' Auersthal, 2018:
1: tree press as an exhibit; 2: wine picking on the gust; 3: Cellar saying "Up the noble grape juice, it gives people courage and strength"; 4: Pouring freshly lifted, unfiltered wine; 5: Barrels are regularly brushed; 6: Bottle washing, including grapes in the basket that have been carefully stored until Advent; 7: Wine scale for density measurement (grape juice sweetness); 8: Candle for detecting potential cellar gas, binder tube = Typha/Bulrush for sealing wine barrel doors, filtering and bottling wine; 9: wine bottles in stock; 10: lively village festival atmosphere on the Wunderberg.
VIDEO Cellar lane 'Maulavern' in the wine-making village Zellerndorf, Weinviertel, 2023:
Cellar lanes remind us today in particular of the earlier traditional wine-growing culture. Not every but many cellar lanes were preserved in the Weinviertel. The 'Maulavern Kellergasse' is a cellar lane of particularly high cultural value and is therefore also well worth seeing - many reasons to enjoy the place!

Looking back, it can be said that the step-by-step development of the Auersthal biotope, from a clay pit to a valuable new hot-spot habitat for nature, was historically closely linked to the continuation of the traditional way of life, but also to an open-mindedness towards today's life in the wine village. At earlier time clay and water were valuable goods (resources) that were used sparingly. The cellar lanes without water connection and other living comforts were only used for protecting people during making wine, to process wine. Cleaning wooden barrels after emptying the wine was done with just one or two buckets of water. The cellar lanes are thus relicts from that traditional and also generally careful management and resource-saving life. This way, the clay-pit had traditionally been used in the village for decades. Later on, the gravel-pit was somehow seen as a lost place where to put some village garbage in. With today's understanding of flood protection and the preservation of nature, an artificial but valuable pond habitat was created with the 'Biotop Auersthal'.
The Heritage Museum in the wine-making village Grossengersdorf (NÖ Museum für Dorfkultur in Großengersdorf) provides insights in traditional everyday life and also wine culture in this wine-making region of Lower Austria. Großengersdorf is located in close proximity to the wine village Auersthal.

cited References on this site about biotop Auersthal

DEV 2016. Unser Biotop in Auersthal - Pflanzen, Vögel und weitere Tiere. In German about our pond in Auersthal: Plants, birds and other animals. Folder . Look-Inside   

Harding, J. 2006. Austria. In: The Oxford Companion to Wine. 49-54. 3rd edition. Oxford University Press, New York.

Büchler, I. 2005. Das Biotop – ein Paradies für Vögel. ‘s Dorfblattl - Mitteilungen des Auersthaler Dorferneuerungsvereins „Leben im Dorf“, 2: page 3. Look-Inside  

Büchler, I. 2003. Projekt Biotop. ‘s Dorfblattl - Mitteilungen des Auersthaler Dorferneuerungsvereins „Leben im Dorf“, 1: pages 4-5. Look-Inside  

Teubner, K. 2001. Algengemeinschaften in Seen. 83-112. In: Ökologie und Schutz von Seen. UTB Facultas, Wien. Look-Inside

Teubner, K. 2023. Liste der beobachteten Vogelarten von Otmar Kerschbaumer (Beobachtungszeitraum 2001 bis 2012). (List of Birds, observed at Biotop Auersthal (2001-2012) by Otmar Kerschbaumer). Look-Inside

Wetzel, R. 2001. Shallow lakes and ponds. 625–630. In: Limnology: Lake and River Ecosystems. 3rd edition. Academic Press, San Diego, London.  FurtherLink

Moser, L. 1952. Weinbau einmal anders: Ein Weinbaubuch für den fortgeschrittenen Weinbauer. 3rd edition. Self-publishing, Rohrendorf bei Krems an der Donau.