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Kristianstad Municipality

Case study sites

Site description

Keywords: Lowland river valley, Wetlands, Dunes

The Kristianstad Case Study site is located within the Municipality of Kristianstad in the northeast Scania County (Skåne Län), Sweden’s southernmost province. The overall physical environmental setting of the site includes the lower part of the River Helge å catchment area and the coastal regions of Hanö Bay. The main river in the site is the River Helge å, which runs through central Kristianstad and drains an area of 4775km2. The lower part of the catchment contains mainly the Plain of Kristianstad, through which the River Helge å eventually drains into the Baltic Sea. The lower River Helge å catchment contains Sweden's lowest point at 2.41m below Mean Sea Level, as well as two shallow lakes with a total area of 22km2, making the site Sweden’s largest flooded meadows landscape. Climatically, the site belongs to the so-called “temperate and sub-polar broadleaf forests or woodlands” (p.7), with a warm temperate climate. There are substantial variations within the site in both temperature and precipitation with, in general, colder and wetter areas on high ground in the southwest and north, and milder, dryer areas along the coast. In the coastal area a narrow stretch of dunes is surrounded by water providing a form of natural protection.

The distinctive morphology and geology of the area, the interface between lakes and running water and the brackish water of the Baltic Sea, and the variations in local climates have created unique conditions for a diversity of land cover types that, in turn, support a large number of ecosystems and species in the site area. The extent to which the area has been affected by human intervention varies considerably. The densest concentration of population is in the town of Kristianstad, which is centrally situated in the area, whereas on the coast it is the urban area of Åhus. There are a number of small communities and villages on the Plain of Kristianstad, while the forested areas remain somewhat more sparsely populated. During the summer there is a significant increase in the number of temporary residents with some 1700 vacation homes along sections of the coast.

Why was this area selected?

Kristianstad municipality offers an especially complex case with a combination of various ecosystems, economic sectors, the lowest lying areas of Sweden (parts of the municipality are located below sea level), and multiple hazards related to both marine and river floods affecting the municipal capital and surroundings. It is furthermore involved in a number of processes and activities of interest for the management of risks related to climate change and flooding, including a Maritime Spatial Planning and Vattenriket –a wetland area designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.

Land, coastal and marine uses

Keywords: Residential use, Agriculture, Industry, Tourism, Recreation, Nature

In the broader area of the Kristianstad Case Study site a number of ecosystems exist, including wetlands, forests, sandy grasslands, flood plains, shore/flooded meadows, rivers, and lakes. In the developed areas of the site residential, agricultural, industrial touristic and recreational activities are taking place. Due to the sandy and clay soils, the area is considered one of the most productive agricultural lands in Sweden. The area also holds the largest groundwater reserve in northern Europe. Traditional land use practice in the site area has much to do with the natural hydrological dynamics of the lower River Helge å including its annual flooding. While the areas above the upper demarcation of the flooded meadows are developed for year-round agriculture, the seasonally flooded areas are used for grazing and haymaking.


Keywords: Marine flood, River flood, Erosion, Sea level rise

Due to climate change the patterns of flooding have changed, and thus complicated the proper management of the flooded meadows. Different kinds of exploitation can reduce the area of flooded meadows in favour of other types of land use. Additionally, flood risk from the inland can potentially create vulnerabilities for the coastal area where a narrow stretch of dune is surrounded by water and where the dune is not particularly high (2-3 m above sea level). The main hazards on the coastal zone of the Case Study site have been identified as beach erosion in combination with sea level rise. In low-lying, unprotected areas, an additional hazard is presented, as the groundwater levels are affected by, among other things, variations in sea levels.

Socio-Economic Losses & Environmental Impacts

Keywords: Agricultural losses, Water contamination, Property damage, Impacts on tourism, Fishery, Loss of habitat, Societal impacts

Sea level rise threatens significantly the settlements or other infrastructures close to the coast as well as upstream, in the River Helge å, where it can also severely affect the agricultural activity. This is a significant potential risk for the people living on the coast, about 10,000 people in Åhus and 5,000 to 7,000 people living temporarily in beach cottages (many of which have been allowed to become permanent settlements), but also for the tourism industry, which is a main source of income for Kristianstad. The alteration of the flooding pattern can also result in loss of valuable natural habitat, such as the meadows and the dunes. The variations of the sea level cause brackish water to enter the aquifer, contaminating the resource. Finally, the fish and fishing has been affected with incidences of fish being thrown up on land by waves during storms and the flooded meadows resulting in brownification of the water in Hanö Bay, affecting especially the eel.
The storms have also had additional impacts besides the loss of property. According to the county council’s investigations, there is an increase in incidents connected to social and domestic violence after a storm. Additionally, many accidents occur during the recovery works after the storms.

Partner in charge

Stockholm Environment Institute

Members of the project’s end-users and stakeholders board

Kristianstad Municipality


For further information please download the factsheet (.pdf in Swedish)


Photo Gallery

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Kristianstad Municipality 1

Fig.1: Aerial photo showing the landscape of the Kristianstad case site, with the River Helge å, the Municipality of Kristianstad, and Lake Hammarsjön in the foreground, and the Hanö Bay of the Baltic Sea in the background. (Photo by Patrik Olofsson, taken from Olsson et. al 2004).

 Ahus coast

 Fig.2: The Åhus coast (Photo by Åse Johannessen).