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Kilometers of march in the Vier- und Marschlanden on the Elbe dike

As March (land) (v. PGmc. * Mariska , altsächs. Mersc ) - also Masch , Mersch or alluvial called - is called a beautiful post resulting geomorphological landform in the area of North West German coasts and rivers as well as comparable landforms worldwide.

The Wedel marshland in Schleswig-Holstein
The Hadelner Canal for draining the marsh
The Otterndorf pumping station in the Hadeln region for draining the Medem already had the largest centrifugal pump in Europe.
The pumping station in Neuhaus for the floodplain and the Neuhaus-Bülkau Canal

Today's term march is mainly influenced by German geography. It is a holistic term that, in contrast to most foreign-language equivalents, encompasses soil as well as landscape and cultural-geographic aspects. The travel descriptions of Johann Georg Kohl (1808–1878), who reported on “the marshland of the world”, were fundamental . The term marsh intersects with related terms such as wetland , rift, and swamp . While in Germany it almost exclusively refers to the populated cultural landscape, its linguistic counterparts in other European languages ​​are more likely to be used to denote uninhabited wetlands with swamps , swamp forests or salt marshes . The German terminology was largely adopted in Scandinavia and the Czech Republic, but only partially in the Baltic States and Eastern Europe. In the Netherlands and Belgium, however, terms such as Klei districts and Polderland are used. The river marshes of the Vistula , Memel and the Rhine-Maas delta as well as the inland delta of the Oderbruch are occasionally regarded as marshland.

A distinction is made between sea marshes , bog marshes, river marshes, floodplains , salt marshes , taiga meadows , drained lakes (polders) and lagoons (or lagoon and limane ). The low moor marshes, also called Sietland , are counted among the moorlands in the Netherlands .

Etymology and synonyms

The word march and its English counterpart marsh probably originated in the West Franconian area to indicate uninhabited wetlands that were part of the stately ban on forests and wilderness . In this sense it is synonymous with terms like forestus (' forest '), wuostina ('desert') and bruoh (' break '). Linguistically it is a primitive Germanic * mariska- ('belonging to the sea, water land, pasture land'), derived from the noun * mari- ('inland waters', 'moor', 'lake') with the suffix -isk . Closely related thereto, the altfranzösische Mareis or maresc ( ' Marsh ') and the medium Latin mariscum , from which the words Marais and ' mud ' developed. Toponyms with * marsi̯ (a) - and * marisk- are widespread in north-western Europe, but they are absent in Scandinavia. The vernacular words mersc , marische and merische (together with the Latin mariscum ) have appeared in place and field names since the 7th century. In England they have been used in particular for salt marshes since the 670s . The residents of the Romney Marsh are referred to in contemporary sources as Merscware ('march residents'). In the will of Sankt Willibrord from 727 a Dutch Gau Marsum (probably with the root * mars- and the suffix -heim 'home') is mentioned at the mouth of the Meuse , where there were excellent marshes ( mariscus ) and sheep pastures. The first documents in northern France (including the Reichenau glosses ) date somewhat later. Early examples are Stodmarsh , Burmarsh , Denge Marsh , Rebais ( Mercasius ), Marest , Mercheseuil , Marissel , Marchéville-en-Woëvre , Mersch , Rheinstetten-Mörsch , Mörsch (Frankenthal) as well as some unidentified places in Holland, Friesland and Flanders and a terra Marisca in Lombardy . The Gau Dithmarschen is named in the Vita Willehadi (middle of the 9th century), but in the ancient form Thiatmaresgaho ; it was not until 1059 that it became Thietmaresca . The other North German examples with * -marisk date (in contrast to the older forms with * marsi̯ (a) - ) from the 12th century.

Since around the 11th century, the meaning of these terms changed, along with their Latin equivalents palūs ('swamp', ' break forest') and mariscum . Increasingly, not only swamps and salt marshes were indicated, but also populated and dense marshland. The latter significance established itself early on in Germany, England and northern France, but only to a very limited extent in Belgium and the Netherlands. In the Central Dutch language , meers was primarily used to indicate floodplains and hay meadows, for which the counterpart wisch was used in Middle Low German . The word 'march' ( mersch ) was used relatively late in northern Germany, namely in Westphalia in 1139; We encounter the word form 'Marschland' ( merscheland ) in a list of goods from the 1280s for the Elbe marshes. The landscape names Kremper Marsch and Wilstermarsch are documented in 1361 and 1391 respectively, but these districts were indicated earlier than in palude Crimpen (1312) and de palude Wilstrie (1331). The chronicler Helmold von Bosau mentions the Elbmarschen in 1164 as terra palustrem Albie , after the area was mentioned as early as 795 in the Lorsch annals and by Einhard as paludes Albiae .

Marsh and moor were often referred to with comparable words. In the Dol-de-Bretagne marshes, for example, a distinction was made between marais blanc and marais noire . The English parallel term fens also includes sea and brackish marshes ( white fens or silt fens ) as well as bog soils ( black fens or peat fens ). The sea marshes of the Somerset Levels are referred to as plains ( levels ), while the marshes are referred to as moors . There is also such an ambiguity in other languages: the Old Dutch word veen , Old Dutch feni means z. B. 'Moor' or 'Hochmoor', in southern Dutch venne but also 'Tümpel'; the Frisian counterpart, finne or fenne , was reinterpreted as 'Marschweide' in the late Middle Ages. Kiliaen's Dutch dictionary from 1599 also translates the word moeras as palus nigra , d. H. 'black swamp'. The word Bruch ('swamp forest'), Old High German bruoh , was usually translated as palūs . In the course of the development of the country during the 11th and 12th centuries, many new bog and marshland settlements were named as quarries .

Italian, Provencal, Spanish and Portuguese synonyms - common since the 10th century - are palude or padule , from the Latin palūs . With the words palud , palus or palun , for example, the cultivated marshes in southwest France are indicated, which were planted with vines in the 19th century. These words are in turn related to a Greek πηλός ( pèlos , 'mud, clay '), Lithuanian pelkė ('swamp, bog'), Latvian paline ('march') and Sanskrit palvala ('march, swamp'). They can be traced back to a common Indo-European root * pelHk- or * palw- ('Klei, Schlamm, Sumpf'). The Spanish marisma (from the Latin maritĭma 'seashore') is synonymous ; related to it are the names of the Italian, Catalan and Andalusian coastal regions Maremma , Costa del Maresme and Las Marismas del Guadalquivir as well as the town of Marennes in southwest France. The Spanish name almarjal , on the other hand, comes from the Arabic al-marj 'meadow'. The marsh Arabs in the marshland of Al-Ahwar (southern Iraq) are known. In the Po Plain , the marshland regions have been indicated as polesine since the 15th century , after the Middle Latin pollĭcinum or polĭcinum ('swamp'). This in turn was borrowed from the Byzantine πολύκενος ( polykenos , 'with many gaps'), although contamination with pullus ('soft') occurred. The marshes thus formed an area that was sown 'with many shallow or watery spots'. The lagoons ( paludes ) and river marshes are traditionally indicated here as valli dolci and valli salse (fresh and brackish water lagoons); the higher bank areas are called barene ('banks'). The river marshes of the Vistula Delta (in German also Weichselmarschen ) are named in Polish as żuławy ( 'Werder, river island' ) (after a common Slavic 'sea bay, lagoon'). The river level of the Memel is called salpà in Lithuanian (cf. salpas 'bay'). The reconstructed identifier for these words ( * sel- ) should have meant 'swamp' or 'mud'. The Donau marshes are in Romanian as mlaştini (after a Jugoslav mlaka indicated sump ').

A common swamp word is Italian pantanum , Lombard palta ('muddy, swampy place'), Catalan pantà , Spanish pantano and Portuguese pântano , probably from an Illyrian substrate word * palta ('swamp'). The Pantanal in South America is perhaps the largest wetland area on earth. The word Pantanum is related to the Ur-Slavonic * balta , servo-Croatian блато ( blato , 'lake'), Russian болото ( boloto , 'swamp, march'), Czech bláto and Polish błoto ('swamp, mud'). Baltic Cognate are Lithuanian Baltas ( 'white'), Balà (Swamp ') and Latvian bales (' white). All words should, together with the Germanic * pōlaz ('Pfuhl'), English pool , Dutch poel ('Pfuhl, Tümpel'), Gallic pal or pol ('See, Sumpf'), Welsh pwll ('Pfuhl, Tümpel') and can be traced back to an Indo-European root * bʰel- or * balǝ- ('shiny, white'). The word polder also originated from this root . The semantic connection between 'white' and 'swamp, mud' is not obvious, but it has been demonstrated in many languages. This is likely due either to the widespread presence of the marsh grass called cottongrass , whose downy seed heads are white, or to the color of the dried clay, which takes on a light shade depending on the soil.

The designation of marshes as a type of soil was introduced in 1770 by the botanist Otto von Münchhausen after Swedish naturalists wrote about "Seeton" ( Söler ).


Marshes are generally flat stretches of land with no natural elevations. They consist of alluvial sediments and are roughly at sea ​​level inland from the tidal flats and the salt marshes and extend to the geest , which is of Pleistocene origin. Historically, they belong to the youngest geological formations: They are of Holocene origin, i.e. post-glacial. A few decimeters to several meters below the marshland and flat sea areas there are glacial layers that correspond to those that are exposed in the geest.

There are extensive marshlands in north-western Europe not only directly on the North Sea , but also, for example, as river marshes in the tidal zone of the tidal rivers , in particular the Scheldt , Maas , Ems , Weser , Elbe , Oste , Stör , Eider and Varde Å as well as the Thames . The marshland of the German North Sea coast, together with the adjacent areas on the Dutch and Danish sides, form the largest marshland in the world. The length of the marshland between Den Helder (NL) and Esbjerg (DK) is roughly 500 km. An important counterpart are the marshes between Hoek van Holland and Calais , which extend in the confluence of the Rhine and Maas as pure river marshes up to the German border. Lowland landscapes further inland are often referred to colloquially as “marshes” (or modifications of it, e.g. Leinemasch in Hanover with the Maschsee or the Lower Rhine Bay ), but more precisely from a pedological and hydrological point of view these are floodplains .

Marshes are also finer z. B. differentiated according to age or distance to the sea:


Animation on the relationship between the tidal flats, salt marshes and hinterland with the tides (low water, mean water level, high water and spring high water )

The output of all marshes is the mudflats. The marshes are created by the gradual silting up of the salt marshes through sedimentation on pioneer plants . This natural process was used by the coastal inhabitants in the past for land reclamation . The sedimentation rate is highest when the marshes have not yet grown too high above sea level. When storm and spring tides flood the salt marshes, the material carried along falls out at the end of the surf zone because the transport force is reduced by the reduced speed of the waves.

This creates a slightly elevated zone directly on the coast or on the river bank; the so-called highlands made of minerogenic sediments. Inland there is no sedimentation, which is why the lower Sietland is created here. Due to the slow rise in sea level or the lowering of the land, the difference in altitude between the highlands and Sietland increases and can be several meters. The surface can sink below the level of the low tidal water and must then be continuously drained. In the Sietland, groundwater and precipitation can develop into extensive fens, which tend to sag when drained .

The marshes were diked earlier for land reclamation and flood protection . These areas, protected by river and lake dikes , are called Koog (in Schleswig-Holstein), Groden or Heller (in Lower Saxony) or Polder (in the Netherlands). Where there is no protection by dykes, for example on Halligen , farms and settlements were built on several meters high piled terps or Wurten (Dutch: terpen) because of the risk of flooding .

The marshland is kept dry by a drainage system consisting of ditches, weather or weather systems , pumping stations and sluices . Without this constant drainage, the marsh would become a moorland in the long term . As a result of the drainage, the land (partly below sea level) has sunk. The deepest land in Germany is 3.54 meters below sea level and is located on the outskirts of Neuendorf-Sachsenbande in the Wilstermarsch west of Itzehoe in Schleswig-Holstein .


According to German soil mapping, the marshes form class M in the division of semi-terrestrial soils (groundwater soils ). The German soil systematics is one of the few classifications in the world that addresses it as a separate class. Most systems - like the WRB - only see parts of other classes in them. This peculiarity may be due to the fact that marshes in northwest Germany cover a large area. The Netherlands, Belgium, Russia and, since 1995, France ( thalassosols ) use a comparable system. The first classification of the marshland was carried out in 1827 by the Hanoverian property tax inspector Andreas Wilhelm Stelzner . In the Netherlands, the work of the agronomist Winand Staring (1856-1860) was decisive.

Like the gleye, all marshy soils have the leveling A / Go / Gr. To distinguish between the Gley March, however, there are three special features that must all be met:

  • Regional assignment in the marshland
  • The starting material is littoral sediments from the brackish water zone (starting point Watt). These are very rich in silt (there is rarely even pure silt ), are usually very rich in lime due to broken mussel shells and have a high proportion of organic matter in the entire sediment body down to the Pleistocene bottom. Numerous very fine layers that can be traced back to storm surges are typical of littoral sediments.
  • Young soil from the Holocene.

Immediately after the sediments have been deposited, soil formation begins. In order for the tidal flats to become a march, the area must be above the mean tidal range .

The seven different types of marshy soil in Germany form a logical, temporal and spatial sequence that starts at the mudflats . The stages of the Jungmarschen are always passed through. One of the four possible types is reached at the Altmarschen.

Polder stairs on a former dike of the Jadebusen: the areas on the left that were diked before 1600 are lower than the
old Wapeler Groden on the right, which was diked in 1733 .

About 1000 years old. In Germany a maximum of 2500 years.

Subtypes or other common names that do not represent a separate soil type are Moormarsch and Geestmarsch. In the Netherlands, moor marshes or dwog marshes are predominantly counted under the moor soils and labeled as "Klei-auf-Moor" ( klei-op-veen ). There are also transitions between Jungmarschen and Altmarschen possible, which are addressed as subtypes of the more pronounced soil type.

Chemical dynamics

Large amounts of iron sulfide (FeS) are produced in the mudflats under anaerobic conditions. This colors the ground intensely black and is still present in the Jungmarschen. If the sediments grow out of the daily flood area, the soil is aerated and sulphide oxidation begins . During this chemical reaction, sulfuric acid is released and the black iron sulfide is converted into brownish iron oxide hydroxide , which is why the soil color changes quickly. This process continues until all of the iron sulfide is oxidized. This greatly accelerates the lime leaching that occurs in all soils in Jungmarschen, since the sulfuric acid destroys the primarily sedimented carbonates .

In addition, other processes such as sagging and sweetening are used in soil development . In the further course of the process, the soils of the raw marsh , which are very salty at the beginning, are desalinated, which means that magnesium and above all sodium ions are washed out. As a result of the increasing ventilation, the oxidative processes also intensify, which leads to the breakdown of the organic substance and the formation of the structure. These processes lead to the formation of the Kalkmarschen and finally to the Kleimarsch after decalcification .

The lime-poor, humus-rich and iron-rich knick marshes , which arose primarily in the run-up to the raised bogs, were formerly known as Roodoorn or Rodorn in the northern Netherlands and East Frisia . The humus layers of the earth were called Darg ('Derrie, Dreck'). The oxidation of iron sulfide or pyrite also occasionally forms iron hydroxide sulfates , namely jarosite , which rapidly acidifies the soil. These sulfur-rich soils were called Maibolt (Dutch: katteklei , English cat clay , French argiles félioculines 'cat's eye'). The names are intended either to indicate suspicion of witchcraft , which was previously associated with the deteriorating cultivation conditions, or with the color, texture and smell of the clay components, which assimilate cat droppings. Folklorists later (and probably wrongly) associated the name with goblins . Closely related to the Maibolt is the blue-black powder earth , which is often found in deeper marsh layers. In order to improve the soil structure, calcareous clays were lifted from the subsoil and spread over the land. This process, otherwise known as marl, has been referred to as digging or cooling in the German coastal and river marshes .

Sulfuric acid soils are also common in river marshes and mangrove forests . However, they are particularly important problems for tropical wet rice cultivation . To prevent soil degradation , terraced rice fields or sawahs were built. The total area of ​​the affected soils is estimated at around 20 million hectares worldwide.


The marshland areas of northwest Germany are almost completely in use. Depending on the type of soil, either grassland or arable farming are predominant (see also under the different types of marshes). The marshland of the young marshes are usually very fertile. In addition to livestock farming , they are also used for arable farming. So Dithmarschen especially for carbon known. The Alte Land is one of the largest fruit-growing areas in Central Europe, the Vierlande and Marschlande in Hamburg are among the most important growing areas for vegetables and flowers . Due to the problematic drainage, however, grassland farming (meadow, pasture) is mostly to be found on the Sietland.

The fertility of the marshes is due to several factors: are Klei -floors heavy and fine grain by suspended matter and nutrient-rich. Due to the location near the coast, the climate is more balanced than inland, in particular frosts are rarer. Of particular importance for the microclimate are the numerous drainage ditches, which provide both protection from frost in spring and from intense heat in summer. In addition, the marshland has a high groundwater level, so that the water supply for the plants is much better than on the Geest .

The fertile soils are an essential reason for independent cultural and historical developments in the marshland, for example for the long period of independence of Dithmarschen . In many cases, the march residents distinguished themselves from the poorer residents of the Geest until the 20th century , for example in their marriage policy. It was considered improper to marry a resident of the Geest, in some cases it was disinherited or offended by the family or the place.

Marshland in Europe and North America

Settled regions, which are to be interpreted as marshes (or marshes or marais ), are mainly found on the coasts of the North Sea and the Atlantic. The river deltas, dry lakes and lagoons in southern Europe and the Baltic states can be compared well with this. The United States and Canada have extensive marshlands on the Gulf of St. Lawrence , Louisiana, and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in California . The first two are characterized by their marshland settlements , borrowed mainly from French examples. The Californian marshes, on the other hand, form a huge polder plain . The Holland Marsh in Ontario concerns a newly reclaimed moorland.



Northern Ireland

    • Lough Foyle : Myroe Level, Donnybrewer Level, Ballykelly Bank and other 'Sloblands'
    • Belfast Lough : Ballyhackamore, County Down and other 'Sloblands'
    • Lough Swilly : Islands and Shores



Marshes of the Mediterranean

Marshes of the Atlantic coast

Marshes of the English Channel

Flandre maritime








  • Engure Lake : Ķūļciema Polderis
  • Vecbērzes Polderis
  • Babīte Lake : Babīte Polderis, Dzilnupes Polderis, Trenču Polderis, Gātupes Polderis
  • Lielupe Polders





Po plain









See also


Web links

Commons : Marshes  - collection of images, videos and audio files

References and comments

  1. The category of 'marsh soils' was often included in the formal system of soil classification in Poland, Russia and the Baltic states. To characterize natural landscapes, on the other hand, the terms 'marshes' and 'marshland' are only used in Eastern Europe for salt marshes, not for the diked marshes.
  2. Jürgen Udolph: onenological studies on the German problem . Berlin / New York 1994, pp. 364-374, 772, 837.
  3. ^ Kirstin Casemir and Jürgen Udolph: On the place name Merseburg . In: onenological information / NI 109/110 (2017), pp. 108–146. Ernst Nègre: Toponymie générale de la France , Vol. 2: Formations non-romanes; formations dialectales, Paris 1996, p. 729, 1092-1093, Vol. 3, 1998, p. 1428.
  4. The oldest evidence - a copy from the 12th century - is likely to be spoiled or the result of a reinterpretation.
  5. The place Marchenoir is first mentioned in 1104 as Marchassus negrus . Breton examples are the places Le Pouliguen ('white swamp') and Noirpalu ('black swamp', 1186 apud Nigrum paludem ), with the mainland Celtic root pol ('pond', 'lake', 'swamp'). Stéphane Gendron: Le gaulois * pol-, 'étang, marais' en Indre-et-Loire. In: Bulletin de la Société archéologique de Touraine 42 (1992), pp. 385-416.
  6. ^ Ward van Osta: Veen, ven en peel . In: Naamkunde 29 (1997), pp. 31-61. The reinterpretation of fenne to 'Marschweide' also in North Friesland; in East Friesland, however, the older meaning 'moor meadow'.
  7. Walter Berschin: Middle Latin Studies. Heidelberg 2005, Vol. 1, p. 959. Cf. Altenglisches pidele 'marsh, fen'.
  8. Charles J. Donnovan: Chartae Fabrianenses. Commentaries. In: Archivum Latinitatis Medii Aevi 61 (2003), pp. 223–288, here 255.
  9. ^ Wiktionary (English): Reconstruction: Proto-Slavic / bolto . Pietro U. Dini: Foundations of the Baltic Language . Vilnius 2004, pp. 41-42.
  10. NIBIS map server of the State Office for Mining, Energy and Geology - Geozentrum Hannover : → Geology → Geological coast map 1:25 000 → Relief of the Holocene base
  11. Leendert Japhet Pons: Outline of the Genesis, Characteristics, Classification and Improvement of Acid Sulphate Soils. In: H. Dost (ed.), Acid Sulphate Soils, Proceedings of the International Symposium on Acid Sulphate Soils August 13-20, 1972, part. 1: Introductory Papers and Bibliography , Wageningen 1973, pp. 3–27.
  12. Sven Kruse-Irmer: Soils: more than the dirt under our feet - in a virtual soil nature trail -. In: Soil Science. Institute for Biology and Environmental Sciences (IBU) at the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, January 9, 2007, archived from the original on March 21, 2008 ; accessed on January 12, 2018 .
  13. D. Dethefsen: History of the Holstein Elbmarschen. 1891.
  14. Kevin Leonard: The Origin and Dispersal of Dykeland Technology In: Les Cahiers de la Société Historique Acadienne 22 (1991), pp. 31-59. Fritz Bartz: French Influences in the Image of the Cultural Landscape of North America: Hoof settlements and marsh polders in Canada and Louisiana. In: Erdkunde 9 (1955), pp. 286-305.