Wilderness PolicyWILDRivers

EU commits to support free-flowing rivers

The recently released the new EU-wide Biodiversity Strategy revealed the ambition to put Europe’s biodiversity on the path to recovery until 2030. One of the key areas to achieve this is the restoration of free-flowing rivers.

The strategy sets out objectives on how Europe can ensure the recovery of biodiversity. This will benefit people, the planet, the climate and the economy. All of it is in line with existing document such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Biodiversity and water

The EU’s legal framework on water is an ambitious long-term policy, but implementation lags behind. Therefore, the enforcement of the new Biodiversity Strategy is important to highlight the need for greater efforts to restore freshwater ecosystems and the natural functions of free-flowing rivers. A lot has to happen to achieve the objectives of previously approved policies such as the Water Framework Directive.

The main tool to restore freshwater ecosystems is removing or adjusting barriers. Most barriers prevent the passage of migrating fish, and accelerate the flow of water and sediments. To tackle this issue, the removal of obsolete and ineffective barriers and the restoration of floodplains and wetlands is planned. The European Commission announced to provide technical guidance and support to the Member States in 2021. It will help with the identification of sites, mobilise funding and consult with all relevant authorities.

Restore 25 000 km of free-flowing rivers

Within Europe, it is estimated that there is almost one barrier per kilometre of river. Hence, rivers are increasingly disconnected due to dams and other hard infrastructure. These trap an estimated 25% total global sediment load that formerly reached the ocean.

The EU Biodiversity Strategy formulates the objective to restore at least 25 000 km into free-flowing rivers through the removal of barriers and the restoration of floodplains. This is definitely a good first step forward, even though some organizations, for example WWF, deem that many more kilometres are necesssary.

The strategy also mentions that the large scale river and floodplain restoration investments can provide an economic boost for the recreation and tourism sector. This can in turn improve investments in water regulation, flood protection, nursery habitats for fish, and the removal of pollution.

This does not only underline importance of activities done by the European Wilderness Society, but also dramatically increases the potential for WILDRivers outside of protected areas

Vlado Vancura
Deputy Director – European Wilderness Society

Opportunities for WILDRivers

The European Wilderness Society has advocated the protection of undamaged rivers and their active restoration for years. Is it remarkbale that this topic was finally incorporated into the groundbreaking EU-wide Biodiversity Strategy. We have developed guidelines for WILDRivers and with the document below, everyone can ideintify WILDRivers around them.

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