First European River Summit to save Europe’s last wild rivers

According to the recent European State of Water report from the European Environment Agency, nearly two thirds of European rivers are in a bad ecological state. One of the biggest threats to rivers in Europe is hydropower. The first European Rivers Summit in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzogovina tackled this issue and discussed solutions. The summit took place from September 27-29th 2018. It aimed at activists, NGO’s, experts, fishermen and river lovers to come together to share experience and knowledge, and create new ideas and networks. In the words of the summit’s flyer: to fight, campaign, and care for European rivers.

Please also read: The role of Austria in the destruction of WILDRivers in the Balkans

Rivers unite, Dams divide

This first European River Summit in Sarajevo took a closer look on the current situation of European, particular Balkan, rivers. Participants from all over Europe as well as USA presented their approach to stop the destruction of free-flowing rivers.

The summit, organised by Riverwatch, opened with a talk on the Blue Heart of Europe by Riverwatch and EuroNatur Foundation. The first day ended with a screening and discussion of Patagonia’s film “Blue Heart”. The second day hosted talks about “Who is financing the dam boom? Banks and state subsidies” by the CEE Bankwatch Network, the impacts of small hydropower plants and the Water Framework Directive by Wetlands International. The third day covered topics such as dam removal in Europe, and the U.S. Wild and Scenic River Act and how to apply it to Europe. Riverwatch also presented an Eco-Masterplan for Balkan Rivers. Several workshops on the presented topics completed the summit programme. A concert to raise awareness of the Blue Heart of Europe marked the end of the summit.

Vjosa WILDRiver
Vjosa River in Albania

European Rivers Programme 2027 Declaration

The outcome of this first European River Summit was a declaration on the European Rivers Programme 2027, agreed upon by the participants of the summit. It contains a list of demands for the protection of the last free-flowing rivers in Europe. The declaration also includes a call for the restoration of ecologically important rivers and river stretches. These demands serve the successful implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive objectives.
The two main demands of the summit to the European Commission, European Parliament, Energy Community, EBRD and EIB and the Heads of State of all European countries are, to:
  • “stop promoting and funding hydropower projects as a sustainable source of energy.
  • foster the energy transition toward a low energy-demanding development at all levels of society.”

Further demands to the European Commission and the European Parliament are, to:

  • “support the fight against corruption by conditioning financial support on compliance with EU laws and Rules of Law
  • establish and publish a pan-European inventory of ecologically outstanding, freeflowing rivers
  • establish a European-wide system for permanent protection for particularly outstanding and free-flowing rivers, modelled on the ‘Wild & Scenic Rivers Act’ of the USA
  • create a fund of at least €1 billion per year for river protection and restoration, as well as the management and conservation of protected rivers. This fund should promote inter alia the removal of dams and other barriers, especially those whose concessions have expired and/or are ecologically particularly damaging”

The declaration further calls on the European Bank for Reconstruct and Development (EBRD), the European Investment Bank (EIB), the Energy Community and state governments.

Thaya WILDRiver


The demands formulated in the European Rivers Programme 2027 Declaration address the most pressing problems of European rivers. Two of their demands are also considered by the WILDRiver category of the European Wilderness Network. The European Wilderness Society is committed to preserving Europe’s last remaining pristine or near-pristine rivers with the category “WILDRiver”. The U.S. Wild and Scenic River Act is the basis for the criteria of the WILDRiver category. The current WILDRivers in the European Wilderness Network for example include the transboundary Thaya and Dyje WILDRiver on the border of Austria and the Czech Republic, and the Mala Uholka WILDRiver in Ukraine. Several rivers in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, such as the Vjosa river and Râul Alb river, are currently nominated to join the European Wilderness Network in the near future.

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Join more 100+ forest experts demanding a radical change in German forestry management.

Sign the Open Letter to the German Federal Minister of Forestry and Agriculture

Open Letter to the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture

Federal Ministry of
Food and Agriculture
Minister Julia Klöckner
11055 Berlin

Dear Minister Klöckner,

The current situation of the forest in Germany is worrying. It is a forest crisis not only driven by climate change. The current crisis management of the forestry industry is backward-looking and harmful to the forest. The declaration announced at the meeting of ministers in Moritzburg can be described as a `Moritzburg declaration of bankruptcy´. We call on the state forestry industry to, instead of expensive rushed actions, finally carry out an expert analysis of its own work and to involve all stakeholders in this process. What is called for is a consistent departure from plantation forestry and a radical shift towards a management that treats the forest as an ecosystem and no longer as a wood factory.

On 1stAugust 2019, five forestry ministers of CDU and CSU-led states adopted a so-called “master plan” for the forest in Germany, which was affected by heat, bark beetles, fire and drought. As of 2020, the federal government is to make 800 million euros available as a reaction to climate change. This money is to be used to repair the damage caused, reforest the damaged areas and carry out `climate-adapted´ forest conversion – including the use of non-native tree species that have not yet been cultivated in the forest. Research should therefore focus on on tree species suitability and forest plant breeding in the future – keyword: `Climate-adapted forest of the future 2100´.

Remarkably, the damage caused primarily by the extreme drought of 2018 is attributed solely to climate change. Climate change is meeting a forest that is systemically ill due to the planting of non-native tree species, species poverty, monocultures, uniform structure, average low age, mechanical soil compaction, drainage etc. A healthy, resistant forest would look differently! The master plan emphasizes: sustainable, multifunctional and `active´ forest management remains indispensable – and thereby means that its unnatural state cannot be changed. Reference is made to the `carbon storage and substitution effects´ of wood products. The use of wood, e.g. in the construction industry, should be increased and thus the demand for wood should be further fueled – while knowing that the forest in Germany already cannot meet this demand. In fact, forest owners are suffering from poor timber prices due to an oversupply of trunk wood on the world market.

All these demands make clear: the current forestry strategy, which has been practiced for decades, should not change in principle. The concept is simple: cut down trees – plant trees. At best, the `design´ of the future artificial forests consisting of perfectly calculated tree species mixtures, that are believed to survive climate change without damages, can be changed. In all seriousness, the intention is to continue selling the public a so-called `future strategy´ to save the forest. This strategy seamlessly follows the model of a wood factory, that is met with general rejection and must be regarded as a failure in view of the coniferous plantations that are currently collapsing on a large scale. An essential part of the forests that have currently died is exactly the part that was reestablished in 1947 as coniferous monocultures on a much larger area than today. There is only one difference to the situation at the time: considerable amounts of money are to be made available from taxes for forest owners this time.

Climate change is progressing, and this, without a doubt, has massive impacts on all terrestrial ecosystems, including forests. To pretend that the last two years of drought alone caused the disaster is too cheap. On closer inspection, the disaster is also the result of decades of a forestry focused on conifers – in a country that was once naturally dominated by mixed deciduous forests. People do not like to admit that for more than 200 years they have relied on the wrong species of commercial tree (spruce) and have also created artificial, ecologically highly unstable and thus high-risk forest ecosystems. A whole branch of business has become dependent on coniferous wood. And now the German coniferous timber industry is on the verge of bankruptcy.

It would only have been honest and also a sign of political greatness if you and the forestry ministers in Moritzburg had declared: Yes, our forestry industry has made mistakes in the past, and yes, we are ready for a relentless analysis that takes into account not only purely silvicultural, but also forest-ecological aspects. Instead, you have confined yourselves to pre-stamped excuses that are already familiar to everyone and that lack any self-critical reflection.

Clear is: We finally need resting periods for the forest in Germany, which has been exploited for centuries. We need a new, ecologically oriented concept for future forest – not a hectic `forest conversion´, but simply forest development closer towards nature. This gives the forest as an ecosystem the necessary leeway to self-regulate and react to the emerging environmental changes. We need a systemic forest management that is no less profitable than the present one, but must be substantially more stable and resistant to foreseeable environmental changes. The aid for forest owners that all citizens are now required to pay through their taxes is only politically justified in the interest of common good, if the forests of the future that are being promoted by it, do not end up in the next disaster, some of which is produced by the forest management itself.

That is why the signatories request from the the Federal Government, and in particular you, Mrs Klöckner, a master plan worthy of the name:

On disaster areas (mainly in public forests!) reestablishment through natural forest development (ecological succession), among other things with pioneer tree species, is to be brought about. In private forests, ecological succession for reestablishment must be purposefully promoted. Larger bare areas should be planted with a maximum of 400 to 600 large plants of native species per hectare in order to permit ecological succession parallelly.
To promote ecological succession, the areas should no longer be completely and mechanically cleared; as much wood as possible should be left in the stand (to promote optimum soil and germ bed formation, soil moisture storage and natural protection against browsing). In private forests, the abandonment of use in disaster areas should be specifically promoted for ecological reasons and in order to relieve the burden on the timber market.

Regarding the promotion of reestablishment plantings in private forests: priority for native tree species (of regional origin); choose wide planting distances in order to leave enough space for the development of pioneer species. For the forests of the future: Minimize thinning (low-input principle), build up stocks through targeted development towards old thick trees, protect the inner forest climate / promote self-cooling function (should have highest priority due to rapidly progressing climate change!), prohibit heavy machinery, refrain from further road construction and expansion, permit and promote natural self-regulatory development processes in the cultivated forest and on (larger) separate areas in the sense of an compound system; drastically reduce the density of ungulate game (reform of hunting laws).

Like in the field of organic agriculture, which has been established since the 1980s, the crisis of our forests should be the reason today to transform at least two existing forestry-related universities. They should be turned into universities for interdisciplinary forest ecosystem management. This is a contribution not only to the further development of forestry science and silviculture in Germany, but also of global importance! The goal must be to produce wood through largely natural forest production and to start with it here in Germany, the birthplace of forestry.


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