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Environment
News article21 December 2021Directorate-General for Environment

Free-flowing rivers: Commission advises how to select sites and finance removal of obsolete barriers

As announced in the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, the Commission has developed a guidance document to assist Member States in identifying and prioritising barriers that could be removed to help achieve the Biodiversity Strategy’s goal of restoring 25 000 km of rivers to be free-flowing, and in identifying possible funding sources. The Strategy proposes two main types of action to achieve that goal: removal of barriers and the restoration of floodplains and wetlands.

Commissioner for the Environment, Fisheries and Oceans Virginijus Sinkevičius, said:

Rivers in Europe are heavily fragmented. Removing barriers to restore their natural flow and connectivity will help freshwater ecosystems thrive and facilitate the migration of endangered species, such as the sturgeon and the European eel. Investing in healthy rivers will also bring many benefits related to ecosystem services, such as flood protection, water purification and recreational opportunities. We can now provide practical support to Member States on how to do it and on how to finance such actions

Europe’s rivers, lakes and alluvial habitats are under immense pressure. The key pressures concern fragmentation and hydromorphological changes, such as canalisation, building dams and bank reinforcements. The Biodiversity Strategy calls for greater efforts to restore the natural functions of rivers, as well as for stepping up efforts to achieve the Water Framework Directive objectives. Furthermore, it seeks to foster a greater integration of efforts for the protection of EU waters and nature to achieve not only the objective of achieving good ecological status, but also the objective of habitat and species restoration, in line with the European Green Deal.   

The guidance document aims to clarify the concept of free-flowing rivers and to develop a common understanding of how this target is linked to the Water Framework Directive objectives, and to the Birds and Habitats Directives.

In addition, the document offers an overview of existing methods that could be adapted and used to support the planning of barrier removal to restore river connectivity, and of existing EU financing tools that could be used to fund the removal of barriers and the restoration of floodplains and wetlands.

 

Background 

The EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 adopted in May 2020 proposes ambitious EU actions and commitments to halt biodiversity loss in Europe and worldwide, in line with the European Green Deal.

The Strategy aims at putting Europe’s biodiversity on the path to recovery by 2030, with a view to ensuring that by 2050 all of the world’s ecosystems are restored, resilient, and adequately protected. One objective of the Biodiversity Strategy is the restoration of freshwater ecosystems. The Strategy calls for greater efforts to restore these ecosystems and the natural functions of rivers. In addition to calling for better implementation of existing legislation on freshwater, the Strategy sets the target to make at least 25 000 km of rivers free-flowing again by 2030, by removing primarily obsolete barriers and restoring floodplains and wetlands.

 

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Details

Publication date
21 December 2021
Author
Directorate-General for Environment