A Critical Juncture for Europe’s Rivers


Source: Wetlands International

Vienna, Austria -- Over 300 delegates gathered last week for the European River Restoration Conference. Leading policy makers, scientists and restoration practitioners shared experiences, identified the key future challenges and celebrated successes in improving the state of Europe’s rivers. The Rhine River was recognised with the 1st European Riverprize while finalists from more recent river initiatives in central and southern Europe were highly acclaimed. Distinguished keynote speakers including EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik were impressed by the growing body of knowledge and good practice examples that the European Centre of River Restoration and its partners brought together that is essential to support the implementation of many EU policy objectives.

The 5th European River Restoration Conference in Vienna occurred at a critical juncture for rivers in Europe. Maintaining and restoring the ecological functions of rivers in light of growing demands for water, energy and food, and increasing pressures from climate change are formidable challenges.

At the same time, there are exciting new opportunities to achieve environmental and social policy objectives through river restoration. The role of restoring river ecosystems to achieve the good ecological status of Europe’s waters, climate change resilience, improved quality of life, and economic development are being recognised in new policy initiatives, including the European Commission’s Green Infrastructure Strategy and the Blueprint to safeguard Europe’s waters.

EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik discussed the importance of restoring the ecological health of Europe’s rivers, and emphasised the importance of mainstreaming green infrastructure and Natural Water Retention Measures such as wetlands for both the environmental and economic benefits (Read his speech).

Delivering River Restoration to Realise European Policy Ambitions

Wetlands International and partner the European Centre for River Restoration and the RESTORE project brought together expertise within the fields of policy, science and practice in order to increase the use of river and wetlands restoration to improve the health of Europe’s waters. River restoration – by restoring natural river features such as wetlands and floodplains – has enormous potential to help tackle many of Europe’s water challenges, including flood risk management, water quality regulation, urban regeneration, biodiversity conservation and the support of fisheries.

According to Wetlands International CEO Jane Madgwick, “The conference confirmed that scaling up and replication of the many successful river projects is needed to meet Europe’s water targets and would bring far wider benefits. But this will only happen when reviving the health of Europe’s rivers is embraced by society at large and resourced by all relevant sectors, including agriculture and industry. It’s a real challenge, but public awareness and the willingness of governments, civil society and business to get round the table and collaborate on this is definitely growing.“

Despite the obvious benefits, river restoration is still not a mainstream solution. Wetlands International led a session that identified the key challenges to policy implementation in Europe that constrain the use of river restoration and explored how these can be overcome. We intend to work closely with our partners, the European Commission and Member States in order continue building on and scaling up river restoration successes.

Congratulating the Rhine River

The Rhine River was awarded the 1st European Riverprize during the conference. Sponsored by the International River Foundation, the Rhine was recognised for its achievements in integrated river basin management following a 50 year legacy of river degradation and a devastating chemical accident in 1986. The Rhine has successfully restored and reconnected 80 old branches of the river and improved river continuity and the migration of salmon through the modification of 480 barriers. Read more.

Conference Proceedings Available Online

The full proceedings of the conference - including presentations and video of all sessions and keynote speeches – will be available in the coming weeks on the RESTORE website.

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