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Dam Busters: Restoring Europe's Rivers

Updated: Jun 13, 2022

At least 239 barriers, including dams and weirs, were removed across 17 countries in Europe in 2021, in a record-breaking year for dam removals across the continent.

A river in Slovenia

In October last year, the Open Rivers Programme, a €42.5m project to provide grants to support the removal of small dams and the restoration of river flow across Europe, was launched.

And, earlier this year, the European Commission released a guide for member states to identify barriers that could be removed to help achieve the goal of restoring 25,000km (15,500 miles) of rivers to free-flowing by 2030. It's all part of the drive to replenish and restore a more natural balance between man and nature, for the benefit of both.

“Our efforts to expand dam removals across Europe are gathering speed,” said Pao Fernández Garrido, project manager for the World Fish Migration Foundation, who helped produce Dam Removal Europe’s annual report.

“An increasing number of governments, NGOs, companies and communities are understanding the importance of halting and reversing nature loss, and buying into the fact that dam removal is a river-restoration tool that boosts biodiversity and enhances climate resilience. We’re also seeing lessons being learned from previous dam removals, new countries kickstarting removals, and new funds, including crowdfunding.”

More than 1 million barriers are estimated to exist on Europe’s rivers and at least 150,000 are old, obsolete barriers that serve no economic purpose.

Dams, weirs and other river obstacles block fish migration routes, often leading to the loss of breeding areas and reduced numbers of species such as salmon, sturgeon, trout and eel, which affects the wider biodiversity of ecosystems, including species ranging from eagles to otters. Free-flowing rivers also transport sediments and nutrients.

Dam Removal Europe is a coalition of seven organisations, including the World Fish Migration Foundation, WWF, the Rivers Trust and Rewilding Europe, working to restore healthy, free-flowing rivers across the continent.


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