25,000 km of free-flowing European rivers and nature restoration – seven recommendations from science

This is an important step to restore biodiversity and protect ecosystem services. These are the benefits that people get from a healthy ecosystem, for example protection from floods and droughts, fresh water supplies or mangrove forests as a fish nursery and coastal protection.

Scientists from Europe offer their view on whether the law will bring nature closer to recovery. Through their experience and field, they see room for different interpretations within the law, differences that have consequences for achieving the goal. Therefore, in a recent publication, they made seven recommendations for the introduction.

One of the scientists involved in making the recommendations is Tom Boyce, a specialist in freshwater systems and ecology at Deltares. Buijse is also a professor of fish ecology at WUR. Based on his experience, he believes the Nature Restoration Act is absolutely necessary. Boesy mainly emphasizes the practical application of this scientific consideration, namely how the Nature Restoration Act can contribute concretely to the revitalization of rivers.

It considers that current legislation to restore freshwater ecosystems is insufficient to halt the decline of biodiversity and raise nature’s recovery to a higher level.
Plan to bring

Tom Boyce, freshwater systems and environment specialist

How can the law be successful when it comes to rivers?

There must be a clear definition of a free-flowing river

Recovery and maintenance goals must be translated into specific, measurable goals

The European Commission has formulated definitions for it Restoring rivers and their watersheds, which is currently being tested for practical applicability and refined by the ECOSTAT Working Group. These definitions must be used.

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Full width of the river

Rivers do not run in a straight line across the landscape from source to sea. Rivers are associated with small rivers, streams and creeks and are therefore associated with the landscape. Therefore, the proposal includes the minimum length of the river stretch to achieve the restoration goal.

Fully thinking about the ecosystem to restore nature

Points 1 and 2 already indicate that nature restoration does not only take place in or directly around the river. Linkages between rivers, floodplains, groundwater and hotspots for various species are critical to protecting many species that depend on freshwater. Focusing only on restoration along the river will not yield the desired result.

It also virtually prevents damage to natural or original systems

Since the law covers 25,000 square kilometers of rivers, a relatively low number, restoration implementation can better focus on areas where efforts lead to significant improvements when it comes to the environment, freshwater supply and ecosystem services.

Increase awareness and involvement of river users

There are many conflicting interests among river users. But in the end everyone benefits from a healthy river system. It is important to be able to make an informed decision between the long and short term. Engage policy makers, governments, river managers, conservation associations, users and the public.

Linkage with other legislative frameworks

European rivers pass through different countries, each of which has its own legislative frameworks and legal and administrative processes, making registration agreements complex. . Scientists suggest a negotiation process similar to that for floods and water shortages in rivers to reach agreements.

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Also agree on how to monitor the recovery process.

Good methodologies for framework guidance for water and nature restoration already exist. Combine this here with innovative measurement methods, for example satellites when it comes to habitat maps or e-DNA when it comes to biodiversity restoration.

Post with recommendations

Publication “Revitalizing Europe’s Rivers” The recommendations were written at the initiative of fellow institutes IGB in Berlin and BOKU in Vienna. Deltares cooperates with them on various European projects. For example in context Merlin A research consortium between the European Union and HORIZON studies freshwater ecosystem restoration in seventeen different European river basins. All authors also have extensive experience in river landscape restoration within their institutions.

Megan Vasquez

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