Rivers in Europe are heavily fragmented. There are thousands of unused and unwanted dams and artificial barriers around Europe, vestiges of human activities of the past century. They are destroying the health of rivers, impacting freshwater biodiversity, posing increasing risk to communities and undermining climate resilience.
The EU Biodiversity Strategy aims to free up 25,000 km of rivers before 2030. This includes removing unnecessary barriers such as dams, which helps freshwater ecosystems thrive and facilitates the migration of endangered species, such as the sturgeon and the European eel. Investing in healthy rivers can also bring many benefits related to ecosystem services, such as flood protection, water purification and recreational opportunities.
In this episode Euronews explores the Europe-wide movement of dam removal and witnesses what happens to the natural environment when these artificial barriers are removed. They start their trip in Spain, the European leader in obsolete barriers removals and observe an obsolete dam being removed in the forest near Navafria, León province. In Santa Marina del Rey, a municipality crossed by the Orbigo river, Euronews looks at the positive effects of dam removal on flood risk, water quality and ecosystem services, but also explores why it’s often a sensitive and misunderstood topic.
In Estonia, a country advanced in the field of river restoration, Euronews visits a large hydro-electric dam planned for removal that is the subject of several legal actions. It witnesses the impressive work done to restore the river Parnü, reconnecting its 3,000 kilometres, and talks to local fishermen and tourism entrepreneurs about the benefits they enjoy.
European rivers and wetlands are invaluable resources. They provide clean water for citizens and industry, support food production, and are a source of inspiration and cultural identity. Peatlands and other wetlands are excellent carbon sinks, playing a vital role in climate mitigation efforts. Due to their capacity to store water for dry periods and reduce floods, their role in adaption is also crucial.
But our rivers and other freshwater habitats are vulnerable, and often subject to various pressures. Despite progress, the ambitious goals of the Water Framework Directive have not been achieved across the EU, with currently less than half of the EU surface water bodies in good or high ecological status.
Freshwater species decline at an alarming rate, and more than 85% of the world’s wetlands have been lost. In the EU a majority of habitats have a poor or bad conservation status, with about 40% of all surface water bodies affected by hydromorphological pressures.
The Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 sets out specific targets for the restoration of freshwater ecosystems and for restoring the natural functions of our rivers. This can be achieved mainly through the removal of barriers and the restoration of floodplains and wetlands.
The Nature Restoration Law proposal that is currently negotiated in the European Parliament and the Council is instrumental for reaching the EU river restoration goal, enshrining in law the target of restoring 25,000km of EU rivers and outlining the method to do so. This proposal also calls for the restoration and rewetting of degraded European peatlands, emphasising the vital role they play in storing carbon and providing biodiversity habitat.
“The Road to Green” is a Euronews magazine in collaboration with the Directorate-General for Environment (ENV). It features monthly 8-minute videos, delivered in a road trip format, covering Europe’s continuing transformation to a circular, net-zero, nature-positive and clean economy.
DG ENV co-finances the production of the Road to Green, while Euronews retain full editorial independence. Views and opinions expressed in the programme are solely those of the speakers and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the European Commission or any other entities.
- Publication date
- 18 October 2023
- Directorate-General for Environment