The largest river restoration initiative in Estonia has improved ecological conditions for over 3 000 km of river habitat and directly impacted 32 species of fish. In particular, the project targeted the salmon, a migratory fish that had particularly suffered from barriers to its migration.
About the project
- Main applicant
Conservation on land
- Countries involved
- Main N2000 site
Pärnu jõe (EE0040345)
The Pärnu River in Estonia is one of the country’s largest river basins and the most important salmon river in the country. As well as salmon, other important fish species found in the river include the European bullhead, the spined loach, the river lamprey and the river mussel. It is part of the Natura 2000 network.
Scientists estimate that the reproduction potential for salmon in the Pärnu River is approximately 45 000 to 58 000 young fish a year. However, these days, fewer than 100 fish return to the sea from the river in most years.
Until recently, about 90% of the suitable habitats and spawning sites in the river basin had been made inaccessible to migratory fish due to damming. The first and most significant migration barrier on the river was the 150-metre-wide, 4.5-metre-high Sindi Dam, located 14 km from the estuary. In 2015, the Estonian government bought the land and the dam from private owners for €1.3 million. Following extensive consultations with the local community, Sindi Dam was demolished in 2019.
Managed by the Estonian Environment Agency, this action was a part of a larger €15 million project funded by the EU Cohesion Fund. The project helped to restore a historical salmon migration route and riverine habitat in the Pärnu River basin through the removal of two other dams on the Pärnu River and four dams on its tributaries.
Overall, 3 300 km of interconnected river system - including the 144 km-long Pärnu River and its 270 tributaries - was restored. This has been the largest river restoration initiative in Estonia and a leading example of river restoration for the whole of Europe, significantly contributing to the objectives of the EU Biodiversity Strategy. The removal of fish barriers has brought ecological benefits throughout the river basin: the conservation status of 32 different species living in the river has been improved.