What's going on at the European River Restoration Centre?

Guest blog: Bart Fokkens, ECRR

European Centre for River Restoration (ECRR)

A look at current activities


Informally constituted as a specialist’s river restoration network in 1999, ECRR’s main activity was to promote sustainable river and floodplain management and to ensure widespread implementation and dissemination of river-floodplain restoration activities, through developing a European Network of relevant (national) river restoration institutions. Nowadays, the ECRR is a formal association of 16 such institutions and with a network of thousands river restoration practitioners promoting and building capacity for ecological river restoration across greater Europe. ECRR is supporting the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive, Flood Directive, the UNECE Water Convention, the Convention on Biodiversity, as well as national policies in wider Europe. See: www.ecrr.org

River continuity restoration survey

ECRR is a supporting partner of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and has chosen river continuity restoration as a guiding theme for its promotion plans and supporting activities as part of the UN Ecological Restoration Decade movement. Undisturbed river continuity – free-flowing and without artificial barriers – is fundamental for the hydro-morphological and ecological health of rivers. The degree of river fragmentation by artificial barriers is remarkably high in many regions and countries of greater Europe and river restoration is considered as the most progressive mechanism to improve this. As there was no overview of longitudinal river continuity restoration policy, planning and implementation across different countries ECRR has conducted a pan-European survey on policies and strategic planning regarding river continuity restoration. 29 out of 49 contacted countries, covering more than 80% of the area of greater Europe answered 60 questions concerning the following topics:

  1. Recognition of river continuity in current national policies
  2. The potential of river continuity restoration in each country
  3. Observations/opinions on the importance of and opposition to river continuity restoration

The answers to this survey and the results of their analyses have allowed initial conclusions and recommendations to be drawn as to the current situation regarding river continuity restoration policies and strategic planning in wider Europe.


Conclusions and recommendations

Some striking outcomes of the survey are as follows:

  • Half of the countries had a priority list of barriers where river continuity should be improved. The prioritised barrier types are in order of importance:
  1. Those with the largest environmental impact 2. Easy to implement measures (low hanging fruit) 3. Any barrier lacking a (functioning) fish passage 4. Obsolete barriers
  • The measures to restore river continuity that are currently applied to river barriers are in order of the extent of which they are applied
  1. Adding a fish passage 2. Constructing a bypass channel 3. Barrier.
  • 10% of the listed number of barriers is already passable for fish, while 50% can be adjusted to become passable.

These and many more conclusions and recommendations are in the ECRR Report “A pan-European survey to strengthen and improve policies and strategic planning regarding river continuity restoration” Moreover, a comprehensive summary is published in a special issue of an ECRR technical newsletter ECRRNEWS – 1/2021 May”.


I.S.Rivers International Conference

From 4th – 8th July the 4th International Conference I.S.Rivers on Integrative science and sustainable development of rivers will be held in Lyon, France. See the announcement here. ECRR organises a conference session on river continuity restoration and is featuring and supporting a workshop on free-flowing rivers, prior to the conference on the 3rd of July organised by ECRR members and partners on free-flowing rivers.  In the session conference participants present their research, studies or project providing an overview on river management and continuity restoration measures. The programme is ready, and the registration will be open from middle of March on.


Upcoming workshop; Free-flowing rivers and restoration of river connectivity; From theory to operational Approaches

The EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 is targeting for the restoration of 25,000 km free-flowing rivers. Recently the European Commission published a guidance document “Biodiversity Strategy 2030; Barrier Removal for river restoration”. In this document full river connectivity is recognised to have four dimensions: Longitudinal, lateral, vertical and temporal. However the EC proposes to primarily  focus on barriers to longitudinal and lateral connectivity and mainly interprets ‘free-flowing rivers’ as surface water bodies that are not impaired by artificial barriers and not disconnected from their floodplain. The EC Guidance document preliminary introduces general principles and concepts, such as “river functional units”, to guide Member States in the development of projects and programmes for the restoration of connectivity. But to make the “free-flowing’ river concept operational is still an open task and several questions require technical discussions, such as:

  • How do we compute the attainment of a “free-flowing” river (reach)?
  • How do we measure and assess longitudinal and lateral connectivity?
  • How to apply the concept of river functional unit to the different dimensions of connectivity? At what scale?
  • What are the available methods to prioritize the restoration connectivity and what remains to be improved?
  • What metrics would make up and cover a comprehensive prioritization approach?

The workshop, also based upon previous surveys and reviews, aims to bring relevant current approaches on these topics from the EU and USA, and from all participants, distilling operational proposals for the concrete implementation of free-flowing rivers’ targets.

Workshop format:

The workshop has in the morning two parallel sessions: 1. A metric for “free-flowing rivers’ and 2. How to prioritize the restoration of connectivity. In the afternoon a field excursion will take place on the Yzeron Catchment, in the Southwest of Lyon. A bus will take the participants to several sites where dam removals took place. Some presentations of the projects will be made and there will be time for questions and discussions.


EC Biodiversity Strategy and Green Deal

The European Biodiversity and the European Green Deal are two new initiatives provide significant basis for strengthening the efforts and actions to protect and restore rivers and their associate ecosystem and to ensure that rivers can continue to provide services and therefore benefits to people they are capable of. In 2021 one the ECRR organised together with the International Association of Water services in the Danube Basin and 10 European partner organisations an online conference the “European River Symposium, European and Rivers and Wetlands” 2021 to help the 250 participants get acquainted with the implementation of the new strategy and policy initiatives. In one of the 14 sessions the report on the pan-European River Continuity Survey was launched. This varied session can be watched at “Developing Policy and Planning of River Continuity Restoration in Greater Europe”. All information on the symposium, including all recorded sessions, a full technical and a narrative report, are available at the symposium website.


As a result of the symposium some partners and participants wrote about conference topics articles for the upcoming technical newsletter, ECRRNews – 1/2022, April. They actually teach us that the future started already some years ago. Each of the articles describes a start of a new initiative in the past and showing the results today. It appears that these results match very good with the objectives of the Biodiversity Strategy and the Green Deal policy. This means that implementing these strategy and policy is not starting from scratch, but that it is a matter of scaling and speeding up these new types of integrated river basin restoration including funding and financing. From the articles you can learn the following.

The Norwegian National Restoration Project enables the restoration of North Norway and the ‘ecological reopening’ of Oslo making Norway’s future bright and blue. The Nature Conservancy works on defining prioritised investment plans and attracting more coordinated and targeted funding to deliver those plans for much greater funding and repayable financing which are both needed to deliver on the EU’s goals of restoring rivers, free flowing or not!

The Slovenian river restoration practices lead to more biodiversity and multiple ecosystem services, which improve human health and social life, and support economy in various sectors. The MIC’s citizen science focuses on selecting short- and long-term impacts that the stakeholders deem to be the high priority for the project and establishing a plan to assess whether these impacts are being achieved or not.

And the last two articles demonstrate an effective Integrated River Basin Management and Planning for freshwater restoration and the reduction of flood risk through floodplain restoration in the Danube basin. The two articles are so much interrelated that reading one, should make you read the other one as well.

ECRR as a knowledge platform and catalyst

ECRR’s role is as a knowledge network and as a catalyst for enabling continual improvement of river restoration. ECRR’s activities are conducted by the member organizations in the different countries through their (inter-) national work programmes, drawing on, linking to and supported by the wider ECRR network. The learning and understanding from these programmes then contribute to the wealth of experience, information, and discussions at the Pan-European level. Therefore, the type of actions for covering the water policy area tries to consider both local players and horizontal needs as well as the vertical flow of information to regional, national and EU level. With the renewed EU challenges, because of the global development about climate, economy and ecology, the ECRR is for the future committed to expansion and strengthening for itself as a knowledge platform and catalyst. Expansion by attracting new member organization and strengthening by attracting more resources. To this end, members will meet for two days in May/June of this year at a working conference in Oslo.


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