New Report: Record-breaking year for dam removals in Europe in 2021

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A report released by Dam Removal Europe, of which Wetlands International – European Association is a partner, found that at least 239 barriers were removed in 2021 by practitioners from 17 European countries. This was an increase of 137% of barriers removed compared to the previous year and confirms the growing movement and interest in restoring rivers in Europe.

Main takeaways

  • Spain alone has removed more barriers (108) in 2021 than all the other European countries combined in 2020 (101).
  • Three countries (Portugal, Montenegro, and Slovakia) recorded their first ever removals.
  • 87% of the removed barriers were weirs.
  • 76% of the removed barriers were lower than 2 m.
  • In Finland an operating hydropower plant was shut down and its dam dismantled due to environmental benefits over energy production, leading to the biggest dam removal in that country.

“Dam removal is the most efficient tool to restore free-flowing rivers full of fish. This tool should be implemented everywhere in Europe, starting with the old and obsolete barriers that are out of use or have no economic function anymore”
-Herman Wanningen, Director of the World Fish Migration Foundation

Download the report here

Before and after removal of Dalloz dam Parc naturel régional du Haut-Jura, France, 2021


The European Biodiversity Strategy aims to restore 25,000 kilometres of free-flowing EU rivers by 2030. Experts agree that this target can only be achieved by removing thousands of barriers, most of which no longer fulfil their original purpose or are completely abandoned. The recent EU-funded AMBER project estimated the total number of barriers in Europe to be much higher than previously thought: no fewer than 1.2 million. Out of all those obstacles, around 15% are considered obsolete and unrequired, a staggering number of almost 200,000.

World Fish Migration Foundation conducted the survey to track the progress of barrier removals in Europe. The information collected is used to follow the impact of new dam removal policies and European wide enabling actions by the Dam Removal Europe coalition.

About Dam Removal Europe:

Wetlands International – European Association is part of the Dam Removal Europe Coalition, working together with other international NGOs to restore rivers in Europe that have high natural or cultural importance by removing obsolete barriers and ensuring healthy free-flowing rivers.

Banner image: Matabosch dam Spain, July 2021. Photo credit: Agencia Catalana del Agua ACA