New Report: 100+ barriers removed from European rivers in 2020

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A report release by Dam Removal Europe, of which Wetlands International – European Association is a partner, found that at least 101 barriers were removed in 2020 by practitioners from 11 European countries. With 37 barriers removed Sweden leads the way in terms of the total number of removals and France removed the largest one in Europe so far, which was a 200 meter wide and 36 meter high hydropower dam.

The European Biodiversity Strategy released last year 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 first 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. Based on the data collected from European river practitioners, we conclude that at least 101 barriers were removed from European waterways in 2020. This is an impressive result, and this figure will grow even larger as some responses are still being processed. At the same time, this is just a start knowing that Europe has around 200,000 obsolete barriers.

The main facts that stand out are:

  • This is the very first overview of barrier removals in Europe in a single year
  • More dams were removed in Europe (101) than in the USA (69) in 2020.
  • The largest dam removal ever in Europe was completed in France in 2020: Venzins dam removal (36 meters high). The Sèlune river will soon be free-flowing after the removal planned for this autumn of the second largest dam (16 meters high) on its course.
  • Spain keeps removing barriers at a steady pace, demonstrating the importance of a law that enforces the decommissioning of obsolete dams.
  • In Lithuania the very first removal was achieved fully through crowdfunding.

‘Barriers like dams and weirs block the river connectivity and essential habitat for migratory fish. Fish stocks in Europe have declined 94% in only 50 years. It’s crucial that the veins of the world are opened up again for fish, wildlife and the people that depend on them’: Herman Wanningen, director World Fish Migration Foundation.

Download the report here

More information:

  • Herman Wanningen, WFMF Director & Dam Removal Europe Coordinator, +31 618272572, [email protected]
  • Niccolò Sala, WFMF & DRE Communications Officer, +39 3406081167, [email protected]

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.

Photo Credit: River Neres – Lithuania – Karolina Gurjazkaite