Record year for dam removals in Europe

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Almost 500 barriers were removed from European rivers in 15 countries in 2023 according to the annual report from Dam Removal Europe. This represents an impressive 50% increase over last year’s record, and led to the reconnection of over 4300 km of rivers. 

A total of 487 barriers were removed across 15 European countries, marking a remarkable 49,8% increase from the previous year, led by France, Spain, Sweden, and Denmark. The barrier removals will give new life to previously fragmented ecosystems, in a boost for ecological connectivity, migratory fish and enhanced climate resilience. The bulk of the projects were concentrated in western and northern Europe which have the highest barrier density.   

As Yurena Lorenzo, Head of Programmes of Wetlands International Europe, states: 

“Substantially increasing the number of barrier removals year-after-year is a great achievement for Dam Removal Europe’s coalition. Dam removal is a key restoration tool to meet the EU’s climate and biodiversity targets. The poor health of European rivers and migratory fish populations means we need to keep dramatically upscaling dam removal with the combined efforts of Dam Removal Europe and a EU Nature Restoration Law.” 

Over 1,2 million barriers currently fragment European rivers. Among the several harmful consequences is biodiversity loss, with a decline of 93% in freshwater migratory fish populations in Europe and 76% at global level. More than 150,000 of these barriers are considered obsolete. Aging dams are a threat from an ecological point of view but also to nearby communities, as more intense storms and extreme floods due to climate change increase the risk of dams collapsing, particularly aging and obsolete barriers – threatening lives, properties and economic damage. Dam failures in Norway, Northern Ireland, and Slovenia in 2023 prompted widespread evacuations and raised urgent questions about the safety of aging infrastructures. 

Dam Removal Europe’s report comes as the EU Nature Restoration Law is facing a major barrier in its final step. The Law proposal is currently unable to secure enough votes in the European Council to be enacted. The Law proposal includes a critical target for the restoration of 25,000 km of river by 2030 through dam removals. As Europe navigates the imperatives of environmental restoration and public safety in a rapidly changing climate, the need for accelerated action has never been more urgent.  

About Dam Removal Europe 

Dam Removal Europe (DRE) is a coalition of seven organisations: the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), The Rivers Trust, The Nature Conservancy, the European Rivers Network, Rewilding Europe, Wetlands International Europe, and the World Fish Migration Foundation. The ambition of DRE is to restore the free-flowing state of rivers and streams in Europe.   

For inquiries, please contact the Dam Removal Europe Communications Team: Maria Inês Conceição, [email protected]