Restoration of the natural connectivity of rivers and
natural functions of the related floodplains in the
Nature Restoration Law
Briefing paper of the Living Rivers Coalition
The European Anglers Alliance is one of the six NGOs gathered in the Living Rivers Europe (LRE) Coalition. The other members of the LRE are the European Environmental Bureau, the European Rivers Network, The Nature Conservancy, Wetlands International and WWF.
Freshwater ecosystems are one of the most degraded in Europe, with freshwater molluscs and fish the two most threatened animal groups and 60% of surface waters failing to reach good ecological status. The fitness check of the Water Framework Directive concluded that the main reasons for failure are for a large part connected to insufficient measures to tackle diffuse pollution coming from agriculture, and the hydromorphological changes affecting water bodies. Restoring freshwater ecosystems is therefore a necessity to sustain the natural functions of rivers, lakes and wetlands. Only with healthy, biodiverse water bodies can we allow nature to thrive, ensure clean and sufficient water supply, and resilience to climate change impacts.
The EU Nature Restoration Law proposed by the European Commission in June 2022 introduces new obligations to restore the health of fresh waters. It sets targets for the restoration of freshwater ecosystems alongside coastal and terrestrial ones, which include the restoration and re-establishment of areas, the restoration of habitats of species and the non-deterioration of the areas after restoration (article 4). It also sets obligations to remove river barriers in order to improve the natural longitudinal and lateral connectivity of rivers and contribute to the EU’s objective of restoring at least 25,000 km of free-flowing rivers by 2030 (article 7). Those targets complement the obligations of the Water Framework Directive and the Nature Directives, and will contribute to improving the ecological status and the biological diversity of rivers, lakes and wetlands. While it is positive and important that the proposal contains a focus on restoring freshwater ecosystems, we strongly believe those targets fall short of the rate and to the extent that is currently needed recognising the significant degradation of our water environment.
We urge the European Parliament and the Council, acting as co-legislators on the EU Nature Restoration Law, to:
- Raise the barrier removal target to 15% of EU river length (178,000 km) restored to a free-flowing state by 2030 and make it legally binding;
- Remove the highlight given to exemptions to the Water Framework Directive and TEN-T regulation to ensure proper implementation.
- Ask Member States to prioritise barrier removals according to the ecological potential of the removal, in particular the connectivity between marine and freshwater ecosystems.
- Ask Member States to include in their national restoration plans a description of the simplification of procedures and skill-building measures necessary to enable river restoration projects to be carried out efficiently and with the necessary public engagement.
- Increase the intermediary percentage targets laid out in Article 4 for the restoration and re-establishment of areas and the restoration of habitats of species, and shorten the timeline for reaching 100%, as this article also covers some freshwater ecosystems and those restoration actions would also complement the action on river connectivity.
- Call on the European institutions to expand the EU financing support available for free-flowing river restoration in addition to the sources identified in the EU Guidance on barrier removal for river restoration, for example, through the establishment of dedicated funding for nature restoration, pursuant to the mid-term review of the Multiannual Financial Framework.
Download and read the complete briefing here