On Thursday 27 May 2021, the Policy Learning Platform hosted an online thematic workshop on the topic of 'Living rivers, a driver of sustainable regional development'.
The event focused on how to restore rivers and their ecosystem services and how it may give rise to sustainable tourism development opportunities based on the valorisation of the natural and cultural heritage of your region.
You can watch the first session below and the two others with the working groups on our YouTube channel.
Restoring rivers through barrier removal: not only feasible, also desirable.
Claire Baffert (WWF Europe) brought convincing evidence on the feasibility of removing obsolete barriers, weirs and dams to attain - and possibly overcome - the target of restoring 25,000 km of EU rivers into free-flowing rivers put forward by the EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy.
Localised experiences show in fact that barriers removal is the most efficient ‘green’ solution that local and regional policymakers can adopt to help reverse worrying trends like the 93% loss of migratory freshwater fish populations recorded in Europe since the 1970s. Besides reinforcing the role of rivers as the ‘pumping heart’ of our landscapes and having a positive impact on biodiversity, removing barriers can also be beneficial for the recovery through employment creation.
Strategies to make sustainable riverside tourism a staple in every region.
Thomas Guillot (Network of European Regions for Competitive and Sustainable Tourism – NECSTouR, STAR Cities advisory partner) put the spotlight on a wide array of solutions to boost riverside tourism identified by STAR Cities project partners.
From cultural festivals to valorise water-linked industrial heritage to the establishment of governance structures like destination management organisations in riverside cities. From collaborative platforms to engage communities to trails and excursions to discover rivers and streams. The options for developing and launching a well-rounded sustainable tourism strategy with rivers at its core are extremely varied and they can all contribute to accelerating the socio-economic recovery in the regions.
Working group I – Ecosystem services and river restoration.
A lively discussion developed around three good practices: traditional fishing in the Comacchio Lagoon in Italy (Delta Lady), the role of nature based solutions for improving the conditions of the Sokołówka river in the polish City of Łódź (AQUARES) and the ongoing project for restoring freshwater features of the Dee River in Wales (LIFE Dee River).
- Fishing can be considered as a sustainable economic activity when properly regulated like in the case of Comacchio Lagoon. Benefits are maximized when catches are sold locally, fishing has a strong cultural and identity dimension, revenues are reinvested in environmental conservation measures based on (implicit) payment for ecosystem services (PES) schemes;
- Implementing hydro-ecological principles and nature-based solutions like constructed wetlands can be the best option for urban rivers if restoration is not entirely possible. Healthy urban rivers respond to people’s recreational and social needs. This is why taking action to clean their waters as Łódź is doing is particularly important;
- The key for successful river restoration lays in selecting cost-effective ways to remove obsolete barriers. Budget restraints may be a challenge which can be overcome by broad stakeholders and policymakers support. 11 weirs are being removed from the Dee River. This results in less constraints for migratory fishes like sea and river lampreys and in wider ecological connectivity.
Working group II – Water-linked heritage and sustainable riverside tourism.
A rich exchange took place around three good practices: the daylighting of the Mark river and harbor in the City of Breda (WaVE), the hiking, cycling and kayaking trails of the Lahn River (ThreeT) and the festivals valorising the natural and cultural heritage of the Pons Danubii cross-border region (SWARE). Barbara Anton from ICLEI Europe reflected on these good practices and shared further knowledge and insights for discussion. What have we learnt?
- Daylighting rivers is a fascinating process which requires a forward-looking vision and planning. The case of Breda clearly shows that rediscovering forgotten streams is great for increasing climate resilience, breathe new life into the water-linked heritage, give a boost to socio-economic activities, increase real estate values and create leisure opportunities;
- Adopting an overarching approach to landscape and nature valorisation is fundamental to boost eco-tourism along rivers. Remarkable results can be achieved like in case of the Lahn Valley if infrastructural investments are made into accessible walking, cycling and kayaking trails and if this is accompanied by effective branding, tourism information and the provision of services supporting outdoor sport and leisure;
- Organising festivals to valorise the natural and cultural heritage belonging to cross-border fluvial regions has proved its added value in the Pons Danubii area. Municipalities, NGOs and citizens can join successfully join forces to create thematic events to celebrate historic and cultural bonds as well as their shared natural resources.
EU support for river restoration and sustainable river management.
Over half of workshop attendees declared to have river restoration projects underway and over a quarter is seeking resources to start projects. Help reverse biodiversity loss (63%), launch riverside tourism products (60%) and bring people closer to nature (58%) are the main reasons why participants want to engage in river restoration.
Máté Tas (European Commission, DG REGIO) clarified that European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) as well as EU direct funding instruments (e.g. LIFE, Horizon Europe, InvestEU) are supportive of any efforts in this regard. In line with the European Green Deal, the EU has elaborated specific strategies and a legislative framework that provide a comprehensive package where river restoration and management are fully embedded, including tourism strategies for sustainable economic development (for EU Cohesion Policy, see in particular policy objectives 2 and 5). With the new generation of programmes, the increased availability of funds and the improvements made in programmes’ governance, EU support offers concrete opportunities for rivers restoration and riverside tourism development.
Participants largely agreed on the ‘winning ingredients’ for accessing EU funds: create your ambition (have a clear objective in mind) and engage your local stakeholders (policymakers, SMEs, academia, NGOs, etc) to implement a project.
In addition to this, the Interreg Europe Policy Learning Platform can help you address any policy challenges. 28% of workshop participants, for instance, underlined that lack of skills, knowledge and resources is a factor preventing them from actually undertaking river restoration measures. Through matchmaking sessions and peer reviews we can provide you with experiences and in-depth knowledge from other regions that have successfully found solutions for the challenges you are experiencing. Curious about who these services work? Visit our expert support webpage and contact us.
Policy Learning Platform resources
- Policy Brief: Rivers and wetlands: drivers for sustainable regional development
- Policy Brief: Protection and sustainable management of heritage in coastal and fluvial regions
- Policy Brief: Sustainable Water Management in a circular economy
- Story: Daylighting Urban Rivers
- Story: From Drained Wetlands to Water Kingdom – the Story of Biosphere Reserve
- Webinar: Ecotourism in riverside territories
- Webinar: Water reuse and the European Green Deal
- Community Brainstorming: Policy solutions for water reuse, wastewater and groundwater
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