Ramsar was one of the partner organizations to the 6th European River Restoration Conference (ERRC 2014). In his keynote to the 250 river restoration specialists gathered in Vienna on 27-29 October 2014, Tobias Salathé (Ramsar Secretariat) stressed that “rivers need space – otherwise they’ll take it”. He explained Ramsar’s focus on rivers as main wetland ecosystems keeping the water cycle running. "We need to acknowledge that rivers are dynamic systems with flood and drought periods. To avoid flood damage to our homes, infrastructure and cultivated areas, we need to re-establish sufficient water retention areas along river courses. To minimise flood risk and to manage river courses in a cost-effective way, we need river floodplains without buildings nor intensive cultures, areas that provide space for natural dynamics, biodiversity, grazing or recreation" he added.
The Conference addressed an impressive number of topics under the overarching theme “connecting river restoration thinking to innovative river management”. Technical experts, representatives of water supply companies, river basin commissions, the European Union, national Ministries and NGOs, including several Ramsar focal points, exchanged their know-how and lessons to be learnt. The detailed programme and outputs are available at www.errc2014.eu.
Conference participants were invited to vote for Ramsar’s River Poster Prize. They selected the conference poster that provides the most stunning message and clear information with an attractive lay-out, good illustrations and a fascinating text, explaining the need to maintain and restore ecosystem services and helping people to take action for rivers and their related wetland ecosystems. The winning poster was “Wetlands management in Slovenia” by Matej Simčič, Aleksander Koren and Nika Debeljak Šabec. It illustrates the results of a European Union LIFE+ project to restore six wetland areas in the major river basins of Slovenia, see www.wetman.si for more details. A fruitful cooperation between the Slovenian Institutes for Nature Conservation, for Water and for Fisheries Research, the Slovenian Forest Service, two Municipalities and the national Radio and TV company.
Two other posters received also votes for their innovative approaches. One summarizes the research results by invited participants from Daejin University in the Republic of Korea: the hydraulic impacts on wetlands created by the removal of submerged weirs in tidal river estuaries, by professor Suk-Hwan Jang and his student Jiwan Oh. The other poster illustrates the challenges and practicalities of reinstating hydromorphological processes in a heavily modified water body. Sally German, Daniel Newton, Irantzu Lexartza and Milly Hennayake of the engineering company Arup Ltd (www.arup.com) worked with Mark Tinsdeall of Yorkshire Water Services Ltd (www.yorkshirewater.com) to investigate how water storage reservoirs in England can comply with the objectives for good ecological potential required by the European Union Water Framework Directive.
The Conference served also as the final event for the SEE River Project (www.see-river.net), funded by the EU South East Europe Territorial Cooperation Programme, involving 26 partners from 12 countries focusing on pilot restoration areas along the rivers Drava, Bodrog, Prut, Soča, Neretva and Vjosa.
The culminating event was the gala dinner on 28 October in Vienna’s prestigious Town Hall to award the European Riverprize 2014 (http://www.riverfoundation.org.au/riverprize_european.php). Among the three finalists, the judging panel of the International RiverFoundation (including Ramsar’s Thymio Papayannis) awarded the prize to Austria’s River Mur, praising the work of the Styrian Government and the engineering company freiland Ltd to re-establish the natural conditions of the river and restore natural habitats for the many species that rely on the river and its surrounding environment. The other two finalists include a number of Ramsar Site managers in the Danube river basin: BROZ, the regional association for nature conservation and sustainable development in Slovakia, and the managers of Ramsar Sites and other protected areas along the Danube, working together through the international Danube Parks network (www.danubeparks.org).
Photo caption: River restoration in Europe in 2013 – A picture that hopefully belongs to the past. (by T. Salathé). Report by Tobias Salathé, Senior Regional Advisor for Europe