River restoration and management in Europe

River restoration and management in Europe

10 July 2009

On 28-29 May 2009 the European Centre for River Restoration (ECRR, www.ecrr.org) celebrated its ten year anniversary with an international seminar in Lelystad, the Netherlands. ECRR is an independent network of people and organizations enhancing ecological river restoration all over Europe. ECRR wants to deliver river restoration as part of sustainable water management and of an integrated river basin management approach - a perfect illustration of how to implement Ramsar’s consolidated guidance for wetland and river basin management adopted with Resolution X.19.

The seminar focused on European Union Natura 2000 and Ramsar Sites and explored how to create synergies between river restoration and management. Three keynote presentations addressed the theme by focusing on the ecological rehabilitation of the Rhine catchment with special regard to the re-introduction of the Atlantic salmon (presented by Detlev Ingendahl), on river restoration and nature conservation along the Lower Danube Green Corridor (by Mircea Staras), and on Ramsar’s World Wetlands Day theme “upstream-downstream, wetlands connect us all” (by Tobias Salathe). Other presentations addressed selected river restoration issues in Spain, Russia, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

The seminar was also the occasion to celebrate the president of ECRR. When retiring later this year, Bart Fokkens will look back to 40 years of professional service at Rijkswaterstaat, the Dutch Centre for Water Management. To the Ramsar constituency, Bart Fokkens is probably best known as the director of the former Wetlands Advisory and Training Centre, famous for its wetland management and restoration training courses that brought wetland experts from all parts of the world to Lelystad. More recently, Bart proposed the creation of an Advisory Board for Capacity Building to support the implementation of the Ramsar CEPA programme. And he was also the instigator of many projects for the study, management and conservation of wetland ecosystems in cooperation between Dutch and local wetland experts in Romania (Danube Delta), Russia (lower Volga and Lena river and delta regions), Indonesia and elsewhere. Philip Weller, the executive secretary of the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) and Jane Madgwick, the chief executive officer of Wetlands International, paid their personal tributes to Bart for his initiatives, incentives and support to many river restoration programmes. Both Jane and Philip did profit from Bart’s advice when they worked earlier for WWF’s freshwater and Danube river programmes. Bart concluded the programme with an overview of the ECRR development and river restoration activities in Europe during the last ten years. And the participants adopted the “Lelystad Declaration on River Restoration” (attached).

Then followed the festive part introduced by Luitzen Bijlsma, the director general of Rijkswaterstaat. He announced the creation of the “Bart Fokkens Fund”, a Dutch-Armenian development fund “from brain drain to brain gain for Armenia”. Special guests Karen Jenderedjian and Susanna Hakobian, Ramsar focal points in Armenia, were excited to learn about this new funding instrument to provide continued support to wetland-related work in their country. Donations to the fund are encouraged and can be made by writing to “De 12 Landschappen, Bart Fokkens Fund, PO Box 31, 3730 AA De Bilt, Netherlands”.

After this good news, it was time for a reception for Rijkswaterstaat staff in the modern Agora theatre, followed by a visit of the seminar participants to the “Batavia”, a reconstruction of the huge sailing ship built in 1628 for the Dutch United East India Company that ran aground off Australia (www.bataviawerf.nl), and a sailors’ buffet at the nearby shipyard.

On the next day, the seminar participants boarded the “Veerman van Kampen”, a transformed river barge, for an excursion on the lower Ijssel river, the northernmost delta branch of the Rhine. The study tour allowed them to visit different parts of the IJsseldelta bordering the former Zuidersee, an open bay of the North Sea. Since the completion in 1932 of the dyke along the sea, the bay became a huge lake (IJsselmeer). Different parts were drained, and this allowed the establishment of the city of Lelystad in a newly created polder in 1967. Change continues, provoked by raising temperatures and sea level. Already, a flexible weir was installed to avoid flooding of the flat hinterland and the historical towns of Zwollen and Kampen. During high waters, its enormous rubber tubes can be filled with water and air to provide an effective barrier. And a new project plans to create a new river bypass to avoid future flooding of the towns (www.ijsseldelta.info). River restoration and management will definitively become center stage in many areas. ECRR has the potential to contribute substantially, and the Ramsar Convention has tools to support sustainable and lasting interventions.

Bart Fokkens shows proudly the initial cheque of the “Bart Fokkens Fund” for wetland-related work in Armenia. Further donations are welcome.

Reception for the seminar participants on the reconstructed “Batavia”. Karen Jenderedjian (in the centre), Ramsar’s focal point in Armenia, is happy about the new funding instrument for wetland work in his country.

Inflatable flood gates (deflated rubber tubes invisible below the water) were installed at the river mouth to prevent flooding of the low-lying IJsseldelta during high waters.

River restoration experts on board of the “Veerman van Kampen” looking at recently restored side arms of the IJssel river.

-- Tobias Salathé, Ramsar