Case Studies

Posted: 23 February 2023

Restoring European Rivers

  • Programme:

    Protecting endangered nature

  • Focus area:

    On-site conservation

  • Grantee:

    European Open Rivers Programme

  • Grants awarded:


  • Years:


Dams and other artificial barriers to river flow are some of the leading causes of biodiversity loss in rivers. In Europe, there are over one million barriers, which have resulted in European rivers being some of the most fragmented and degraded in the world. In recognition of the scale of this problem, we helped create the European Open Rivers Programme to support the removal of old and obsolete barriers in European rivers. The programme’s vision is to create free-flowing rivers with healthy, diverse, and connected ecosystems across Europe, which are enjoyed, valued, and protected by the communities that depend on them.

The Open Rivers Programme offers grants to support projects that lead to the removal of small dams and the restoration of river flow and biodiversity. The programme began operating in October 2021 with a grant of $50m.

Since the start in 2022, the programme has awarded 90 grants, with a total value of over $5 million. During its first year, projects removed six small dams, which opened up 102 km of river. Over its lifetime, the programme aims to restore 10,000 km of river across Europe.

Bayurivka dam removal

The Open Rivers Programme provided support to WWF-Ukraine to remove a 120-year-old dam deep in the Carpathian Mountains, one of the few places in Europe with true wilderness remaining. Despite the war with Russia, WWF-Ukraine successfully completed the project in 2022 and restored the flow in 27 km of river. Protected fish species can now return upstream to their traditional spawning grounds, and species like brown bears and otters will also benefit from the restored habitat.

A dam being removed on the Bayurivka river. Courtesy of WWF Ukraine

Scotton weir removal

Scotton Weir during removal. Photo by Jonathan Grey, Wild Trout trust.

The programme funded the largest weir removal in the UK to date by providing support to the Wild Trout Trust to remove the 75m wide and 4m high Scotton Weir. The removal reconnected 35km of river and tributaries on the River Nidd in Yorkshire England. The programme expects that the removal will function as a catalyst for additional removals along the river.

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