Twitter LinkedIn

Saving our waters shouldn't be a dream

December 2014

Conservation work is rarely glamourous, but last week was the exception to the rule as I attended the European River Restoration Conference in the stunning city of Vienna. Vienna has to be one of my favourite European cities. And with its location on the banks of the iconic River Danube, it couldn’t be a more apt location to talk about the restoration of our freshwater environment.

Less than a quarter of rivers in England are considered healthy and despite restoration efforts, big problems such as over-abstraction and diffuse pollution are still big problems. In Vienna I wanted to find out how England faired against our European neighbours and was surprised that across the sea it was better, but that still less than half of rivers are healthy. In the River Danube itself, overfishing, poor habitat and dams are threatening five of the six species of sturgeon. This includes the Beluga sturgeon; an iconic behemoth that can live for over 100 years and reach over 6m in length.

With the backdrop of the recent WWF Living Planet Report which showed that animal species have declined by an average of 52% since the 1970s, and that freshwater species have suffered the biggest declines at 76%, I was starting to feel quite depressed.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Over 200 conservationists from across Europe, Australia, China, Japan and the States came to the conference to talk about what’s already being done and what else we can do to restore our rivers. I was also inspired to hear about fantastic projects that are being carried out by local communities like the Willamette River Initiative in Oregon and the So?a River Foundation in Slovenia. In England, local groups are also engaged in river conservation and anyone can get involved by visiting the Catchment Based Approach website and following the map to your local river group.

The jewel of the conference was the European River Prize which showcases rivers that have been restored across Europe. This year the grand title was awarded to Austria’s River Mur. Vienna’s very own endemic, Sigmund Freud, said: “Dreams are often most profound when they seem the most crazy”- my dream of restored rivers no longer seems crazy.

In England, the next six months are going to be crucial for our waters because the Environment Agency is consulting on its ‘River Basin Management Plans’. These plans set out the scale at which the health of our England’s water environment will be improved in the next six years. I urge everyone to add their voice to our campaign and tell the Environment Agency how important our water environment is to you. This is our countryside so let’s stand up for it!

My time at the European River restoration Conference can be summarised by two thoughts:

  1. The problems that we experience in England are very similar to those experienced across Europe and,
  2. We mustn’t get depressed; we’ve a lot to do but together we can make a difference

Kathy Hughes

Vice Chair of Blueprint for Water - Freshwater Project Manager, WWF