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"From the industrial cities of Britain to the forests of Sweden, from the plains of Spain to the shores of the Black Sea, Europe is restoring its rivers to their natural glory. The most densely populated continent on earth is finding space for nature to return along its river banks.
The restoration is not perfect. River floodplains cannot be fully restored when they contain cities, and hydroelectric dams are still needed. But
Europe’s fluvial highways are becoming the test bed for conservation biologist Edward O. Wilson’s dream that the 21st century should be "the era of restoration in ecology."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Fred Pearce, Yale Environment 360 writer,
serves as environmental consultant
for New Scientist magazine
and author of numerous books.
* Britain has promised to restore some 1,500 kilometers of rivers.
* One of Spain’s largest rivers, the Duero, is being cleared of dams and other man-made obstacles.
* On France’s longest river, the Loire, where two decades ago activists from all over Europe successfully battled to prevent construction of the Serre de la Fare dam near Le Puy, engineers are now tearing down existing dams, such as the Maisons-Rouges. Denmark’s largest river, the Skjern, is getting back some of the marshlands at its mouth, after meanders were reinstated and artificial banks lowered to allow seasonal flooding of arable fields that have now been returned to grass meadows.
* The Danube, which runs west to east, from Germany’s Black Forest to its delta on the Black Sea, is the most international river in the world, with a catchment that includes 19 countries. The river has been cut off from 80 percent of its floodplain. But today much of the floodplain is slated for restoration.
* Austria and Germany have been removing levees to restore the floodplain of another tributary, the Inn River, at the foot of the Alps. And downstream, Ukraine has taken down levees on two of the largest islands of the Danube delta, Ermakov and Tataru, allowing spring flooding and the return of birdlife and the introduction of free-roaming cattle.
* Northern Sweden may appear unpopulated and largely untouched by humans. But, in fact, foresters there straightened and cleared vegetation on huge numbers of rivers between the 1850s and 1970s, so their logs could be floated downstream to ports. Now those Swedish rivers are being restored.
* One of the last free-flowing stretches of the upper Danube, between Vienna and Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, is managed by a new Austrian national park where wardens are restoring lost side channels of the river, as well as riverine forests. "We want to end the fortification of the Danube," said Carl Manzano of the Donau-Auen park authority. "We are taking away concrete and rip-rap so the river can recreate its natural bank. 50,000 cubic meters of stone structures have come down. Kingfishers are returning, and wild bees and birds like the little ring plover."
There are many challenges and nothing will take us back to the future - but what good news for the earth - click over to the full story to read the rest.