Regional and national policies


Traditional drivers of river restoration arise from European and National legislation and policy relating to environmental protection and nature conservation; water protection; fisheries management; flooding and flood risk management; landscape and projects by private developers and individuals. 

The majority of river restoration projects undertaken to date have generally involved non-complex land ownership issues and are restricted in the main to single sites. Generally theses are projects primarily driven by a single piece of legislation or policy. 

Recent policy shifts require a larger-scale more holistic and integrated approach to restoration. 

Drivers include floods in Europe over the past decade leading to a view to the use of floodplains for natural storage; the need to improve to water quality and morphological status. 

The challenge

Work by the EU has shown that despite efforts over the past decade or so (in response to environmental directives) there has been a continued deterioration of and threat to valuable habitats. This is not necessarily due to how this legislation is implemented in EU Member States; rather it is a reflection of the difficulties of overcoming one or more of the obstacles to implementation. Many barriers can be overcome through effective participation of stakeholders and by adopting effective approaches to implementation. In general project management and coordination skills of individuals are central to the successful delivery of restoration. 

Legislation and Policy 

A range European Directives or national legislation/ policies and implementation programmes have led to an actual demand for river restoration tools and techniques and these can generally be grouped into two categories:

  • Those which drive the delivery or river and catchment restoration, because restoration offers a means of meeting the objective of the Directive or policy
  • Those which support the delivery of river restoration, through wider environmental improvements, such as water quality, without which a restoration project might fail.
Legislative Drivers:
Supporting Legislation:

The key European policies supporting river restoration are:

Water Framework Directive The Water Framework Directive, adopted in 2000, is the key piece of European legislation supporting river restoration. It introduced an integrated approach to water management through the development of river basin management plans and aims to restore Europe’s rivers, lakes, small water bodies and wetlands to good ecological health.

River basin management plans River basin management plans are aimed at protecting and improving the water environment and are being drawn up in accordance with the Water Framework Directive. These plans contain the main issues for the water environment and the actions needed to deal with them so that water in rivers, estuaries, coasts and aquifers will improve under the measures set out in them

Habitats Directive The EU Habitats Directive supports river restoration across Europe. It aims to protect the wild plants, animals and habitats that make up our diverse natural environment. The directive created a network of protected areas around the European Union of national and international importance. They are called Natura 2000 sites. This directive requires the management of ‘features of the landscape, which are of major importance for wild flora and fauna’ such as rivers.