What is river restoration?

River restoration refers to a large variety of ecological, physical, spatial and management measures and practices. These are aimed at restoring the natural state and functioning of the river system in support of biodiversity, recreation, flood management and landscape development. 

By restoring natural conditions, river restoration improves the resilience of the river systems and provides the framework for the sustainable multifunctional use of estuaries, rivers and streams. River restoration is an integral part of sustainable water management and is in direct support of the aims of the Water Framework Directive, and national and regional water management policies.

Technical measures that help to bring rivers closer to their natural state include the creation of fish passes and weir removal (Download the River Restoration Manual  by the UK River Restoration Centre) and on the other end of the spectrum are zoning regulations and participatory approaches.

When planning improvements to your rivers it is helpful to engage with people and organisations at a catchment level. The health of our waters will benefit from looking at the river and habitats, from source to sea.  To learn more about restoring estuaries and tidal waters (Download the Estuary Edges guidance developed by the Environment Agency).  This guidance looks at a wide range of opportunities and constraints before looking into detail at four key approaches to estuary bank design.  It has been developed by a team of engineers and ecologists.

Stakeholder participation

River restoration involves a wide range of stakeholders from the public and private sector including policy makers, practitioners, scientists and non-government organisations, as well as all citizens groups potentially impacted. By actively drawing these various stakeholders into the process, visions can shared and tuned towards each other. This makes for different interests to be met, and increases support for restoration efforts.

Featured case: Groenlose Slinge

The Groenlose Slinge is a strongly channelized brook in Gelderland, the Netherlands. It forms part of the Berkel watersystem, that stretches from the German border, west to the IJssel River, and constitutes a main feature of the landscape in this region.

The Berkel and almost all connected brooks are channelised, normalised and broadened. Also, the water is managed such that even the wettest depressions along the streams can be used for agriculture all year round.

Because of these characteristics: 

  • the streams and the landscape have no recreational value because of the unattractive appearance
  • in wet periods the water is discharged with high peaks which leads to periodical flooding downstream
  • at various locations, moisture deficits for agricultural development and nature occur
  • the dammed streams have poor ecological value for water flora and fauna (because water is standing still in the over-sized streams, dams are not passable for fish, and the banks are too steep)

The Berkel project aims to counter these problems. The project is funded by the national government, the province of Gelderland and the European Fund for Regional Development. It contains 7 different subproject along the stretch of the River, of which the Groelose Slinge is a classic example.

The Groenlose Slinge was appointed by the province as part of the Ecological Main Structure. As part of the Berkel project, the spatial structure was rearranged, the brook itself was remeandered, and weirs were converted to fish passes.

On the former terrain of the Grolsch brewery, historically one of the main users of water in the area, 1 km of sewer has been removed and relocated, and 700 meters of new watercourse was created. In an area of 10 hectares, soil was excavated to improve water retention. The restoration of this water system was performed in close cooperation with the consortium that was developing a residential area on the former brewery, consisting of the municipality of Oost-Gelre, the province of Gelderland and the private project developer involved.