REFORM newsletter No 5 - September 2014

Welcome editorial by the REFORM Coordinator

Dear reader,

We are pleased to present the fifth REFORM newsletter and keep you informed on the progress of our project and on other connected developments. Of course, we always appreciate it when you forward our newsletter to interested colleagues. At first, I would like to draw your attention to the International Conference “Novel Approaches to Assess and Rehabilitate Modified Rivers” that REFORM organises in 2015. It will take place in Wageningen (the Netherlands) from 30 June - 2 July 2015. Further information will be available in September 2014 on our website and communicated through the 2nd announcement.

Since our last newsletter the following deliverables are ready and available on our website.

We invite you to consult these deliverables and hope they are of use for your work. Of course, we welcome feedback on our results. The main conclusions of D4.1 Evaluation of hydromorphological restoration from existing data are summarised in the newsletter item “Learning from the past to improve river restoration in the future”. In total, the outcome of 120 projects have been analysed for their effectiveness considering catchment, river and project characteristics. Besides deliverables, REFORM also produces other results such as scientific publications. The actual overview of our first 13 published papers is given in this newsletter along with a description of how we can keep you informed when new papers are published in the future.

Within REFORM, young scientists are given the opportunity for Ph.D. research. From this newsletter onwards Ph.D. students present their research and initial results. In this edition, two Ph.D. students present their work: Vanesa Martínez-Fernández (Spain) studying the impact of flow regulation on native riparian vegetation and Mijke van Oorschot (the Netherlands) modelling the dynamic interaction between vegetation and river morphology.

Figure 1: REFORM’s 4th All Partner Meeting took place in Baeza (Spain) early June 2014 and was preceded by a Mediterranean stakeholder workshop in Seville (photo: Tom Buijse).

REFORM has organised several events for stakeholders (see previous newsletters). The most recent stakeholder workshop “Restoring Rivers: Experiences and methodological advances” has been held in Seville (Spain) on 2 June 2014 which used the opportunity to have all key persons gathered in Spain for our 4th all-partner meeting. Around 50 participants, mainly water managers from the water administration of Andalucía as well as university researchers, environmentalists, consultants and farmers, attended the well-appreciated and lively workshop.

The key expert on rivers and river restoration interviewed for this edition of our newsletter is Johan Kling, senior advisor at the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management. Johan addresses the state-of-play on hydromorphology within river basin management planning. He highlights the progressing insight on the extent and impact of hydromorphological modifications from the first to the second river basin management plan. This interview shows the need to get a better grip on the ecological consequences and remediation strategies. Johan Kling is member of the Advisory Board of REFORM.

Figure 2: Mediterranean rivers are impacted by excessive fine sediment input originating, in this case, from bare soil erosion in olive tree plantations (photo: Tom Buijse).

As always, we present one of our case studies on river restoration: the River Spree in Germany. For centuries this lowland river, which flows through Berlin, has been modified and impacted by eutrophication. The story highlights the complexity of getting agreement from all stakeholders, the consequences when this is not reached and also the trade-off between flood protection and improving ecological conditions. In all, an important project to learn from showing that compromises can result in a substantial loss of ecological effectiveness.

Last but not least, we would like to draw your attention to a key upcoming event on river restoration in fall 2014, the European River Restoration Conference on 27-29 October 2014 in Vienna, integrated with the final event of the SEE River project.

Also, this time, we hope you enjoy reading our newsletter. If you have comments or questions then please contact us. At the same time, we invite you to contribute. Thus, please let us know if you would like to use our website or newsletter to announce an event or present a relevant study or report.

On behalf of the REFORM team,

Tom Buijse

REFORM Coordinator

P.S. If you do not yet receive our newsletter automatically and are interested to do so, then please visit our home page ( where you can subscribe.

For further information: 

Tom Buijse

Learning from the past to improve river restoration in the future

One of the main approaches in REFORM is to review existing restoration data to learn from the past and improve river management in the future. An increasing number of rivers have been restored over the past few decades but only a small number of these projects have been monitored, and hence, the knowledge on the effect of river restoration on biota is limited. Nevertheless, the monitoring results of several projects are available. Some narrative reviews have already been published, but a comprehensive quantitative, so-called “meta-analysis”, which summarises the findings of these existing studies was lacking. This meta-analysis took place in REFORM (deliverable 4.2) and aimed at quantifying restoration success; identifying catchment, river reach, and project characteristics which influence (either constrain or enhance) the effect of restoration; and deriving recommendations for river management.

Figure 1: Two typical restoration projects included in the database, focusing on channel planform (left, © A. Lorenz) and instream channel features (right, © W. Klein).

A unique dataset has been compiled, containing 353 entries on the effect of restoration derived from 120 projects. The projects covered a wide range of different river types, river sizes, catchment land use and project age, but most restored reaches were rather short (< 2.6 km) and implemented in the second-last decade (10-90th percentile range 1991-2005). In most projects, multiple measures have been applied to restore instream habitats, channel-planform, the riparian or floodplain area and/or river continuity, whereas sediment, hydrological and flow restoration measures were virtually missing in the dataset (Figure 1).

Although the meta-analysis is the most comprehensive study to date, it was still restricted in two ways. First, the study focused on the effect of restoration on the diversity and abundance of fish, macroinvertebrates and macrophytes, simply because only these biological metrics and organism groups were investigated in a larger number of studies, allowing for a statistical analysis. Second, restoration projects were not intended and designed to be scientific experiments. Therefore, they often applied multiple measures and relatively simple and short-term Control-Impact monitoring schemes (comparison of restored and unrestored reaches), making it difficult to disentangle the effect of single restoration measures and the effect of restoration from general trends in the catchment.
Nevertheless, based on the results and other existing reviews, the following conclusions can be drawn:

  • Overall, the effect of hydromorphological restoration on biota is positive but variability is high: Restoration in general has a positive effect on floodplain vegetation, ground beetles, macrophytes, fish and invertebrates.
  • Restoration effect differs between organism groups: In general, restoration effect on diversity in the medium-term is highest for terrestrial and semi-aquatic groups like floodplain vegetation and ground beetles, intermediate for macrophytes, lower for fish and lowest for macroinvertebrates. This is especially true for channel-planform measures like re-meandering and widening/re-braiding.
  • Restoration has a higher effect on the number of individuals than on the number of taxa: This indicates that, in general, it is easier to increase the number of individuals in the restored reach than establishing new taxa.
  • Restoration effect only slightly differs between measures, i.e. there is no single “best” measure: There are no large differences in the overall effect of different measures but there is a tendency that terrestrial and semi-aquatic organism groups like floodplain vegetation, ground beetles and macrophytes benefit most from channel-planform measures and aquatic groups like fish and invertebrates from instream measures.
  • Conditions which favour restoration success can be identified but ecological outcome cannot be predicted with great certainty.
  • Overall, restoration success most strongly depends on project age, river width, and is affected by agricultural land use: Project age is the most important predictor affecting restoration success (Figure 2), but the direction of the effect of project age on restoration success differs between organism groups (no simple increase of restoration effect with time).

Figure 2: Relative importance of catchment, river reach and project characteristics for restoration success.

In summary, it was possible to draw some initial and important conclusions for river management from the evaluation of hydromorphological restoration based on existing monitoring data. However, monitoring data are still scarce. More robust, practical, relevant and quantitative results (e.g. thresholds) could be derived and river management would benefit from:

  • Original monitoring data, which would allow the use of functional metrics to investigate the underlying processes and to infer causal relationships.
  • Full before-after-control-impact (BACI) monitoring designs, which most probably would substantially decrease scatter in the datasets and analyses.
  • A larger number of monitored projects, which easily could be accomplished since a large number of hydromorphological restoration measures will be implemented in the upcoming years.
  • The availability of long-time monitoring data sets to investigate the effect of project age, which was identified as the most important variable affecting restoration success.
  • A more intensive exchange and collaboration between river science and river management in planning monitoring programs is strongly recommended. This would offer a great opportunity to make fundamental advances in our understanding of how river restoration affects river hydromorphology and biota and to identify (cost-) effective restoration measures.

The full report “Evaluation of hydromorphological restoration from existing data” is available here.


Author: Jochem Kail (IGB/UDE)

For further information: 

Jochem Kail

REFORM Scientific Publications

This newsletter item informs you on the present status of scientific publications within REFORM and how you can keep track when new publications become available.

Besides the scheduled deliverables, REFORM also prepares other results. These results can be user-friendly factsheets, practical guidelines and tools or peer-reviewed publications. The relevant parts of the deliverables are made available in user-friendly factsheets on the REFORM WIKI, which has been presented in our 3rd newsletter (June 2013).  Another important output is peer-reviewed scientific publications, because it gives a quality check for our work and enlarges the awareness in particular among scientists and students. Not surprisingly, there is always a time delay in the appearance of such publications. First, the deliverables are prepared then publishable parts are selected, submitted, externally reviewed, revised and, if all goes well, accepted. In the past, this process easily took more than one year and sometimes even longer. This resulted in many publications being published after the project has ended. It is, therefore, a good development that the review process nowadays is shortened substantially so that papers shortly after they have been accepted become available online as ‘early view’. REFORM benefits from this and has already produced 13 publications after 3 years which are available on the website.

The full reference, abstract and DOI (Digital Object Identifier) is given for each publication.  The present list of publications is given below. The DOI links to the journal. Due to copy rights, we are not allowed to upload full papers. If you are interested in the full paper then you can first check whether it is open access. If not then you are kindly invited to contact the corresponding author requesting a copy. Of course, we continue to prepare other publications during the remainder of the project.  When new publications become available, they will be added to the publication overview on our website.

Warm regards,
Tom Buijse

List of REFORM publications (status August 2014):

  • Baattrup-Pedersen, A., K.M. B. Jensen, H. Thodsen, H.E. Andersen, P.M. Andersen, S.E. Larsen, T. Riis, D.K. Andersen, J. Audet and B. Kronvang (2013). Effects of stream flooding on the distribution and diversity of groundwater-dependent vegetation in riparian areas. Freshwater Biology 58: 817–827.
  • Belletti, B., M. Rinaldi, A.D. Buijse, A.M. Gurnell, and E. Mosselman (2014). A review of assessment methods for river hydromorphology. Environmental Earth Sciences xx: xx-xx. Published online 2 August 2014.  
  • Eekhout, J. P. C., A. J. F. Hoitink and E. Mosselman (2013). Field experiment on alternate bar development in a straight sand-bed stream, Water Resources Research 49: 8357–8369.  
  • Friberg, N., A. Baattrup-Pedersen, E.A. Kristensen, B. Kronvang, S.E. Larsen, M.L. Pedersen, J. Skriver, H. Thodsen and P. Wiberg-Larsen (2014). The Gelså River restoration revisited: community persistence of the macroinvertebrate community over an 11-year period. Ecological Engineering 66: 150-157.  
  • Gallo, C., C. Alonso and D. García de Jalón (2014). Challenges to barbel population resilience due to hydrological alteration. International Journal of River Basin Management 12: 135-144.
  • Grabowski, R.C., N. Surian and A.M. Gurnell (2014). Characterizing geomorphological change to support sustainable river restoration and management. WIREs Water 2014.
  • Gurnell, A.M. (2014). Plants as river system engineers. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 39: 4–25.
  • Hendriks, D.M.D., M.J.M. Kuijper and R. van Ek (2014). Groundwater impact on environmental flow needs of streams in sandy catchments in the Netherlands. Hydrological Sciences Journal 59: 562–577.   
  • Januschke, K., S.C. Jähnig, A.W. Lorenz and D. Hering (2014). Mountain river restoration measures and their success(ion): effects on river morphology, local species pool, and functional composition of three organism groups. Ecological Indicators 38: 243–255.
  • Kanninen, A., S. Hellsten and H. Hämäläinen (2013). Comparing stressor-specific indices and general measures of taxonomic composition for assessing the status of boreal lacustrine macrophytes communities. Ecological Indicators 27: 29–43.
  • Kristensen, E.A., B. Kronvang, P. Wiberg-Larsen, H. Thodsen, C. Nielsen, E. Amor, N. Friberg, M.L. Pedersen and A. Baattrup-Pedersen (2014). 10 Years After the Largest River Restoration Project in Europe: Hydromorphological changes on multiple scales in River Skjern. Ecological Engineering 66: 141–149.
  • Latapie, A., B. Camenen, S. Rodrigues, A. Paquier, J.P. Bouchard and F. Moatar (2014). Assessing channel response of a long river influenced by human disturbance. Catena 121: 1–12.
  • Lorenz, A.W., S. Stoll, A. Sundermann and P. Haase (2013). Do adult and YOY fish benefit from river restoration measures? Ecological Engineering 61: 174–181.

For further information: 

Tom Buijse, Deltares

PhD research in REFORM - Vegetation changes and flow regulation in gravel bed rivers (Upper Esla Basin, NW Spain)

About "PhD research in REFORM"

In the newsletter items dedicated to PhD research in REFORM, PhD students introduce the topic and the initial results of their research.


Rivers in Spain are highly altered due to the existence of more than 1200 large dams. There are few detailed studies on the cumulative effect that this intense flow regulation has over time and space. Today, it is known that the presence of dams not only modifies flow regime but greatly modifies sediment flows causing different responses in channel morphology, habitat quality and dynamics of riparian vegetation. Particularly in Spain, the diversity of bio-geographic gradients and river types, together with the different geological contexts and substrates result in a multiplicity of responses to modifications. Therefore, specific case studies are needed to consider the interaction between river types and pressures (e.g. land use of the watershed).


The general objective of this thesis is to improve the knowledge on bio-geomorphic responses of rivers to human pressures and to contribute to their management based on the Water Framework Directive. Particularly, this work analyses the homogenisation of channel morphology and significant changes in the riparian corridor that have been observed in the Upper Esla Basin in the last 50 years. This fluvial system is affected by intensive flow regulation for irrigation purposes that, in Mediterranean regions, entails an increase in low summer flows (in comparison to natural conditions). Current knowledge indicates that flow regulation initiates riparian vegetation changes through flood reduction that could decrease successful recruitment of native riparian pioneer species. Our objectives were to analyse changes in riparian vegetation patterns in time and to verify if these changes could be associated with flow regulation.

Figure 1: Curueño River, Summer 2013 (photo: Marta González del Tánago)


River reaches where natural vegetation remains were selected for the research sites. The initial analysis was conducted on regulated reaches of the Esla and the Porma rivers and one un-regulated reach of the Curueño River (Figure 1). Mean daily discharge data were analysed considering pre- and post- dam periods. A set of aerial photographs (1956 - 2011) were analysed in each studied reach and changes in active channel and vegetation were quantified. Fieldwork was done to analyse current landforms and woody vegetation structure, the results being the identification of seven different landform types and the collection of data on presence and size of woody vegetation along 3 transects in each reach.

Preliminary Results

Active channel area has decreased steadily over the studied period. In 1956, the active channel area was largest in all cases. In the successive pictures, channel narrowing and loss of the initial active channel area together with vegetation encroachment and poplar plantations is observed in all rivers (Figure 2).

Figure 2:  Example of a part of the Porma river reach that exhibited a pre-dam multithread channel with wide banks in 1956 (left) and a single channel in 2011 (center) with human pressures (right) (figure: Vanesa Martínez-Fernández).

The most active landforms, bare gravels with frequent recruitment of pioneer species, were absent in the regulated reaches (Esla, Porma). Multivariate analysis revealed that seedlings of pioneer (Salicacea) species commonly related with active bars were only found in the Curueño River. However, larger individuals of these pioneer species are found in old channel banks of the Porma and Esla rivers, where flood disturbance has disappeared after flow regulation. Since the operation of the dams, the maximum annual discharge has decreased (about 70%) and minimum annual discharge has risen. In both regulated rivers, no flood events exceeding the 2-years return period (incidence based on natural flow regime characteristics) have occurred since the operation of the dams. In the Curueño River, flood disturbance has continued to occur but with smaller magnitude. On the other hand, an increase of the minimum flows during summer months has occurred in the regulated rivers due to irrigation purposes. This contrasts with the natural Mediterranean seasonality presented by the Curueño River, where low flows still occur in the summer months.

Our preliminary results show narrowing processes in the studied rivers associated to a decrease of flood disturbance and highlight the risk that native riparian forest will not rejuvenate but will age and disappear in due course under regulated flow regimes.

Future work will include more reaches and other type of catchments and landscape variables linking the evolution and trends of the fluvial system to human pressures that have modified natural conditions.

Author:  Vanesa Martínez-Fernández, UPM (Polytechnic University of Madrid)

For further information: 

Vanesa Martínez-Fernández

PhD research in REFORM - Distinct patterns of interactions between vegetation and river morphology

About "PhD research in REFORM"

In the newsletter items dedicated to PhD research in REFORM, PhD students introduce the topic and the initial results of their research.


Vegetation and hydro-morphodynamics interact dynamically in rivers and river floodplains. These interactions create complex habitat mosaics supporting a large diversity of plants and animals. Numerous studies have described the links between biological and physical characteristics of rivers, but these are mainly empirical in nature and the underlying processes are known only in outline. The current scientific understanding of these dynamic interactions is still limited, especially at quantitative levels and when it comes to incorporating this understanding in predictive models of floodplain ecosystem development for river management. Recent models contain complex hydro-morphodynamics but address vegetation in a rather simplistic manner. Vegetation is usually represented as static cylinders that do not grow or die.


We have developed a model that contains dynamic vegetation processes like colonisation, growth and mortality. With this model, we are at the point of creating more realistic patterns in fluvial morphology and vegetation. The objective of this study is to use this model to identify the key processes that create patterns in vegetation and fluvial morphology. The model will be able to support river managers in the design and long term prediction of ecological restoration measures.

Figure 1: Flow diagram of model processes and interactions (figure: Mijke van Oorschot)


We coupled the hydro-morphodynamic model Delft3D to a new dynamic vegetation model (Fig. 1). Colonisation depends on water levels and timing of seed dispersal. Plants can grow and interact with hydro-morphodynamic processes (flow resistance) or die due to flooding, desiccation, burial and scour. At the moment we have included two Salicaceae species Salix and Populus because of their ecosystem engineering properties. Additionally, other riparian vegetation types can be included containing different characteristics which can change over time.

Preliminary results

The model produces realistic patterns in fluvial morphology (e.g. chute cut-offs and oxbow lakes) and vegetation (spotted, striped and dense, Fig. 2). Also, by testing different scenarios without vegetation, with static vegetation (vegetation does not grow or die) and dynamic vegetation of the Allier River, we found that only by including dynamic vegetation active meandering behaviour is maintained after 150 years.

Figure 2: Model results for simulations of the river Allier compared with aerial photos. A) Comparable patterns in fluvial morphology. B) Comparable patterns in vegetation (figure: Mijke van Oorschot).

Future work will include more vegetation types, linking model output to habitat suitability models of several riverine species (e.g. fish, macrophytes) and to test several human pressure scenarios (e.g. channelisation, dam removal, flow alteration) and ecological restoration scenarios (e.g. floodplain lowering, side channels, natural riverbanks).

Author: Mijke van Oorschot, Deltares

For further information: 

Mijke van Oorschot

National Stakeholder Workshop in Seville

On 2 June 2014, a National Stakeholder Workshop on "Restoring Rivers: Experiences and methodological advances” took place in the city of Seville, at the Pabellón de Méjico (University of Seville) organised by the UPM (Polytechnic University of Madrid). The general aim of the workshop was to raise awareness and interest of water managers and stakeholders on the REFORM Project and its results. The workshop was opened by Dr. Leandro del Moral, Professor at the University of Seville, Dr. Manuel Romero, President of the Guadalquivir Water District and Marta González del Tánago from UPM. The opening speakers highlighted the need for efficient water use and the advances made in recent years in the immediate vicinity of Seville.

Figure 1: Workshop plenary room (photo: Tom Buijse)

The workshop focused on the methodological framework developed at European level within the REFORM project to ensure the success of restoration measures in rivers. This framework includes the advances in knowledge on hydro-morphological and ecological processes and its relation to sustainability and ecosystem services.  The proposed advances are expected to be useful for the new River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) in the context of the Water Framework Directive.

Figure 2: Interaction among participants (photo: Tom Buijse)

The workshop programme started with an introduction to REFORM followed by “setting the Mediterranean scene” presentations by Spanish experts on river restoration practices in the Spanish Mediterranean. Next came several presentations by internationally renowned researchers working together within the REFORM Project. The presentations were followed by an open discussion of the presented topics, with participant support through direct English-Spanish translation to tackle the language barrier. Attendance was free of charge and approximately 50 participants attended the workshop. Brunch and coffee sessions were offered during the duration of the workshop, which helped maximise discussion and interactions between participants. Participating stakeholders were mainly water managers from the water administration of Andalucía as well as university researchers, environmentalists, consultants and farmers.

For further information, please refer to the programme of the workshop (see below) or follow this link to access the speakers' presentations.


Author: Marta González del Tánago, UPM (Polytechnic University of Madrid)

For further information: 

Marta González del Tánago


State-of-play on hydromorphology in river basin management planning - An interview with Johan Kling, Senior Advisor, Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management

Johan Kling is a geomorphologist, mainly working with hydromorphology and heavily modified water bodies as part of the WFD implementation in Sweden. Different aspects of rivers have dominated his working career from research and university teaching to UNESCO Man & Biosphere program, governmental research policy and the largest NGO in Sweden. For several years, he was one of very few consultants in hydromorphology in Sweden. Since 2008, he has worked with WFD and hydromorphology at different levels from County administrative board, Water basin district level and, in recent years, the national level within the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water management. Johan is a member of the Advisory Board of the REFORM project.

1. Please introduce yourself and explain your affiliation with rivers.

My professional connection with rivers and river geomorphology goes back to 1987, when I studied physical geography with a focus on fluvial geomorphology. My PhD, however, dealt with arctic processes like permafrost, cold climate but also rivers in this climate. After my PhD, I became deputy coordinator at the Climate Impact Research Centre in the Arctic which addresses the effect of warmer climate on vegetation and animals on land and in water. My work on the interface between science and policy started as main policy officer for research, science and technology at the Ministry of Education and Sciences. Thereafter, I moved for 8 years to the NGO Swedish Society for Nature Conservation mainly on environmental issues related to hydropower and energy production. Then, I started my own consultancy working on river hydromorphology. After several years, I returned to the policy level by joining the River Basin District Authority of Skagerak and Kattegatt to work on hydromorphology at district and national level. At present, I am Senior Advisor at the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management, again on hydromorphology issues.

All in all, I am interested in how rivers function, in particular the interplay between hydromophology and ecology, as well as the cultural heritage of river landscapes.

2. What do you see as the key challenges to conserving and restoring rivers in Europe and specifically in Sweden?

The first major challenge is certainly the very large number of water bodies affected by hydromorphological changes on the European scale, as well as in Sweden. This new insight is a result of the first planning cycle of the Water Framework Directive (WFD). It came quite as a surprise to high levels of decision-making because earlier on attention was mainly given to water quality issues such as acidification and eutrophication. In Sweden, 40 to 50% of 16.800 water bodies show an altered hydromorphology. It is clear we cannot handle the restoration of all 6000 to 7000 water bodies in one WFD cycle. Thus, an important challenge is how to prioritise the restoration actions both in time and space.

A second key challenge is understanding what rivers provide in terms of ecosystem services. There has been a strong focus on services like hydropower and flood protection but there are still many unknown issues on what value rivers really provide to society. We still have the tendency to approach rivers with traditional engineering. A hundred years ago, we were focused on conquering nature and engineering landscapes with the result of increasing floods, reducing biodiversity and other ecosystem services. We have to change our view of what rivers can offer and how they should be managed.

A third major challenge is the link between hydromorphology and ecology. We lack detailed and harmonised types of hydromorphological conditions that are consistent with good ecological status. Dealing with hydromorphology properly is an interdisciplinary task, requiring knowledge in different fields e.g. ecology, landscape and biology but also cultural history. The REFORM project is important in emphasising that hydromorphology is the connection between ecology and habitat. Surely, implementing this insight will require changes in monitoring systems. Overall, there is a tendency to simplify and monitor hydromorphology like eutrophication or acidification. For example in Sweden, it is not unusual to regard dense trout population as an indicator for good river ecological status. In reality, this may not always be the case, because the lack of competition from salmon, due to migration barriers might increase the number of trout individuals. It is thus important to have a good overview of the habitat and the interaction of ecology and hydromorphology.

3. How are these challenges being addressed when implementing EU water policy, especially the 2nd river basin management plans?

The situation is certainly different in different Member States.

In Sweden, the tendency is to spend a lot of time on characterisations and description of the current state, but we lack good tools to prioritise measures. The Programmes of Measures of the Member States outline a vast array of measures with large uncertanties regarding their effectiveness. Important questions remain unanswered with regard to such ambitious plans, e.g. how well are the measures investigated before they are put in place? Which ones should be implemented first and which ones at a later stage?

Regarding hydromorphology, we have made a first significant step forward from the 1st to the 2nd cycle, since it has been now acknowledged as an issue to tackle. We have also established means to exchange experiences about the functionality of certain measures. In Sweden, now much more data are available on hydromorphology. In the 1st cycle, we had hydromorphological information on around 1000 water bodies only. In the 2nd cycle, we have access to georeferenced data through remote sensing, which is not yet optimal, but certainly an improvement.

Regarding new knowledge generated from the implementation of measures in the first cycle, not much has changed. Throughout Europe, monitoring and evaluation of such measures has not been carried out properly in many cases. Despite the execution of rather costly measures, we barely follow up with their success rate or impact, and thus, we do not know which measure work well. For some, like those for fish migration, we can say that natural bypasses are more successful than technical fish ladders. Nevertheless, collecting data still needs to become a clear priority and we still have a long way to go to deal with all challenges relevant to river restoration.

4. How can REFORM provide specific support for river basin managers?

Many of the outcomes of REFORM will be too late for the 2nd management cycle (this is also relevant for results available since 2013). In Sweden, we completed most of the work for the 2nd RBMPs already in 2013. However, during my work on a Swedish guideline on hydromorphology, we tried to bring in as many results from REFORM as possible.

Overall, the work done in REFORM workpackage 2.1 (see relevant article in Newsletter no. 3) will prove to be very useful, as it creates a common language and a standard to describe rivers, hydromorphology and the role of biology. A common language will also support discussions on the European level on the relation between ecology and hydromorphology. In addition, REFORM’s work on the linkages between biology and hydromorphology is really important. We can use this when discussing amendments of the monitoring stations.

In my opinion, the main impact of REFORM will come in the 3rd planning cycle of the WFD. The river basin district authorities are currently finishing the 2nd RBMPs and start to pursue public consultations. Work for the 3rd cycle is already coming up, as we realised that we have shortcomings that will require more work.

It will be important that REFORM provides all useful information generated in the project in a cookbook-type manual on how to approach a catchment regarding hydromorphology and ecology. Furthermore, what is lacking so far in REFORM is work on prioritisation, which could be very useful for a country like Sweden. When starting restoration, we need to know, where we should start in time and space. The issue is so far partly picked up in work done on river resilience but there is no concise approach developed yet.

5. How should scientists engage more effectively with river managers to improve river restoration activities? What is your view on the role of advisory boards for research projects as REFORM?

It is important for scientists to have a close relation to people using their results. You have to realise the political dimension of decisions taken in water management. One example is the prioritisation of measures. In Sweden, very tough decisions have to be taken on which rivers to restore. We will not be able to restore all rivers, since we need to keep hydropower plants and waterways functioning. For scientists, this means that they need to be aware of decision-making processes. On the other hand, decision-makers need the information derived from scientific work to underpin their decisions. Water managers usually need information on a rather general level, covering a larger scale, to take decisions. However, research often produces very advanced studies on a highly detailed level and a very small scale. Therefore, a close cooperation between water managers and researchers is crucial to create a common goal. This eventually will improve the information background that decision makers have in order to derive well-founded decisions.

REFORM might build the bridge between the two worlds. REFORM has an amazing workprogramme from evaluating DPSIR from the drivers to designing restoration measures. This project pushed the knowledge boundaries several steps forward. It is not a general research project that produces a large amount of research papers, which are out of the picture for water managers. It has a strong communication strategy that provides targeted information to the water managers.

The Advisory Board of REFORM supports this linkage of research with the outside world. All Advisory Board members have different angles of view and linkages to other stakeholder groups. I personally represent the water manager’s view and try to figure out how I can transform the information of REFORM into useful knowledge for water managers of county administrations or municipalities.


Johan Kling was interviewed on 16 July 2014 by Eleftheria Kampa (Leader of Dissemination and Stakeholder Involvement of REFORM, Ecologic Institute).

For further information: 

Eleftheria Kampa, Ecologic Institute

Re-meandering lowland rivers – the case study River Spree (Germany)

The 380 km long River Spree drains about 10.000 km² into the rivers Havel and later Elbe. Since the early middle age, the lower Spree was heavily modified to facilitate flood protection, water mills, agricultural land use and inland navigation. The discharge (avg 36 m3/s) was artificially increased by ground water which was pumped into the River Spree during open-cast lignite mining activities in the middle and upper reaches to keep the mining area dry. In response, cross-sections were widened and deepened, banks stabilized and meanders cut-off, later on reservoirs and by-pass canals were constructed. As a consequence, the river lost its natural variability of the flow regime. The absence of flow spates allured intensive agriculture and building of houses and infrastructure in the former floodplain.

In the 1990s, the lower River Spree was characterised by eutrophic conditions (0.7-3.4 mg/L total nitrogen and 70-180 g/L total phosphorous), uniform channel form, almost lacking flow dynamics and the corresponding biota, phytoplankton, limnophilic and eurytopic invertebrates and fish. Therefore, the water authorities in cooperation with numerous scientists developed a comprehensive management concept to improve the quality of a 35 km long river section, the so-called Müggelspree. The concept comprised reductions in nutrient loading, re-meandering, raising the riverbed, removal of bank protections, and allowing for flow spates.

Figure 1: Re-meandering – the former backwater has been reconnected at both sides and the former main channel blocked by a dam (near the left, upstream opening) (photo: Isabell Hiekel).

However, this concept was opposed by a single farmer and very few inhabitants afraid of flood damages. Reluctance of private land owners and political concerns impeded the essential acquisition of adjacent floodplain areas by public authorities. As a result, flood pulses, bank erosion, bedload transport and any other natural, self-sustaining hydromorphological processes apart from the ongoing river bed incision are still lacking today.

Finally, four of about 30 backwaters were reconnected between 2004 and 2008. They became the new main stem whereas the former artificial cut-offs were blocked (Figure 1). In this way, the river length increased by about 2.7 km. However, these renewed meanders were completely dredged according to the main channel cross section, artificially wide and rather homogeneous, to ensure the same discharge capacity for flood protection. The former main channel was completely blocked near the opening to force the whole discharge through the new meander and the section up to the downstream end of the new meander remained a static water body.

The first two backwaters, reconnected in 2004 and 2005, have been extensively monitored for restoration success between 2005 and 2007. Despite all limitations mentioned, some positive effects of re-meandering were found. The flushed meander provided a much more diverse bed substrate than the former backwater. Habitat heterogeneity had adjusted to the main channel conditions already in August 2006 (Lorenz & Leszinski subm.). An experimental moderate flow spate slightly eroded the outer bank. In the new meanders the flow tolerant macrophyte species dominating the main channel started colonisation with slight delay on the newly dredged bottom substrates (Grünert et al. 2007). The formerly extinct rheophilic thick-shelled river mussel (Unio crassus) had settled and the number of sensitive EPT taxa (benthic invertebrates of the families Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, Trichoptera) as well as the share of typical riverine species increased (Lorenz & Leszinski subm.). The community structure of fish, macroinvertebrates and aquatic vegetation in the new meanders adjusted to those in the main stem within three years (Grünert et al. 2007, Wolter 2010, Lorenz & Leszinski subm.). However, problems became especially obvious for fish (Figure 2): the simple adjustment to the existing main channel communities will not ecologically improve the river. Sensitive indicator fish species for river health are still declining in both the old main channel and the re-meandered stretches (Wolter 2010). Accordingly, the fish-based assessment score did not improve, because the essential bottlenecks limiting riverine fish species were not addressed by re-meandering as implemented here (Wolter 2010).

Figure 2: Observed fish densities in the main channel compared to the rehabilitated new meanders of A) total fish, B) rheophilic fish, and C) lithophilic fish (data from Wolter 2010).

All in all, re-meandering of rivers is a common and widely applied river rehabilitation measure. However, if not properly implemented, its effect may stop at the adjustment of a former backwater species community to those of the main channel without further improvement. Ecologically effective re-meandering cannot be static in morphology and statistically neutral in flood risk. In fact, it will always increase the theoretical flood risk by locally narrowing river cross sections. Ecologically successful re-meandering requires allowing for side erosion, depth and width variations as well as channel narrowing to achieve diverse flow patterns, sediment transport and sediment sorting, thereby creating the essential microhabitat patches for typical, sensitive riverine species.  

In the frame of the REFORM project, two of the meanders of the Müggelspree are compared with straight sections of the lower Spree regarding hydromorphology, species structure of main groups of organisms, food web interactions and connectivity of river and floodplain. The data has not undergone a final analysis yet, but ultimately the River Spree case study might serve as example for inconsequent and thus inefficient restoration efforts.

Figure 3: Map of the River Spree catchment up to its Mouth into the River Havel. The insert shows the stretch “Müggelspree” where the red ellipses indicate the re-meandered sites.


Grünert U, Hilt S, Pusch M, Gelbrecht J. 2007. Entwicklungspotential der Makrophytenvegetation in der Unteren Spree nach Renaturierungsmaßnahmen. Naturschutz und Landschaftspflege in Brandenburg 16, 41-47.

Lorenz S, Leszinski M. subm. Re-meandering technique determines colonization success of macroinvertebrates in a German lowland river. Hydrobiologia.

Wolter C. 2010. Functional vs scenic restoration – challenges to improve fish and fisheries in urban waters. Fisheries Management and Ecology 17, 176-185.


Authors: Jan Köhler & Christian Wolter (IGB)

For further information: 

Christian Wolter

2014 European River Restoration Conference – SEE River project final event

ERRC 2014, Vienna, 27-29 October 2014

The inaugural 2013 European Riverprize and European River Restoration Conference were highly successful and attracted a large number of participants, who gave very positive feedback. This autumn, the next conference will be organised, again hosted by the city of Vienna.

The organisers, the SEE River project and the European Centre for River Restoration (ECRR), are optimistic that the 2014 conference and Riverprize gala can - again with the support of many (partner) organisations - build upon the success of last year and continue to strengthen the recognition and support of good river management in Europe.

The conference is organized by ECRR and the SEE River project

The ECRR is a European network consisting of national centres and individual members united in their mission to enhance and promote river restoration best practice throughout greater Europe. The ECRR counteracts the threats to natural riverine habitats by fostering the establishment of national river restoration networks, and by disseminating information on river restoration through the website, the newsletter and by organising events like the European River Restoration Conference. 

The SEE River project is led by the Institute for Water of the Republic of Slovenia and involves 25 more partners from 12 countries. The project aims at developing innovative approaches to contemporary river corridor management by engaging stakeholders along 6 international rivers in South East Europe. It is co-funded by the EU in the framework of the Territorial Cooperation Programme South East Europe.

Through stakeholder engagement of different actors, such as experts, administration representatives and people living and working in the river corridors, the SEE project team is working towards new concepts and tools to enable the reconciliation of water management, conservation, restoration and development interests. The project’s facilitation of this stakeholder dialogue has improved the awareness and capacities on contemporary river corridor management of over 500 stakeholders in the region, supporting river restoration for sustainable future management of rivers. In various sessions, delegates of the upcoming 2014 European River Restoration Conference (ERRC) can learn about the inspiring experiences and lessons learned from 6 pilot rivers in the region.

Showcase new approaches and different themes for river restoration

The 2014 ERRC conference will showcase and discuss the realisation of new river restoration initiatives and approaches on a focused number of river restoration themes: urban resilience, sustainable land use and hydropower, hydro-morphological continuity, fish migration and ecological and economical benefits. Moreover, the conference will also examine the overall approach to integrated river basin management by examining cross-sectoral engagement and stakeholder dialogue. Furthermore, cooperation on local, regional, national and international levels will be discussed. The plenary session of the EEA and the thematic sessions of Wetlands International, the Global Water Partnership and the EEA will specifically cover these new approaches.

Key challenges for Integrated River Basin Management and River Restoration

This year’s European River Restoration Conference addresses the following key challenges for the future:

  • Green Infrastructure(GI): A strategically planned network of (semi) natural areas designed and managed to deliver a wide range of ecosystem services, now being supported as the cross-sectoral approach by the EU.
  • Natural Water Retention Measures (NWRM) is another cross-sectoral approach, aimed at reducing vulnerability to natural disasters, namely flooding and drought. Ecosystems and their service provision should be maintained and restored by agricultural buffers and environmental flows. The EU will develop guidance for NWRM and ecological flows by 2014 and promote the NWRM in the integrated river basin management planning cycle.
  • A third challenge forms the innovative new approach called Contemporary River Corridor Management (CRCM). Over the period of the last two years, the SEE River project has worked in 12 countries of Central and South East Europe to develop a new approach of cross-sectoral cooperation in river management. The project focused on the river corridor as the part of the river basin where most pressures are likely to occur.

For more information visit the conference website at



Author: Hil Kuypers, ECRR, European Centre for River Restoration

For further information: 

Hil Kuypers