Europe has seen a surge in dam removals in 2022, with at least 325 river barriers being taken down across the continent, according to the latest report by Dam Removal Europe (DRE). The figure represents a 36% increase on the previous record set in 2021, making it another record-breaking year for dam removal in Europe.

The removal of weirs was once again the most common form of barrier removal. A range of factors contributed to the surge in dam removals, says the report, including newly available funding opportunities like the Open Rivers Programme and coordinated efforts by national and regional public authorities to report removed barriers.

Spain remained the European leader in dam removal, followed by Sweden and France. However, new faces joined the movement with Luxembourg recording its first-ever barrier removals by removing a weir. The removal was part of a bigger project aimed at restoring the ecological continuity of the Pétrusse River.

“We started a riverlution, but only with the joint action of river practitioners, authorities, policymakers, and citizens, will it be possible to achieve the EU Biodiversity Strategy targets,” said Herman Wanningen, Director of the World Fish Migration Foundation.

The report says that dam removal has emerged as an important tool for ecosystem restoration and contributes to the global Freshwater Challenge to restore 300,000km of degraded rivers by 2030, a goal launched at the UN Water Conference in New York in March.

Over 1.2 million barriers fragment European rivers, many of which are obsolete, says the report, leading to a decline of 93% in freshwater migratory fish populations in Europe and 76% on a global level. Dam removal has been identified as a cost-effective and efficient solution to restore rivers.

Map of European countries that reported barrier removals in 2022. Color gradient refers to the number of removals per country. Image from the Dam Removal Progress 2022 report