Bringing the river Meuse alive!
Title 30 years of river restoration. Bringing the river Meuse alive!
Authors Gijs Kurstjens, Kris Van Looy
In this decade of ecosystem restoration, showing good examples of how restoration can work is of utmost importance. Ever since Roman times, rivers in central Europe have been managed for navigation, for flood control and for agricultural use of floodplains, causing strong ecological and ecosystem consequences. The major human interventions of straightening, damming and embankments have transformed fluvial processes, and strongly affected river ecosystems and their biodiversity.
The River Meuse is no exception, and it became a major transportation route with the first industrial revolution. Only one river stretch escaped the heavy impoundment, the 60 km of the river along the Dutch-Belgian border. Thanks to its high slope, centuries of straightening and canalisation were abandoned and lateral canals took over the navigation route: the Albert canal from Liège straight to Antwerp, and the Juliana canal on the Dutch side. This offered a window of opportunity for restoring the unique ecosystem of a large gravel river, of which unfortunately hardly anything was left.
This brochure describes the ecological results of the nature restoration project that started thirty years ago on the banks of the River Meuse at the border between Belgium and the Netherlands. Today, with the large floodplain restored, the river is the heart of the cross-border Meuse Valley River Park in the Belgian and Dutch provinces of Limburg. An extensive ecological monitoring programme was developed in a cooperation between more than ten partners from the Netherlands and Flanders. The study focused on the restored natural areas in the southern part of the River Park, which have been created with riverbed widening and floodplain lowering. Developments in the water as well as on land were examined. In addition to recently completed areas, some 30-year-old nature restoration sites were also investigated. Not only the ecological results, but also a view on the economic benefits and the way inhabitants evaluate their transformed region is presented.
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