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3.3.2 Hydromorphological restoration of urban rivers and lakes

Since the 1980s, in several parts of mainly western and northern Europe, an increasing number of river restoration projects has been developed and realised in urban areas. Many of these have been based on the insight that attention to ecological aspects of river maintenance can enhance the creation of attractive open spaces and the establishment of a more natural landscape. A multitude of benefits related to urban river restoration has been recognised especially:

  • Leisure and recreation for residents, nature experience for individuals, enhancement of city aesthetics;
  • Flood control and protection;
  • Climate change adaptation, e.g. related to retention areas which give room to the river and measures addressing impacts such as urban heat islands or stormwater; and
  • Freshwater ecology and cross-linking of habitats, creation of retreat areas for endangered species, enhancement of biodiversity.

Since the adoption of the WFD in 2000, urban river restoration is partly driven by the goal to reach good ecological status or potential also for physically modified stretches of rivers in urban areas.

Especially in densely populated and industrialised areas, restoration of urban rivers contributes to a high quality of the environment as well as to a high quality of life. Urban rivers are often the only functioning or potential reservoirs of biodiversity and open spaces in cities. Thus, the active protection and restoration of such areas is part of the repertoire of fundamental practices for shaping cities’ spatial order and sustainable development (Bender et al., 2012).

Much of urban river restoration concentrates on small rivers and streams, which are often developed in the context of broader city strategies on restoration. The small River Mayesbrook in London, for instance, has become a flagship urban restoration project as part of the London Rivers Action Plan. After restoration (of riverside wetlands, woodland planting, the creation of new meandering channels and the improvements of the river banks), the River Mayesbrook reached good ecological status according to the WFD. The restoration of the stream Igelbäcken in Stockholm has greatly improved habitat characteristics for the rare fish species stone loach, which also plays a strong communicative role for stimulating restoration actions in the Swedish context. 

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