Scattered across the rivers of Europe are hundreds of thousands of man-made barriers, many of which are completely obsolete. Today, these barriers can provide energy, water, fishing and leisure opportunities, and might even prevent the spread of invasive river species. However, they also present considerable obstacles to sustainable river management. Aside from presenting a potential flood hazard and subsequent costs to both the economy and the lives of local residents, barriers substantially change river ecosystems and block the natural swimways of migrating fish. Eel, salmon and many other species all rely on complete connectivity between the sea and their upstream river habitats in order to complete their life cycle.

AMBER (Adaptive Management of Barriers in European Rivers) is a multidisciplinary research project funded by the European program Horizon 2020 with 6.2 million euros. Under the motto “Let It Flow”, the project promotes the adaptive management of man-made barriers to restore fluvial connectivity.

AMBER seeks to raise awareness of the problems generated by the fragmentation of river courses, the pressures on freshwater ecosystems, and the need for innovative solutions that minimize the environmental impacts and compatible economic aspects of water exploitation.

Led by the University of Swansea (Wales, United Kingdom), the consortium is composed of a total of 20 partners from 11 countries that includes academic institutions, public bodies, hydroelectric companies, water providers, NGOs, fishermen and local authorities, all of them committed to solving the challenge of river fragmentation and improving the management of barriers in the context of a more effective restoration of ecosystems and an optimization of natural capital.


The projects’ main outcomes are:

1. The first European Atlas of stream barriers in Europe (WP1) making use of a Citizen Science Programme (WP5).

The extent of longitudinal river connectivity is largely unknown at the European scale and this is a bottleneck for managers to be able to take well informed decisions. Currently the picture on river fragmentation is based on dams higher than 10 m which from preliminary analysis on existing databases in Europe are likely to represent less than 3% of the total existing barriers. Information about the location and density of smaller barriers is often unknown, but these smaller barriers present the biggest problem for the health of Europe’s streams and rivers

AMBER will present the first Atlas of all existing barriers across Europe built by integration of data from existing national databases and validated with a field-based designed procedure. At the same time, the project has created a Citizen Science project to invite citizens to complete this database by recording river barriers with the Barrier Tracker app (freely available from Google Play or Play Store).

For the first time, citizens are encouraged to become involved in efforts to reconnect Europe’s rivers with the help of the Barrier Tracker app.

2. A novel toolkit for assessing barrier impacts and their effects on freshwater organisms (WP2) created using cutting-edge advances in environmental DNA, use of drones and valuation of ecosystem services, to map the distribution of barriers and assess their effects on freshwater organisms

3. A socio-economic evaluation of barriers impacts on Ecosystem Services (WP3)

4. Decision support tools for monitoring of restoration of stream connectivity (planning, mitigation, removal) (WP3)

5. Guidance on barrier management and decision making for NGOs, regulators and industry incorporating: ecological impacts, cost-benefit analysis, sociological and economic factors, and ecological/economic modelling based on demonstration cases (WP4). AMBER will implement the tools developed in the project in nine real case scenarios scattered all around Europe.

Poutes Dam. River Allier (France). Before and after picture of the plans for the Poutes Dam


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