The « Wild Rivers Site » label in Europe

An innovative tool to enforce the protection of our last European gems and create a network of protected areas.

European pristine waters under threat:

Rivers and streams that escaped any major changes to their natural shape (flood barriers, embankments, various alterations…) and that maintained crystal clear waters are extremely rare in Europe. They should all be protected, but the current regulations are sometimes not sufficient!

Launched in 2008 with the support of WWF France and other NGOs, the «Wild Rivers » programme has a clear objective: going far beyond the «Very Good Ecological State» of the Water Framework Directive. To achieve this, an innovative tool has been created in 2014: the “Wild Rivers Site” label.

An integrated approach:

The “Wild Rivers Site” label is a non-regulatory recognition delivery by an independent certification body. Reserved to the most exceptional streams, it aims to create a dynamic between local management actors. Politicians, residents, companies, farmers and anglers come together in order to contribute to the development, promotion and preservation of the local “river capital”. To obtain the label, two conditions need to be comply:

  • The focus stream pass our “Wild Rivers” evaluation grid. Including 47 social-ecological criteria, this evaluation allows the unspoilt nature of an entire stream, or at least a representative 10km section. It was created by our Scientific Council, composed of researches and scientists working in various institutions and regions.
  • The local community have an ambitious governance. A multi-annual conservation plan (5 years average) has to be established by one or two local project promoters in collaboration with several stakeholders. Involvement of local actors is therefore the key to the success of the project!

A network in France and Europe:

Since its creation, the certified sites network has gathered no less than 25 watercourses from all over France. From the Leguer River in the Britanny bocage, to the Alpine Cians River or the Grande Leyre River in the Landes forest, these are watersheds whose differences allow rich exchanges between their managers. And above all, their union also makes them stronger to fight against unsustainable policies and lobbies.

This network is now progressively expanding to Europe. Indeed, since 2016 we are proceeding to the translation of the “Wild Rivers Site” label with the support of the French Agency for Biodiversity. River managers have been contacted across a dozen of exceptional catchments, spread over 8 countries: the Owenduff river in Ireland, the upper Noguera Pallaresa in Spain, the Beverin, Veyron and Ova Chamuera rivers in Switzerland… Some of them are now promising pilot sites.

A public-private cooperation:

The Wild Rivers programme has two cornerstone elements: the “Wild Rivers Fund” intended to develop partnerships with businesses and raise private funds, while the new “Wild Rivers NGO” works with public agencies and manages the project since 2019. Our cooperation with the French government bodies is recognized through a framework agreement signed between the Ministry of Ecology, the Biodiversity Agency and the six water authorities.

To go further in Europe, we are now working with the European Centre for River Restoration members and some managers of the pilot sites, such as WWF Switzerland, Ballycroy National Park, Alt Pirineu Natural Park, Wallon Region

We are still looking for new partnerships, so we remain open to any exchange with interested structures, NGOs, public institutions or private actors. It’s the involvement of the greatest number that will determine the success of the Wild Rivers project!

Want to become a Wild Rivers partner?

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