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Dambusters: new film documents dam removal across Europe

October 10, 2022

Dam removal has become one of the most important tools in modern river restoration. Removing dams and other barriers such as weirs is a vital step in shifting river systems back towards more natural states, allowing the free flow of water and migratory species such as salmon.

A major new film released this weekend documents dam removal projects across five European countries. Dambusters tells the stories of so-called ‘river heroes’ who are taking action to restore free-flowing rivers in Spain, France, Estonia, Lithuania and Finland. Presented by Pao Fernández Garrido from the World Fish Migration Foundation, Dambusters was supported by a range of environmental organisations including WWF, Wetlands International and The Nature Conservancy, and produced by Francisco Campos-Lopez Benyunes at Magen Entertainment.

In Estonia, the film focuses on the Pärnu River, where seven weir removals have opened up over 3,000km of river after 150 years of fragmentation. The film highlights the importance of public communication and support, stating that over 75% of Finnish citizens support dam removal, compared to around 10% of the public in other European countries.

“When I filmed the explosion, the moment it blew up was incredible,” Robert Epple says in the film. Epple, a pioneer of dam removal, and founder of the European Rivers Network, adds, “I understood in that moment it blew up, that there was not only a dam that disappeared, but that there were thousands of barriers also in people’s mind, so to say, which blew up simultaneously. Because I knew that if people see these images, they’d understand that a dam is not eternal, that we can undo what was done in the past, if it no longer serves its purpose and give it back to nature.”

Dambusters film poster

“The ecosystem is functioning and the ecosystem’s resilience is getting back,” reflects Saija Koljonen, a researcher at SYKE, Finland, following a dam removal project. “The whole ecosystem, it’s a complex system from the catchment area and the riparian forest, and the species in the water. The whole complexity is working naturally afterwards. So, that is the aim of these kind of big restoration projects. I see the river continuity and connectivity is the key to the ecosystem resilience. So the ecosystems function normally or naturally if connectivity is taken care of. So, dam removal is the best option for connectivity.”

“I spoke with the construction guys and they said that there’s been tour buses with people, full of people just coming here to check out this dam removal site,” says Finnish actor and environmentalist Jasper Pääkkönen. “We’re actually reviving this local community, local economy, and everybody benefits. People benefit, nature benefits, the fishery, other animals, they all benefit from it.”

Dambusters was premiered at the recent European Rivers Summit in Brussels. It is released at a time when there is a renewed focus on river restoration. The proposed EU Nature Restoration Law strengthens the ambition to restore 25,000 kilometres of European rivers through the removal of obsolete barriers alongside the restoration of floodplains and wetlands. Recent research suggests that there are more than 1.2 million barriers fragmenting European rivers, and around 150,000 are obsolete.


Dambusters website.
Watch the film online.

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