Floodplains: a natural system to preserve and restore
- Floodplains are an important part of Europe’s natural capital, covering 7 % of the continent’s area and up to 30 % of its terrestrial Natura 2000 site area. Statistics on the spatial extent and land use distribution of floodplains in Europe are available from the floodplain statistics viewer (https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/data/data-viewers/floodplain-areas).
- Floodplains are found at the interface between rivers and their catchment. Studies have shown that 70-90 % of floodplains have been environmentally degraded as a result of structural flood protection, river straightening, disconnection of floodplain wetlands, agricultural land use and urbanisation over the past two centuries. The largest pressures on floodplains are linked to hydromorphological pressures, land use, and pollution.
- Important ecosystem services of a preserved or restored floodplains include natural water retention, carbon sequestration, water purification, habitats and biodiversity, and recreation. In degraded floodplains, the quality and quantity of these services is reduced.
- The ecosystem services provided by preserved or restored floodplains support achieving key objectives of the Water Framework Directive, the Habitats and Birds Directives, and Floods Directive. Presently, only 40 % of waterbodies achieve good ecological status and 17% of floodplain habitats achieve good conservation status.
- The most important pressures to tackle are linked to hydromorphological pressures, land use and pollution. Some land use practices increase flood risk potential and in part, hydromorphological pressures are linked to flood defence structures.
- Floods remain one of the most costly natural disasters and, in parts of Europe, climate change is anticipated to increase the flood risk. Developing strategies for managing flood risks that also provide benefits for other aspects of the environment is an important challenge. Nature based solutions have been shown as a viable and cost efficient alternative to structural measures.
- Preserved and restored floodplains have the potential to greatly increase the value and number of ecosystem services compared with ones solely optimised to deliver provisioning services. Exactly how much restoration is planned or needed to capitalise this potential is, however, not known at present.
- Ecosystem-based management could provide a unifying concept for developing a shared approach among the Water Framework, Floods, Habitats and Birds Directives and could be developed based on existing legislation that contains the most important elements. It could also support the development of a more coherent knowledge base.
- Ecosystem-based management and floodplain restoration requires the prioritisation of benefits, planning, public support, investment and time.EU and national funding instruments are available to support restoration. Although implementation is cumbersome and costly, there are many examples of successful restoration projects that are also greatly appreciated by the public because of their recreational qualities.
- Under the European Green Deal, climate change, biodiversity, eliminating pollution and the ‘farm to fork’ strategy are four policy areas that will support the achievement of its overarching objective. Floodplain restoration and ecosystem-based management, as described in this report, are important elements for achieving the objectives of the European Green Deal.
Full brochure available Floodplains - a natural system to preserve and restore