MERLIN Podcast: Bringing Europe’s freshwaters back to life

by MERLIN project

Europe’s freshwaters are in an alarming state. Water pollution, habitat destruction and the ongoing effects of climate change have caused significant biodiversity loss and ecological decline across the continent. There is a pressing need for major freshwater restoration projects which tackle these declines and bring rivers, streams, peatlands and wetlands back to life. MERLIN is a major European Union funded project which is  ...   ...  Read more

Podcast episodes

  • Season 1

  • Stories from the water’s edge: getting freshwater restoration done in Europe

    Stories from the water’s edge: getting freshwater restoration done in Europe

    This is a podcast telling stories about how restoration gets done across Europe. First we hear from Joshua Royte, a conservation scientist working for the Nature Conservancy in the USA. Josh has led ambitious river restoration projects across Maine, and is now an advisor to the EU MERLIN project. We hear Josh’s perspective on freshwater restoration in Europe, and the work the MERLIN project is doing to help bring its rivers, streams and wetlands back to life. This work is explored in five fascinating stories from sites across Europe, each of which highlights the complexities of getting freshwater restoration done. Arturo Elosegi from the University of the Basque Country narrates a long-running – and now successful – story about working with communities to address local opposition to dam removal on the Deba River. Charlotte Neary from the Forth Rivers Trust in Scotland highlights the importance of finding and training local contractors to help make restoration a reality along the Forth Catchment, even when it requires unusual traditional methods such as water dowsing. Nadine Gerner from Emschergenossenschaft tells the story of wildflower meadows blooming along the banks of the Emscher River in Germany, which was once so neglected that it became an open sewer. Nadine highlights the need for convincing stories about the success of such nature-based solutions in upscaling their use in restoration. Matea Jarak from WWF Adria recounts an eye-opening story from the Hutovo Blato peatlands in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where a major release of water from a nearby hydropower plant flooded the restoration site. Matea highlights the importance of clear communication with people and organisations around a restoration area to avoid such catastrophic issues. Finally, Iulia Puiu from WWF Romania shares the story of how she and her colleagues have been working to restore the floodplains of the Danube River, in order to buffer the effects of floods and droughts exacerbated by the ongoing climate emergency. A key challenge for Iulia and her team is communicating the need to return natural processes to floodplains which have been drained and developed for many years. Together, the stories give a 'behind the scenes' snapshot of freshwater restoration projects taking place across Europe. They highlight that restoration is never a simple, straightforward process: Instead one that often requires communication, persistence and improvisation in equal measures.

  • Learning from the river: restoring the Danube

    Learning from the river: restoring the Danube

    Join us on the banks of the Danube River in Austria to hear how ambitious restoration projects are helping free the river from human alterations. We meet Robert Tögel and Alice Kaufmann from viadonau and Silke Drexler from BOKU beside the river to hear about how restoring its banks and side-arms is helping benefit both people and nature. As the trio explain, this work is a process of 'learning from the river' to help create space for natural processes to return, whilst at the same time making sure that navigation routes along the river are not impeded. Back in Vienna, we hear from Helmut Habersack in the recently-opened BOKU River Lab to find out how centuries of alterations of the river interact with emerging pressures from the climate emergency and plastic pollution. We speak to Piret Nõukas from the Research Executive Agency at the European Commission to get a wider picture of how freshwater restoration work in MERLIN fits in with wider EU environmental policies like the Green Deal. And finally, we hear from Eva Hernández, co-ordinator of the WWF's Living European Rivers initiative to discuss the pressing need to restore rivers across the continent, and how the proposed EU Nature Restoration Law – if passed – could help achieve this goal.

  • Water, climate and farming: making space for stream restoration in Portugal

    Water, climate and farming: making space for stream restoration in Portugal

    In this episode we explore the issues around stream restoration in the Sorraia catchment in Central Portugal. Restoration of the Sorraia river needs to be able to navigate the needs of intensive agriculture in a landscape increasingly affected by the climate crisis. Walking along the banks of the river, we meet a range of freshwater scientists, activists, farmers and policy experts to understand the big issues in the Sorraia catchment, and the ways in which restoration is increasingly making space for this river in the landscape. We also hear about how work on the Sorraia relates to wider debates over farming, freshwater restoration and the proposed EU Nature Restoration Law.

  • How economic thinking can help us restore Europe's freshwaters

    How economic thinking can help us restore Europe's freshwaters

    In October 2023, the WWF released a major report stating that freshwater has long been significantly undervalued in global economies, leading to widespread environmental costs. The report estimates that the annual economic value of water and freshwater ecosystems globally is $58 trillion – a figure equivalent to 60% of global Gross Domestic Product (or GDP). This startling figure was calculated by estimating the economic value that rivers, streams, lakes, reservoirs and wetlands generate to human societies. The report showed that freshwater ecosystems are not only vital for sustaining everyday societies, but they also provide invaluable life-support systems which help maintain the health of both people and the planet. In this episode of the MERLIN podcast co-hosts Rob St John and Sien Kok deep-dive into key topics around the economics of water. Rob and Sien explore how economic thinking can help make more informed decisions about how to manage freshwater ecosystems, and similarly how it can strengthen arguments over the pressing need to conserve and restore them. We hear expert perspectives from three individuals working in water economics in Europe – Eduard Interwies, Phillipe Le Coent and Rob van der Veeren – alongside an ecologist's perspective from MERLIN project leader Daniel Hering. The interviews introduce key concepts such as cost-benefit analysis, water pricing and the polluter pays principle, and how they relate to policies like the EU Nature Restoration Law and Water Framework Directive, and environmental management approaches like nature-based solutions.

  • Mainstreaming freshwater nature-based solutions across economic sectors

    Mainstreaming freshwater nature-based solutions across economic sectors

    Nature-based solutions are a hot topic right now. So-called 'NbS' are environmental management approaches that use natural processes to help tackle socio-environmental challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, flooding, food production and health and wellbeing. The MERLIN project explores how the benefits from nature-based solutions can help foster collaborations between different economic sectors to help mainstream freshwater restoration. MERLIN works with representatives from six economic sectors – agriculture, hydropower, insurance, navigation, peat extraction, and water supply and sanitation – to encourage the adoption of nature-based solutions in their activities across Europe.MERLIN project partners recently released a briefing exploring how nature-based solutions are understood across these sectors in Europe, and – vitally – how they might help encourage collaborations which strengthen restoration efforts. In this podcast, host Rob St John speaks to project partners who work with these sectors, and in doing so, explore the key issues highlighted in the briefing. Rob talks to: Esther Carmen (Hutton Institute), Sanja Pokrajac (WWF Central and Eastern Europe), Alhassan Ibrahim (Hutton Institute), Jack Rieley (International Peatland Society), Tamas Gruber (WWF Hungary), Kirsty Blackstock (Hutton Institute) and Mia Ebeltoft (MERLIN).Read the briefing here: