‘This is what a river should look like’: Dutch rewilding project turns back the clock 500 years

Europe’s largest river restoration is making changes across the entire landscape, bringing benefits to wildlife and people

“On the way to being one of the most beautiful nature areas in Europe,” reads a sign overlooking a construction site near the village of Grevenbicht on the Meuse River in the southern Netherlands. Looking at the diggers, other bits of large machinery and bare soil, this is a stretch of the imagination. “You have to sell your story,” says Frans Schepers, managing director of Rewilding Europe, who was leading the largest river-restoration project in Europe.

Construction work has already been completed along 50km of the Meuse River floodplain as part of the Border Meuse project to undo 500 years of world-renowned Dutch water engineering. Big infrastructure is at the heart of the Dutch “offensive” – as opposed to “defensive” – approach to sorting out rivers, which involves relandscaping entire catchments, rather than rewetting specific at-risk areas. This approach is particularly revolutionary given that the seed for this project was planted decades ago. By contrast, the UK has only started thinking about implementing natural solutions at scale in the past few years.

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