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Adaptive Management of Barriers in European Rivers

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - AMBER (Adaptive Management of Barriers in European Rivers)

Reporting period: 2017-12-01 to 2019-05-31

Rivers rank among some of the most threatened ecosystems in the world and are the focus of costly restoration programmes that cost billions to taxpayers. Much of Europe depends on water from rivers for drinking, food production and the generation of hydropower, which is essential for meeting the EU renewable energy target. Improving stream connectivity has been flagged as one of the priorities for more efficient stream restoration but effective rehabilitation of ecosystem functioning in European rivers needs to take the complexity and socio-economic trade-offs imposed by barriers into account.

The AMBER project will apply adaptive management to the operation of dams and barriers in European rivers to achieve a more efficient restoration of stream connectivity and address impacts caused by river fragmentation.
AMBER is delivering high-quality outputs that include:

1. The first global atlas of stream barriers in Europe, accessible by all citizens via an online web portal.
2. A European citizen science programme to build and continue updating the barrier Atlas after the AMBER project has finished, using a dedicated mobile phone app.
3. The first global model for assessing and predicting barrier effects on local biota, including open source codes for practitioners and managers to obtain robust predictions for any local barrier and river.
4. The AMBER rapid barrier assessment toolkit for the assessment of connectivity for multiple taxa, field-tested and ready to be used by managers and practitioners.
5. The AMBER decision support tool for barrier mitigation and planning, including both a quantification of the response of aquatic organisms as well as the determinants of social acceptance of dams and reservoirs in Europe, allowing a full socio-economic and ecological valuation of river fragmentation and connectivity restoration.
6. A practical guide for the application of the AMBER toolkit for solving problems of barrier effects, including applications with real case studies, exemplifying best practices in adaptive barrier management for river restoration.
7. The AMBER Knowledge Translation (KT) strategy, a comprehensive dissemination and exploitation strategy to turn information into knowledge, knowledge into innovation, and innovation into application.

Specific outputs of the AMBER project include:

1. AMBER Barrier ATLAS
It was agreed that a common methodology for reporting and classifying stream barriers was required, therefore a Pan-European Barrier ATLAS Guidance on stream barrier surveying and reporting was developed. Information is being compiled on location, typology, and impact of stream barriers in 33 European countries and this is being validated with field sampling across 65 representative EU rivers. A relational barrier database was developed and criteria for database curation and data retrieval were agreed. A web-based portal for visualisation and reporting of stream barriers with input through citizen science has been created and launched.

2. Impacts of Stream Barriers
A conceptual framework for estimating barrier effects on fluvial processes at different spatial scales under different scenarios of climate change was developed. Barrier effects are being assessed for a range of aquatic biota. Protocols for assessing stream connectivity using drone imagery and a molecular toolkit were developed and field tested. Pilot data on ESS and natural capital impacted by barriers were collected.

3. Restoring Stream Connectivity: Benefits & Trade-offs
A decision support tool for assessing barrier impacts has been developed and causes for the poor performance of many barrier mitigation schemes have been investigated. Laboratory work on swimming behaviour of weak swimmers has taken place and an Agent Based Model was built. An assessment of the socio-economic drivers and impediments for successful reconnection of European rivers has been completed and modelling social attitudes to dams has taken place.

4. Demonstration phase (Case Studies)
A review demonstrating the benefits of Adaptive Barrier Management was undertaken. An AMBER toolkit is being applied in case studies to inform of barrier problems in relation to migratory species, aquatic invasive species, and conflict resolution. A report of case studies is under preparation.

5. Communication, Dissemination and Public Engagement
A strategy was developed and many dissemination and education activities took place, including the development of a Citizen Science Programme to increase public participation in the restoration of stream connectivity across Europe. The Barrier Tracker App, that allows citizen scientist to record barrier data using a smartphone, is available in 32 countries and in 11 languages, with results available on the AMBER website.
The degree of river fragmentation in Europe is unknown and the current state of the art in barrier assessment only considers major barriers (higher than 10 m). The AMBER ATLAS will provide the first realistic pan-European picture of river fragmentation across Europe, will assess the ecological and socio-economic impacts of barriers, and will propose solutions.

To this end AMBER is making use of novel technologies, including drones for habitat assessment, eDNA for species surveys and powerful predictive modelling in combination with the power of citizen science, alongside quantifying Ecosystem Services affected by dams at Case Studies. Collectively this information is beyond the state of the art and will enable better barrier mitigation decisions to be made.

Public involvement through the smartphone app not only provides additional data to the project, but directly involves the public in thinking about river management and wanting to protect their local environment.
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