Local people locked out of river planning

Environmental groups are demanding a say in a conservation plan for Europe’s last wild river.

Citizens that want to protect the longest river in France – the Loire – are demanding the right to participate in the latest update to its conservation plan.

Despite human changes, the Loire is known as Europe’s last wild river, because of the water movement the river experiences that regularly shape and rejuvenate the bed of the river.

French authorities are currently developing the ‘Plan Loire Grandeur Nature‘, which it hopes will continue support the conservation of the river.

Roberto Epple is President of SOS Loire Vivante and European River Network France. He has been involved in the protection of the Loire river for more than twenty years and participated in the creation of the river’s first conservation plan back in 1994.

At the dawn of the fifth version of the plan, Epple explains that concerned citizens are now disappointed to be kept out of decision making and fear the plan will be weakened without effective public participation in the process:

“The evolution of the plan is very disappointing. It goes against the original vision of the project.”

NGOs launched a petition to demand the integration of civil society and citizens in the planning.

Francesca Carlsson, Legal Officer at the European Environmental Bureau said:

“It’s essential citizens are always included in public decision making. The Plan Loire has shown great conservation value and we need to continue to integrate the opinions of local communities and field experts.”

The first conservation plan developed for the Loire river goes back to the 90s when NGOs, including WWF France and France Nature Environnement, gathered to stop the construction of several dams on the river.

The Plan Loire Grandeur Nature was the government’s answer to the contestation. For the creation of this first version, citizens’ groups were included in the creation and implementation of the plan.

  • Plan Loire I, 1994 to 1999.
  • Plan Loire II, 2000 to 2006.
  • Plan Loire III, 2007 to 2013.
  • Plan Loire IV, 2014 to 2020.
  • Plan Loire V is being designed now.

In a letter addressed to the prefect, environmental groups point out the governance issues. Today, NGOs are only included in an annual meeting where there are simply presented with an assessment of the situation.

Epple is keen to stress that the approach to river planning for the Loire was a success that was later replicated for the Rhone, Seine and Garonne.

The approach to planning on the Loire was later replicated for three other major French rivers. Image: Wikipedia

France 3 Info has reported the positive impact of the Loire’s river conservation plan on the protection of a native salmon species. Dams and overfishing made it difficult for the Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) to swim back up the 800 kilometers that separated it from its reproduction space.

When the first Loire plan was developed only a few salmon managed to reach their destination. Today the species is safe, but more efforts are needed to be made to repopulate the species.

The EEB’s report ‘Power for the People’ explains the importance of environmental groups’ inclusion in decision making and the challenges that citizens face when engaging in such processes.

Featured image: GabrielDeSiam (Pixabay)