The Open Rivers Programme is a grant-giving organisation created to restore European rivers that have become fragmented due to the proliferation of dams.

What we're doing

The programme offers grants to support projects that lead to the removal of small dams and the restoration of river flow and biodiversity.

Our mission

To restore endangered European rivers by supporting interventions that lead to the removal of small dams and the restoration of river flow and biodiversity.

Our vision

To create free-flowing rivers with healthy, diverse and connected ecosystems across Europe, which are enjoyed, valued, and protected by the communities that depend on them.

Our projects

Find out more about the projects we are supporting and the impacts we are making.

Core principles 

The following core principles inform the programme’s approach:

  • To restore the diversity and abundance of life in rivers and riparian habitats. 
  • Seek to restore ecological and hydromorphological processes. 
  • Ensure connectivity between habitats. 
  • Impact whole river basins. 
  • Enable landscape-scale restoration. 
  • Help to ensure that rivers are more resilient to short and longer-term changes (such as climate fluctuations). 
  • Support the interventions of organisations and communities working to restore rivers. 
  • Seek to collaborate with other funding initiatives to attain mutual goals. 
  • Capture and disseminate a variety of lessons learnt and best practices that demonstrate the diversity of dam removal interventions, e.g. size, complexity, use, ownership, and location of a dam. 
  • Aim to achieve scale by encouraging other actors to replicate. 
  • Encourage a more supportive policy environment. 
  • Contribute to the EU’s 2030 biodiversity strategy and work towards the EU biodiversity vision for 2050. 
  • Improve Integrated River Basin Management Planning, in support of the EU’s Water Framework Directive (WFD), and UNECE’s Water Convention, which considers other pan European countries that are not part of EU and therefore, not implementing WFD; 
  • Bring more rivers into a good ecological status (as part of WFD and contributing to SDG target 6.6). 
Best practice
  • Use the best available evidence to strategically select catchments in Europe, and removals within catchments that offer the greatest value for money. 
  • Undertake a careful, multidisciplinary assessment of proposals and adopt a stepwise approach to the funding of projects (planning, inception, execution, monitoring) to ensure that each step is completed according to accepted standards. 
  • Maintain an open and consultative approach with a broad community of experts. 
  • Support interventions that offer the prospect of long-term impact and river restoration with minimal subsequent intervention. 
  • Give priority to interventions that achieve results within 1-2 years. 
  • Support work that helps to embed dam removal and dam prevention into policies, planning, research, implementation guidelines, best practices, monitoring and evaluation, and management. 

The problem

The fragmentation of rivers has resulted in a significant deterioration of biodiversity, water quality and natural habitats.

Our solution

We support projects that maximise the potential for restoring endangered rivers across Europe.

The goal

By 2027, the Programme will have enabled many thousands of km of rivers to flow freely again. Where we intervene, we will help to restore natural habitats and enable river ecosystems to be more resilient to changes in climate.


The creation of the Open Rivers Programme was informed by two years of research and stakeholder engagement, which revealed that around one million dams are fragmenting European rivers and that there is much potential and need for dam removal. The research concluded that barriers contribute to the significant decline of biodiversity and that removing them can quickly restore river flow and biodiversity. It also concluded that there is a genuine lack of understanding of the benefits of dam removal and only a handful of organisations promoting and funding it at the European level.

In recognition of the scale of the problem, a significant funding gap and the opportunity, Arcadia enabled the creation of the Open Rivers Programme in the spring of 2021. A new not-for-profit entity (ANBI status), “Stichting European Open Rivers Programme,” was formed in the Netherlands on 25 June 2021 to manage and implement the programme. It will offer grants to remove small dams and restore endangered European rivers.

The Open Rivers Programme officially began operating in October 2021, with funding from Arcadia, a charitable foundation that works to protect nature, preserve cultural heritage and promote open access to knowledge.