Flood defences destroying Polish rivers, NGOs warn

Unnecessary flood defences funded through European Investment Bank loans are destroying the natural eco-systems of Polish rivers, NGOS have warned.

Much of the 250m euro loan Poland was granted after extensive floods devastated southern parts of the country in 2001 is being spent on flood defences in uninhabited areas, unnecessarily destroying wildlife habitats, European and Polish NGOs say.

Constructing wire-and-stone and cement embankments, flattening riverbeds and destroying natural sandbanks deprives wildlife of breeding and nesting grounds and destroys vegetation, Anna Roggenbuck of the Polish Green Network NGO told edie.

The NGO conducted studies that show numbers of fish, birds and mammals reducing significantly following the flood defence works, as breeding and nesting grounds are lost. It branded the technologies used out-dated and environmentally insensitive.

“River regulation always interferes with eco-systems. But we support this work where it is necessary, where people live. The problem is that it is being done in uninhabited areas, where the river runs through an empty forest for example – a forest actually needs to be flooded every now and again to keep it irrigated,” she said.

Experts analysed biodiversity changes in a wetland forest on the banks of the river Stradomka in southern Poland found decreased numbers of sixteen bird species following the construction of flood defences under the EIB-funded programme. The Honey Buzzard, Common Kingfisher and Hen Harrier had completely stopped nesting in the area around the river, they said.

The Stradomka is one of hundreds of flood defence projects, many of them on-going, funded with EIB loans. The NGOs said that for most of these projects environmental impact assessments required under EU law were not carried out.

Last week, the NGOs managed to temporarily stop work that would have destroyed birds’ nests, Robert Wawrety of Polish green group Society for the Earth said.

“The regional environmental office is investigating but it remains very doubtful whether the regional water management agency conducting the work will pull out of further potentially damaging work,” he said.

The European Investment Bank responded to the complaints by saying it was satisfied with the project, and denied allegations of environmental damage.

Goska Romanowicz

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