Removal of huge dam on France’s Selune river begins as EU targets massive increase in free flowing rivers

Posted on 28 June 2022

While the EU was announcing its groundbreaking new Nature Restoration Law, demolition work began on the 16m high Roche qui Boit hydropower dam on the Selune river - highlighting the increasing momentum behind the dam removal movement in Europe.

When the Roche qui Boit dam is fully removed later this year, the Selune river, which empties into the bay of Mont St Michel, will flow freely again - for the first time in 90 years. An even bigger dam, at Vezins, was successfully removed from the river in 2020.

“Dismantling this ancient hydropower dam and freeing up the Selune is a landmark in Europe’s attitudes to its rivers,” said Roberto Epple, Founder and President of the European Rivers Network (ERN). “Removing this dam will help to restore the health and natural flow of the Selune, bringing life back to the river and building greater climate resilience for communities.”

The Roche qui Boit hydropower dam is being removed by its owner, EDF, in partnership with the French government. The project will totally transform the river, helping to boost biodiversity and recreate natural processes that will mitigate the impact of future floods.

“It is extraordinary to think that we will soon see salmon, shad and eels swimming all the way up the Selune again,” said Herman Wanningen, initiator of the Dam Removal Europe coalition. "With this huge dam removal and the landmark EU restoration law, this week marks a major milestone in the movement to bring life back to Europe’s dying rivers.”

Announced on June 22, the EU Nature Restoration Law prioritizes dam removals and restoring the natural connectivity of rivers and functions of floodplains. It calls for Member States to restore at least 25,000kms of free flowing rivers, including by removing obsolete dams and other river barriers. 

Last year saw a record 239 dams removed across Europe and indications are that 2022 could exceed that number. More countries are removing dams while additional funds are flowing in, including from the Open Rivers Programme.

"WWF is prioritizing dam removals across Europe as a proven way to restore rivers, which is critical to tackling both the nature and climate crises," said Eva Hernandez, Lead of the WWF Living European Rivers initiative. "Healthy, flowing rivers can help to reverse the collapse in freshwater biodiversity and mitigate the worsening impacts of climate change, particularly floods."

Next week, work will begin to remove the Bowston weir in the UK - the largest weir removal in the country so far. While a Spanish river authority has just announced that a massive 486m wide dam should be removed.

Roche qui boit dam removal in Selune, France
© ERN Roberto Eppel
Roche qui Boit dam removal in Selune France
© ERN Roberto Eppel
Roche qui boit dam being removed on Selune river in France
© ERN Roberto Eppel