The Wild Rivers Program

Rivers and streams that have remained untouched and escaped any major changes to their natural shape (for example, with flood barriers, changing river channels, embankments, various alterations) and maintained crystal clear water are extremely rare in France and Europe. They should all be protected. However, the current regulations, mainly those stemming from the European Water Framework Directive, are not sufficient.
To counter the threats to wilderness rivers (notably from unsustainable hydroelectric power projects), a group was formed in 2007 at the initiative of the WWF and ERN France.
The Wild Rivers program has two cornerstone elements: the Wild Rivers Fund and the ERN, a certified association under the French Law of 1901, approved for the protection of wilderness areas and a partner of the WWF since 1989. ERN works with public agencies and manages the Wild Rivers propram, and the Wild Rivers Fund, intended to develop partnerships with businesses and raise private funds.

The Wild Rivers Chart and an Evaluation Grid

In 2011 and 2012, a chart filled with technical and scientific elements was prepared by a technical committee with assistance from our Scientific Council, composed of researches and scientists working in various institutions and regions. The chart, and an evaluation grid including 9 fields and 47 social-ecological criteria, created in cooperation with french scientist and experts, allows the unspoilt nature of an entire body of water or a minimum of 10km to be measured. It also measures the commitment and good governance of local actors and the potential risks posed by increased numbers of visitors to a fragile natural environment. For now, only medium-sized waterways are concerned.
Following on from the creation of this chart, a reference tool was established to set up the « Wild Rivers Site » label. This tool gives the details of the label acquisition process as well as providing recognition for the exceptionally unspoilt nature of the river in question and to guarantee the commitment of local actors to its conservation. Meanwhile, research work was carried out with the help of the Ecole Centrale de Paris, that showed that the “natural, unspoilt capital” of a waterway can be a factor for sustainable local development, making use of ecosystem services that are at least as beneficial as the construction of yet another hydroelectric power station.

The Wild Rivers Label

The label is a high-level instrument for the protection and development of the region that acquires it, strengthening its image among various populations. It is certified by Afnor Certification, after a technical audit of the application file and a visit to the site of the river basin to ensure the assessment criteria for wilderness and governance (the Chart) are respected by the applicant (Regional Nature Park, local authority, river association, etc.).
The label is awarded on condition that a conservation actions plan is established and spread over a period of time. Today, it consists of 3 levels, with a fourth envisaged that would correspond to optimum wilderness across all European rivers.
It is a simple collective stamp of approval, with no regulatory value. It is not dependent on any lawful document or official benchmark. It is a reflection of the desire of local authorities to promote the exemplary work carried out to effectively protect their remarkable river.

Further infos:

Presentation brochure:

A  Wild Rivers Network

The Wild Rivers Network has been established in 2016. A the first meeting over 8 Wild Rivers has been represented by the organisations which has received the “Wild Rivers Site Label” since November  2014 when the Valserine River has been labeled as first “Wild Rivers Site”.

The 1st Wild Rivers Network meeting at Paris, nov. 22, 2016 – © ERN France

Extending the Wild Rivers Label to Europe

The Network will be extended later in Europe in cooperation with regional partner organisations in the  framework of the creation of a Wild Rivers Label on european scale during the 2017. Pilot Rivers has been selected with international partners and programs.

Participating test rivers for the European “Wild Rivers Site” label

Further infos: