MERLIN Podcasts

Europe’s freshwaters are in an alarming state. Water pollution, habitat destruction and the ongoing effects of climate change have caused significant biodiversity loss and ecological decline across the continent. There is a pressing need for major freshwater restoration projects which tackle these declines and bring rivers, streams, peatlands and wetlands back to life.

MERLIN is a major European Union funded project which is investing millions of Euros to help mainstream freshwater restoration across the continent over the coming years. This podcast follows the MERLIN project in this journey. It offers a behind the scenes look at some of the continent’s most ambitious freshwater restoration projects carried out through cutting-edge aquatic science and conservation.

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EP.7 – Learning from the river: restoring the Danube

Join us on the banks of the Danube River in Austria to hear how ambitious restoration projects are helping free the river from human alterations. We meet Robert Tögel and Alice Kaufmann from viadonau and Silke Drexler from BOKU beside the river to hear about how restoring its banks and side-arms is helping benefit both people and nature. As the trio explain, this work is a process of 'learning from the river' to help create space for natural processes to return, whilst at the same time making sure that navigation routes along the river are not impeded.

Back in Vienna, we hear from Helmut Habersack in the recently-opened BOKU River Lab to find out how centuries of alterations of the river interact with emerging pressures from the climate emergency and plastic pollution. We speak to Piret Nõukas from the Research Executive Agency at the European Commission to get a wider picture of how freshwater restoration work in MERLIN fits in with wider EU environmental policies like the Green Deal. And finally, we hear from Eva Hernández, co-ordinator of the WWF's Living European Rivers initiative to discuss the pressing need to restore rivers across the continent, and how the proposed EU Nature Restoration Law – if passed – could help achieve this goal.

EP.6 – Water, climate and farming: making space for stream restoration in Portugal

In this episode we explore the issues around stream restoration in the Sorraia catchment in Central Portugal. Restoration of the Sorraia river needs to be able to navigate the needs of intensive agriculture in a landscape increasingly affected by the climate crisis. Walking along the banks of the river, we meet a range of freshwater scientists, activists, farmers and policy experts to understand the big issues in the Sorraia catchment, and the ways in which restoration is increasingly making space for this river in the landscape. We also hear about how work on the Sorraia relates to wider debates over farming, freshwater restoration and the proposed EU Nature Restoration Law.



EP. 5 – How economic thinking can help us restore Europe's freshwaters

In October 2023, the WWF released a major report stating that freshwater has long been significantly undervalued in global economies, leading to widespread environmental costs. The report estimates that the annual economic value of water and freshwater ecosystems globally is $58 trillion – a figure equivalent to 60% of global Gross Domestic Product (or GDP). This startling figure was calculated by estimating the economic value that rivers, streams, lakes, reservoirs and wetlands generate to human societies. The report showed that freshwater ecosystems are not only vital for sustaining everyday societies, but they also provide invaluable life-support systems which help maintain the health of both people and the planet. In this episode of the MERLIN podcast co-hosts Rob St John and Sien Kok deep-dive into key topics around the economics of water.

Rob and Sien explore how economic thinking can help make more informed decisions about how to manage freshwater ecosystems, and similarly how it can strengthen arguments over the pressing need to conserve and restore them. We hear expert perspectives from three individuals working in water economics in Europe – Eduard Interwies, Phillipe Le Coent and Rob van der Veeren – alongside an ecologist's perspective from MERLIN project leader Daniel Hering. The interviews introduce key concepts such as cost-benefit analysis, water pricing and the polluter pays principle, and how they relate to policies like the EU Nature Restoration Law and Water Framework Directive, and environmental management approaches like nature-based solutions.



EP.4 – Mainstreaming freshwater nature-based solutions across economic sectors

Nature-based solutions are a hot topic right now. So-called 'NbS' are environmental management approaches that use natural processes to help tackle socio-environmental challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, flooding, food production and health and wellbeing.

The MERLIN project explores how the benefits from nature-based solutions can help foster collaborations between different economic sectors to help mainstream freshwater restoration. MERLIN works with representatives from six economic sectors – agriculture, hydropower, insurance, navigation, peat extraction, and water supply and sanitation – to encourage the adoption of nature-based solutions in their activities across Europe.

MERLIN project partners recently released a briefing exploring how nature-based solutions are understood across these sectors in Europe, and – vitally – how they might help encourage collaborations which strengthen restoration efforts.

In this podcast, host Rob St John speaks to project partners who work with these sectors, and in doing so, explore the key issues highlighted in the briefing. Rob talks to: Esther Carmen (Hutton Institute), Sanja Pokrajac (WWF Central and Eastern Europe), Alhassan Ibrahim (Hutton Institute), Jack Rieley (International Peatland Society), Tamas Gruber (WWF Hungary), Kirsty Blackstock (Hutton Institute) and Mia Ebeltoft (MERLIN).

Read the briefing here



EP.3 – Restoring Europe's peatlands and wetlands

Peatlands and wetlands are vital landscapes. They store carbon and so help mitigate the harmful effects of climate change, they help buffer floodwaters and naturally filter drinking water, and they are often rich habitats for biodiversity. But peatlands and wetlands have been widely drained, altered and lost across Europe as a result of human actions.
This episode explores how peatlands and wetlands across the continent are being restored through a series of ambitious projects supported by the MERLIN project. Podcast host Rob St John meets a range of restoration scientists and managers implementing so-called 'nature-based solutions' at their sites across Europe. Their schemes include beaver reintroduction, peatland 'rewetting' and wet woodland restoration.
We also hear from MERLIN project coordinator Dr Sebastian Birk on the need for fresh thinking around how to finance restoration schemes. Dr Birk discusses the challenges of accounting for factors such as carbon storage when assessing the benefits that restoration can bring to society.



EP.2 — Freshwater Restoration in Europe: Transformation, Disruption and Inspiration

This episode explores the big ideas that are shaping how ambitious freshwater restoration projects are being carried out across Europe. From dam removal to floodplain restoration, the European Union funded MERLIN project is investing millions of euros to disrupt and transform existing ways of carrying out freshwater restoration.

But what do these keywords – transformation and disruption – actually mean in practice? And what are the underlying inspirations that motivate scientists and environmentalists to help bring Europe’s freshwaters back to life?

In September 2022 podcast host Rob St John travelled to Fulda, just outside Frankfurt in Germany, to attend the first MERLIN all-partner meeting. At the meeting Rob spoke to project partners from all over Europe to find out about how they’re working together to research, plan, finance and implement major freshwater restoration projects. The aim of this work is to encourage healthier European rivers, streams, peatlands and wetlands, which aren’t only good for nature, but also bring many social and economic benefits.



EP.1 – Introducing MERLIN // Large river and floodplain restoration on the Rhine Delta

In July 2022 podcast host Rob St John travelled to the Netherlands to meet MERLIN practitioners working on the project’s large river restoration sites.

Over a number of hot, sunny days the team explored floodplains across the Rhine Delta which had been restored through a major project called Room for the River. Started in 1995, Room for the River worked to reconnect the Rhine with its floodplains, which had become isolated through the construction of dikes and levees. By making room for the river to periodically inundate its floodplains, new spaces for biodiversity habitat, carbon storage and recreation have been brought back to the Rhine catchment.

Walking along the banks of the Rhine, Rob speaks to restoration practitioners about their work, and catches up with MERLIN coordinator Sebastian Birk to hear about what the project hopes to achieve.