Salmon already reaches the upper part of the Bidasoa basin and consolidates its presence in the Leitzaran thanks to the LIFE-IREKIBAI project
The LIFE-IREKIBAI project has eliminated the fragmentation of important sections of the main river and tributary axes and has recovered several kilometers of impounded sections, promoting more natural and diverse habitats
LIFE-IREKIBAI has had a budget of 3 million of which 60% comes from the LIFE program and is developed in spaces included in the Natura 2000 Network: Leitzaran River, Baztán River and Artesiaga, Belate, Bidasoa River, Artikutza and Señorío regatta by Bertiz
The LIFE-IREKIBAI project ended its journey yesterday with the celebration of the final Seminar that takes stock of the actions carried out since 2016, although since 2009 Navarra and Gipuzkoa have been working on joint actions to improve the river connectivity of the Leitzaran and Bidasoa basins .
The initiative affects the main problem shared by the rivers of the Cantabrian Coast: their fragmentation and the consequences for the river habitat and the species that inhabit it. Thus, the conservation actions carried out and the elimination of existing obstacles in the Bidasoa and Leitzaran rivers and in their Special Conservation Zones, highly conditioned by weirs, have improved the ecological status and connectivity of the water bodies, thus favoring the fish movement and increasing the capacity of the river habitat in line with the Habitats Directive and the Water Framework Directive. Today rivers are more heterogeneous, more complex, more diverse.
In summary, 11 dams that impeded the free flow of fish fauna have been eliminated —some of them, classified as large dams, as the paradigmatic case of Inturia—; Devices have been fitted out for the passage of fish that until recently have permeated impassable walls and have facilitated the recurrent visit of migratory species; or dead wood has been conditioned in the river for the refuge of the European mink, the improvement of the habitat of the Atlantic salmon or the reduction of the erosion of the banks. This river restoration within the framework of the Irekibai project allows that today, in the Bidasoa basin, the strongest salmon, with appropriate flows, exceed Elizondo, after going back 64 kilometers. In the Leitzaran they can do the same already in a section 61 km.
For the LIFE-IREKIBAI project, a specific consortium led by the Gipuzkoa Provincial Council and of which URA, the Basque Water Agency are also part, was formed in 2016; HAZI, Foundation of the Basque Government for the development of the rural and marine environment; the Government of Navarra and GAN-NIK, Gestión Ambiental de Navarra, a public company attached to the Regional Government; who has managed the different interventions. Collaboration between partners has been key to face the challenges of restoring an administratively complex environment such as rivers, in which multiple interests converge and which are subject to specific regulations that complicate their management.
The press conference to present the conclusions was attended by authorities from the participating entities. On behalf of the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa, the deputy for the Environment and Hydraulic Works, Jose Ignacio Asensio and the director of Forestry and Rural Affairs Arantxa Ariztimuño, attended. The Department of Environment and Hydraulic Works has carried out the different actions in collaboration with the Directorate of Forests and Natural Environment, more specifically with the Fauna and Flora Service, in charge of technical coordination.
The Guipuzcoan provincial deputy Asensio has highlighted that “This project considerably improves the permeability of our rivers for fish species. It is a very effective action to counteract the effects of Climate Change regarding the migration of fish species from our rivers, since one of the main manifestations of Climate Change is the decrease in their flow. Aware of the environmental problem posed by the presence of obstacles in our rivers, from the Department of the Environment and Hydraulic Works of the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa we have been working for two decades to solve this problem. At the moment we are working through our Master Plan on the recovery of 365 kilometers to improve the accessibility of fish species to our rivers. ”
On behalf of the Government of Navarra, the General Director of the Environment, Pablo Muñoz, and Luis Sanz, manager of GAN-NIK, Gestión Ambiental de Navarra participated. Pablo Muñoz, has framed the project in the “joint work to improve the habitats of the rivers that we share both territories, Navarra and Gipuzkoa, and in which we have been collaborating since 2009 with projects of this size.” Muñoz also stressed the role of local participation and citizen involvement during the five years of development of the LIFE Irekibai project, and concluded by stating that “achieving the best state of our rivers and bodies of water is the best way to guarantee conservation of habitats and species, and it is part of our work decided for the improvement of our Biodiversity ”.
For his part, Antonio Aiz, General Director of URA, the Basque water agency, was present together with Peli Manterola, director of HAZI. Antonio Aiz, director of URA, highlighted the importance of the project “to improve the river connectivity of the Leitzaran and Bidasoa basins”, substantially improving “their ecosystem value.” According to Aiz, “the physical restoration of the rivers has monopolized most of the investment, with the elimination of 11 dams” which in turn has allowed “progress towards a more intelligent management of the basins and undertake draft restoration actions, evaluating the geomorphological changes of the riverbed or by monitoring the accumulated sediments ”among others. He has made a call to deepen “a coordinated inter-institutional action that allows us to face the future climatic and hydrological challenges that we must face as a country.”
Regarding inter-territorial collaboration, it is important to point out that both in Navarra, the Basque Country, and Gipuzkoa have been working for a long time to achieve the objective of improving connectivity, first through the permeabilization of existing obstacles with the construction of ladders in the dams, and later with the elimination of the use, thus opening more the rivers. Emphasize the integral work of the project throughout the entire river and especially in watershed management and restoration.
Since 2009, the partners of the LIFE-IREKIBAI project have been developing shared projects aimed at conserving and restoring the rivers of the Basque Country and Navarra. It has been 11 years in which these initiatives have materialized in inter-territorial projects such as the POCTEFA BIDUR, Fluvial Territories, GURATRANS and H20gurea, which have also involved Iparralde partners.
The LIFE-IREKIBAI project has involved an investment of 3 million euros since it started in 2016, of which 60% (€ 1,800,000) come from a LIFE project of the European Union that has allowed the improvement of both the water masses, as well as the state of conservation of the habitats and river species of community interest in six areas included in the Natura 2000 Network: Leitzaran River, Baztán River and Artesiaga, Belate, Bidasoa River, Artikutza and Señorío de Bertiz regatta.
The connectivity improvement actions carried out have positively affected several of the fish species that inhabit our rivers, highlighting the evolution observed in the Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), a migratory species that is born in the river, migrates to the sea and returns to the river to reproduce after a variable period of time ranging from one to three years. As has been observed in the monitoring programs, the presence of salmon has been found in the upper part of the Bidasoa basin and its consolidation in the Leitzaran basin.
Other species benefited by the project are the tarpon (Alosa alosa) and the marine lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) in the Bidasoa and Oria basins; the burtaina (Cottus aturi), a species of fish only limited to the Adour, Nivelle and Bidasoa basins. Among the mammals linked to aquatic environments whose situation has improved thanks to Life Irekibai are the Iberian desman (Galemys pirenaicus) and the European mink (Mustela lutreola). Regarding the flora, the Cantabrian alder trees (Alnus glutinosa and Fraxinus excelsior) have been the riverside habitat whose situation will be most favored by the interventions carried out. The alder groves help regulate the hydrological cycle, stop erosion and maintain the balance of the river ecosystem, biodiversity and connectivity, since they constitute first-rate ecological corridors that offer shelter and protection to animals, not very likely to go out into the open field. .
The actions of the project have been articulated around three main lines of action. On the one hand, the restoration of rivers, which has accounted for most of the investment; on the other, the improvement of knowledge about the management and restoration of river basins; and finally, raising awareness in society about the values and environmental services that our rivers provide.
Both the details of the actions carried out and the results of the project are included in the LAYMAN REPORT and the video about the project, which is available at the following link.