Environmental Management

, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 12-33

First online:

Allocation of River Flows for Restoration of Floodplain Forest Ecosystems: A Review of Approaches and Their Applicability in Europe

  • Francine M. R. HughesAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, University of Cambridge, Downing Place, Cambridge Email author 
  • , Stewart B. RoodAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta

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Floodplain forests are flood-dependent ecosystems. They rely on well-timed, periodic floods for the provision of regeneration sites and on tapered flood recession curves for the successful establishment of seedlings. These overbank flood events are described as “regeneration flows.” Once floodplain forest trees are established, in order to grow they also require adequate, although variable, river stage levels or “maintenance flows” throughout the year. Regeneration flows are often synonymous with flood flows and only occur periodically. There is a disparity between this need for varied interannual flows over the decadal time frame and the usual annual cycle of flow management currently used by most river management agencies. Maintenance flows are often closer to established minimum flows and much easier to provide by current operational practices.A number of environmental flow methodologies, developed in North America, Australia, and South Africa are described in this review. They include the needs of the floodplain environment in the management and allocation of river flows. In North America, these methodologies have been put into practice in a number of river basins specifically to restore floodplain forest ecosystems. In Australia and South Africa, a series of related “holistic approaches” have been developed that include the needs of floodplain ecosystems as well as in-channel ecosystems. In most European countries, restoration of floodplain forests takes place at a few localized restoration sites, more often as part of a flood-defense scheme and usually not coordinated with flow allocation decisions throughout the river basin. The potential to apply existing environmental flow methodologies to the management of European floodplain forests is discussed.


Flow allocation Floodplain forest Regeneration flows Maintenance flows River management River restoration