The Border Meuse is the only gravel river in the low countries. As it is a rain-fed river, the discharges can fluctuate greatly: low discharges of 10 m³/s occur during long dry periods, but during an extreme high water, 3,000 m³/s can roar through the Border Meuse. Under such conditions, the river is able to transport large quantities of gravel and sand.

A story in the Guardian illustrated the complexity of the long-running project. Construction work has already been completed along 50km of the Meuse River floodplain as part of the Border Meuse project to undo 500 years of world-renowned Dutch water engineering. Big infrastructure is at the heart of the Dutch “offensive” – as opposed to “defensive” – approach to sorting out rivers, which involves relandscaping entire catchments, rather than rewetting specific at-risk areas. This approach is particularly revolutionary given that the seed for this project was planted decades ago. The project area is the 50-km-long, unimpeded section of the Border Meuse on the Belgian-Dutch border between Maastricht and Maaseik.

30 years of river restoration

In 1990, ARK/WWF started the first nature restoration pilot areas on both sides of the border. A pilot project for river widening was carried out in 2000 near Meers. Finally, in 2008 the large-scale implementation of the Border Meuse project was begun, and the work will be completed around 2027.


The so-colled Border Meuse or “Grensmaas” Project has three main objectives: reduce flood risk, healthier and more diverse nature, and the commercial benefit of both gravel extraction and nature-based economic development.

Revenue & Agriculture

As reported in the Guardian, a key part of Border Meuse has been separating nature and agriculture by buying out farms along two river catchments and returning them to a natural state. Some farmers opposed being moved, but most were struggling to farm because of the flooding and were generously compensated.

The €550m project is being paid for mainly by companies wanting to extract sand and gravel from the riverbed, which has helped widen the river and lower riverbanks and so expand the floodplain. Because of the involvement of industry, Border Meuse was the only large river restoration project that wasn’t withdrawn during the 2008 financial crash. Today, it attracts two million visitors a year, bringing in about €1bn of revenue to the Meuse region.

The full story in the Guardian can be read here. For further information see the ‘30 years of river restoration’ report here, led by ARK/WWF.

The NetworkNature site has further information which can be read here.

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