More than 111,000 votes for better Odra River protection

++ Petition to protect the Odra River signed by over 111,000 people ++ Handover to EU Environment Commissioner ++ Virginius Sinkevičius is hesitant ++

Thomas Freisinger and other conservationists hand over the Odra petition to EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius

Together for the protection of the Odra river: Mahalia Balp and Rachel Walker-Konno from WeMove (left) as well as Hanna Schudy from Eko-Unia and Thomas Freisinger from EuroNatur (right) presented the petition to Virginijus Sinkevičius (centre) yesterday afternoon.

© WeMove
Landscape in the Oderbruch near Neurüdnitz with river arms, meadows, fields and trees.

The Odra is one of the last near-natural rivers in Central Europe. Many rare animal and plant species live in the river or on its banks.

© Sascha Maier/BUND
Dead fish lie on the banks of the Oder during a fish kill.

The fish kill in August 2022 was one of the biggest environmental disasters in Europe in recent times. The long-term effects on the ecosystem cannot yet be foreseen.

© Sascha Maier/BUND

Brussels, Radolfzell. EuroNatur policy officer Thomas Freisinger, our Polish partners from EKO-UNIA and WeMove representatives met EU Environment Commissioner Virginius Sinkevičius in Brussels yesterday. The conservationists brought with them a long list of signatures: more than 111,000 people have signed a joint petition to protect the Odra; since March 2022, expansion measures on the Polish banks of the Odra are underway to turn it into an artificial canal for shipping.

The expansion plans infringe several European Union directives: they blatantly contradict the objectives of the European Water Framework Directive and the Habitats Directive. The list of signatures is a strong signal to the European Commission to take action if the new government in Warsaw continues to ignore existing court rulings to stop construction.

Summer 2022 saw a major environmental disaster strike the Odra: high pollutant inputs and warm temperatures led to a toxic algal bloom, which in turn caused dramatic levels of fish and mollusc mortality. Only a naturally flowing Odra can recover from this disaster. Our complaint against the development plans on the Polish side of the Odra, already lodged with the EU in 2022, has yet to be answered. We now count on the petition to force those responsible to act.

“The recommendation of Polish and German scientists and river experts is clearly in favour of a restoration of the river after the dramatic disaster of 2022, not in favour of its regulation,” says Radosław Gawlik of EKO-UNIA. “We expect Commissioner Sinkevičius and the European Commission to prevent the destruction of the Odra ecosystem and avoid a further waste of EU funds.”

At the handover of the petition, Sinkevičius expressed his surprise that the construction work on the Odra was continuing. The Polish Environment Minister had assured him in a meeting two days earlier that the protection of the Odra had the highest priority.  "Apparently, Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius is no longer overly motivated to take any decisive action in the last weeks of his term of office," says Thomas Freisinger from EuroNatur. "He would not promise to pass on the issue to the new Commission. That is a bit disappointing," says the Policy Officer. EuroNatur and its partners will now collect and present further evidence that construction work on the Odra is continuing - until the new government in Warsaw and the Commission actually take the protection of the Odra seriously.

Background information:

  • The petition to protect the Odra was initiated by EKO-UNIA and co-initiated by the internationally active nature protection foundation EuroNatur. At the time of handover to EU Environmental Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius, 111,746 people had signed to stop the development of the German-Polish border river. 
  • EuroNatur, EKO-UNIA and BUND have submitted the complaint to the European Commission on behalf of the German Action Alliance Living Odra and the Polish Alliance KRR (Koalicja Ratujmy Rzeki). The alliance was honoured with the EuroNatur Award in October 2023. Other supporters are Fundacja EkoRozwoju, Fundacja WWF Poland, Greenmind Foundation, Ogólnopolskie Towarzystwo Ochrony Ptaków, Stepnicka Organizacja Turystyczna, Deutscher Naturschutzring, Deutsche Umwelthilfe e.V., Heinz-Sielmann-Stiftung, NABU Germany, WWF Deutschland and Arnika.
  • The Odra is one of the last large, near-natural rivers in Europe. It is the only major central European river to have been spared transverse structures (e.g. barrages) for more than 500 kilometres upstream from its mouth. Surrounded by softwood floodplain forests, the river has been an essential habitat for endangered and protected species. However, German-Polish plans to regulate the river and deepen the navigation channel are putting the Oder and its ecosystem under increasing pressure.


Christian Stielow, EuroNatur, christian.stielow(at), Tel.: +49 7732 927215
Radosław Gawlik, Stowarzyszenie Ekologiczne EKO-UNIA, rgawlik(at), Tel.: +48 605 037417

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