Linking The Green Veins Of Europe


Alex Kemman is a cultural anthropologist and criminologist interested in the invisible processes of power. His long-term photography projects relate to development issues, water politics, human rights and ecology.

This project was supported by Message in a Photo, the Postcode Lottery Fund for Journalists, the Fund for Special Journalistic Projects and an Earth Investigations Program grant from

NIJMEGEN, Netherlands — The waters of the Waal River flow freely once again near this city on the Dutch-German border. Semi-wild horses patrol its banks. At a time when many rivers in Europe are blocked by dams, irrigation canals and other infrastructure, over-managed to the point of no longer flowing where they naturally would, the Waal has been undergoing restoration projects to reestablish natural flooding patterns and free flow.

Throughout Europe, one small step at a time, critical links between natural ecosystems that have been eroded by the infrastructure of human society are being intentionally re-naturalized and restored so they can operate freely once again. It’s a process that is often invisible unless you know where to look.

In the middle of the pandemic in 2020, after the European Parliament voted to support the European Green Deal — a landmark piece of legislation that will allocate billions of euros to lower emissions and support biodiversity — I set off from the Netherlands on the first of several journeys by motorbike to explore how nature can be better connected on a continent crowded with human activity. I focused on “eco-corridors” and “ecoducts” — passages and areas that allow animals and natural ecosystems to navigate a changing climate and human infrastructure — in Germany, Belgium, France, Switzerland and Italy.

There is no explicit connection between the European Green Deal and eco-corridors. There should be. From grand protected areas like natural parks to humble tunnels below roads, these spaces are crucial for a myriad of species, many of which are endangered.

These photos document what I saw of humans taking a step back to allow nature to flourish anew — but also, in some places, of humans constructing infrastructure specifically for nonhuman use. Focusing on the fringes of nature and civilization — on the borders between humans and nonhumans — the images evoke mixed feelings about our relationship with nature. I was saddened by how fragmented nature is, but also struck by the beauty of humans building complex structures to support nature.

Most of all, I wanted to investigate how our fragmented continent might look if connected by natural corridors, and what role EU policies might play in establishing these links now and in the future.

Epe, Netherlands. Sheep can strengthen biodiversity by eating specific plants, allowing room for different species. The herd itself also transports small bugs, spores and seeds as it moves.
In Limburg, Netherlands, lynchets — terraces formed by pre-industrial farmers to separate spaces for agriculture — are still visible along the landscape. Farmers in some places are being encouraged to similarly sculpt their land to grow crops more efficiently, and to also use bushes instead of fences to support biodiversity.
Ramps with fences such as this one in the forest near Hilversum, Netherlands, help guide animals like deer away from roads: They can jump down but can’t climb up toward the road.
No country in Europe or perhaps the world is better at building road crossings for wildlife than the Netherlands. Clockwise from top left: A highway goes under the Vecht River in Naarden; deer trails on an ecoduct (wildlife bridge) over the A28 highway near Hulshorst; braided ropes help squirrels and other climbing animals over the A12; and a tunnel for fauna large and small under the A12 near Hilversum, where the pools help amphibians such as salamanders, and the black fence helps guide the animals.
Insect refuges like this one near Hilversum, Netherlands, support a variety of species, including endangered wild bees.
Tree plantations like these in the Palatine Forest in Germany can help diversify forests, lowering the number of invasive or dominating trees.
A bat refuge in an area being re-naturalized after years of coal mining. Sophienhöhe, Germany.
On the Siegfried Line — a barrier of defensive fortifications built by Germany in the 1930s — nature is reclaiming what remains of war. Because the concrete blocks are so difficult to move, areas like this have become forest instead of being reclaimed for agriculture, creating an ecological corridor. The European wildcat has especially benefited. Eiffel, Germany.
Protected natural areas like these in Italy are the most traditional way of maintaining connections between different ecosystems and wild spaces.
Along some roads, cameras watch for cars and play a sound that warns wildlife away from the road. In Abruzzo, Italy, it is particularly important to stop the Marsican brown bear from being killed — only around 50 bears are left.
A fish passage in the Drac River near Grenoble, France, part of a restoration project to ensure migratory fish can travel upstream.
A variety of types of tunnels help animals cross roads safely. Amphibians prefer to pass through a tunnel that shows light. Short walls help them find the safe passage. (Left: Hilversum, Netherlands; right: Neronde, France.)