Students for Rivers Camp

The Students for Rivers Camp is a week-long gathering of students, academics, experts, and local river defenders. We come together for one common goal: to celebrate and protect the last remaining free-flowing rivers of Europe through collaboration, knowledge exchange, and creative action. The 2022 Students for Rivers Camp will take place in the Ötztal Valley in Austria from September 4th to 11th 2022. Read on to learn about the camp and apply before June 12!

We, the River Collective, in collaboration with WET (Wildwasser Erhalten Tirol) and WWF Austria, invite 30 bachelors, masters and PhD students from around Europe and from a diverse range of disciplines. The SRC is located along the banks of the alpine Ötztaler Ache River, where participants learn from each other’s experiences, workshops and lectures, and from the local river-defending community, inspiring creative collaborations between participants.

We discuss the future of rivers in Austria in the context of a fast-changing planet. How have rivers changed since the industrialisation of Austria and which role do rivers have in our society today? Which narratives exist that justify the construction of large hydropower infrastructure? Can we change these narratives and reestablish the connection between natural rivers and people?

Our aim is to celebrate rivers and support the local communities in the protection of rivers and their thriving ecosystems to sustain a healthy living environment (social, economic, and environmental) for all species including humans. Through the case study experience of the Ötztaler Ache River, which has parallels to many threatened rivers worldwide, the SRC provides an entry point for future scientists, artists, lawyers and other experts to take an active role in river conservation.

The Ötztaler Ache is unique in the eastern alps. It is one of the last remaining rivers with an unaffected glacial flow, as its main headwaters, the Venter and Gurgler Ache, remain mainly free-flowing. These three rivers attract not only white water sports but also scientists who come to explore their glacial flow regime and ecosystems. Local residents enjoy the river for recreation and hikes, and the tourism industry, an important branch in the Ötztal valley, profits from the beauty of the spectacular river, attracting tourists and nature lovers from all around the globe. The Ötztaler Ache River flows 60 kilometers from the glaciers north until it reaches the Inn river. On its way it forms the lifeline of the Ötztal valley, an inner-alpine valley that is facing increasing drought due to the climate crisis. The future of the river and the people depending on it is under threat. Plans to expand a nearby hydropower plant foresee the diversion of up to 80% of the Venter and Gurgler Ache, affecting the whole river length of the Ötz. With more than 5200 (small and large) hydropower plants in Austria already built, this would heavily affect one of the last rivers of Austria that are characterized by the flow of the glaciers. Losing natural rivers means losing the ability to show our future generations what wild and free rivers look like. While most larger alpine rivers suffer from massive human alteration, preserving rivers like the Ötztaler Ache and its headwaters can help maintain the understanding and connection of people with riverine nature.

During the Students for Rivers Camp we will explore and learn from the Ötztaler Ache River. The SRC aims to engage participants with the broader context of river conservation and connect across diverse disciplines where ideas can flow! Have a peek at the program below:

The Students for Rivers Camp is open for Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD students from ALL disciplines. If you are not currently enrolled in a university, you are still welcome to participate – just send us an email regarding your situation. If you live in Austria and are interested in participating as a non-student, we are also happy to hear from you! (If in doubt, feel free to send us a quick message.) We hope to welcome 15 students from Austria, and 15 students from the rest of Europe. We specifically invite students from the Balkan area as well as Ukraine to apply, and have some scholarships available for them. 

Also it is worth noting that you do not need any kayak or raft experience to join the camp!

Use the “Apply Now!” button to apply and participate in the Students for Rivers Camp that takes place from the 4th to 11th of September, 2022. Until the selection announcement, you can at any time withdraw your application. 

To apply, please fill out the questions in this application form. Take your time to answer the questions as this will allow us to make the difficult selection of SRC participants! The following questions will be asked within the form.

  1. Why do you want to participate in the camp? (max. 400 characters)
  2. What do you imagine learning from this experience and where would you like to apply this? (max. 400 characters)
  3. How would you engage in the protection of rivers? (max. 400 characters)

Note: Since the SRC will take place in English, participants need to be able to communicate in English – which is why we also ask you to apply in English. We will not take the level of your grammar into account in the selection procedure. 

Apply now!

Selection procedure We believe that everyone has their own, personal story. For this reason, we cannot define strict criteria to evaluate the applications. Therefore, the complete SRC organizational team will assign an overall score for every application. It should be noted that we do aim for a balanced mix between nationalities, gender, and study disciplines, which can give priority to certain applicants.

Selection announcement: July 1st, 2022

The program of the camp is aimed to give space for discussions. Just like there are endless ways to describe a river, there are endless thoughts on why and how to protect rivers. Throughout the days, we will address several questions together with you and with the experts. The talks and workshops provide different perspectives that help you get closer to an understanding of what river protection means to you, and what your role can be. Find a description of each day below:

Welcome After your arrival to the Ötztal Valley, you will pitch up your tent and be welcomed with a good meal. We have some activities prepared to get to know each other and the organizing team. 

Experiencing the Ötztal Often, the best way to learn about a new environment is to just dive into it head-first. In groups, we will go out to explore different sites in the Ötztal Valley and get our bodies down to the geography of the place. How does the river interact with its surrounding landscapes and how does human activity interact with nature?

All experiences will be shared during a participatory mapping session. We then learn about both the history of the valley, as well as the possible futures including the plans for the Kaunertal hydropower expansion. 

What is a river? Some see a river as a water body that flows from the mountains to the ocean, some see it as a playground and others prefer asking the question ‘Who is a river?’ and answer it with ‘our ancestor’. Today we will experience the river from a raft. During a descent of the Inn river, we stop at several places to learn about the functioning of a river with diverse interactions between species and habitats. 

Later this day, we reflect on what a natural river looks like. What do we take from it and how do we live with it. Or is a river more than just an object?

Why protect a river? The Ötztaler Ache has seen many impacts of anthropogenic pressures throughout history. Due to e.g. flood protection measures, it has in some sections lost its wild character. What makes the Ötztaler Ache worth protecting? Should we focus our time on places that are still highly natural, like the Vjosa in Albania? Or is there a reason to protect all rivers, even if only stretches are near natural? 

We discuss the context of river protection in relation to climate change. Hydropower is often profiled as renewable, green energy and a solution against climate change. Which ideas lie behind this narrative? And which ideas still make sense today? What is the story we want to tell and how could this align with climate activists, rather than oppose them? 

How to protect a river? Worldwide, people celebrate and defend the places they love. Today we seek inspiration from river projects around the world, as well as from a successful campaign to protect the glaciers in the Ötztal. 

However, you don’t have to call yourself an activist to turn your knowledge into action. We talk to both scientists and legal experts that, through their careers, contribute to healthy and free-flowing rivers. 

Get to action This last full day of the camp, we turn all we learned into action. In the morning, we go through a process from data collection towards instastory, learning about the power of good science communication. In the afternoon, we brainstorm together on what actions could be taken for rivers, and how you would like to contribute.

Evening Activities In the evenings, we will leave the space so stories can be told. We will also have a movie night and will have the option to join an information evening for the local inhabitants of the valley, that would be affected by the dam plans.

Logistics The camp takes place in Umhausen in the Ötztal Valley. There are many public transport options, combining train and bus.  If you decide to come by car, we encourage you to travel together and we will help you connect with the other participants. If you need to fly, consider the option to fly into Munich, as flights into Innsbruck are generally expensive. 

We will be camping outdoors. No experience needed, but be ready to experience outdoor living! If you do not have camping equipment (tent, sleeping bag) we can help you arrange this. 

Contribution We ask participants to pay a contribution that helps us to cover expenses like food, logistics, camping, and the River Experience. The total amount requested is € 350,- for Bachelor and Master students and € 500,- for PhD students. If you, as a PhD student, cannot get the contribution funded through your institution, please notify us through the application form and you will pay the same amount as Bachelor and Master students. 

Scholarships We do not want your financial situation to be the reason why you cannot participate in the SRC. If you are not able to pay this contribution, please let us know in the application form. We have some scholarship options available, especially for students from the Balkan area and Ukraine. 

Dates to keep in mind Application deadline: June 12th, 2022 Selection announcement: July 1st, 2022 Students for Rivers Camp: September 4th-11th, 2022

  • Everyone who is allowed to travel to Austria is welcomed to the SRC! 
  • All participants must follow the rules of their local and the Austrian government in terms of required proof of vaccination, and/or negative (PCR) tests.
  • All participants have the responsibility to be informed and follow the rules of their local government as well as the Austrian government. We will keep you updated about the situation in Austria. 
  • The SRC location is mostly outdoors with enough space for everyone to maintain their distance. 
  • Participants are requested to bring enough masks. Extra masks will be available. 
  • We will provide rapid antigen tests for all participants, lecturers, and organizers upon arrival. Mid-week, all participants and organizers are required to do an additional rapid antigen test.

Would you like to help us spread the word? You can download the poster below.  

This Students for Rivers Camp is supported by our local partner WWF Austria, and by our business members NRS, Spade Kayaks, Toros Outdoors, Floss&Co and Packraft Europe. For more info, see www.rivercollective.org/support