Social dimensions of ecologically driven change : the case of river restoration
Westling, Emma Linnea
PublisherUniversity of Sheffield
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This thesis is concerned with the social dimensions of river restoration. The research reported here seeks to better understand the relationships between members of the public and their local riverine environments, and how these relationships are affected by the landscape changes accompanying the restoration of rivers. An interrelating, mixed method approach that incorporates both quantitative and qualitative elements is developed and applied. The quantitative methods employ statistical assessments of the association between river restoration and multiple indicators of the socio-economic characteristics of a local resident population, and assessments of the aesthetic quality of riverine environments. The qualitative approach adopts an interpretive analysis of semi-structured interviews conducted with local residents, producing rich insights into the context-dependent relationships between members of the public, rivers and the restoration of rivers. Four key messages emerge from this research. First, human-environment relationships are defined by a context-dependent web of direct and indirect influences. In the context of rivers, these influences span tangible forms, such as riparian vegetation and channel morphology, alongside less tangible relationships and practices through which members of the public also make sense of rivers. Second, perception regarding the restoration of rivers is contingent on the ways in which members of the public interpret landscape change within riverine environments through interconnected perceptual frameworks. These interpretations can lead to both synergistic and conflicting relationships between ecologically-driven restoration and public perception. Third, combining research underpinned by different knowledge paradigms within one framework is problematic. Instead, they should be used to address different context- and scale-dependent questions. Fourth, policy and practice related to river restoration should recognise the validity and utility of a broad range of knowledges, expectations and desires, if multifunctional riverine environments are to be realised. A vision for change in future river restoration research and practice is presented, underpinned by an interpretive agenda.