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The societal relevance of river restoration

Jutta Deffner, ISOE - Institute for Social-Ecological Research, Frankfurt, Germany; Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Center SBiK-F, Ecosystem Services and Climate, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Peter Haase, Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum Frankfurt, Department of River Ecology and Conservation, Gelnhausen, Germany; Faculty of Biology, University of Duisburg-Essen, Essen, Germany


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The majority of studies on the ecological success of river restoration show improved morphological conditions, but a poor response of the biota. Because most river restoration projects are costly, a debate has started on the meaningfulness of such investments. Yet only a few studies have investigated the societal dimension of river restoration projects in detail. Therefore, the main aim of this study is to shed light on the social aspects of river restoration. Our empirical study consisted of two parts: (1) an explorative study conducted with 32 residents encountered at three restored river sections in Germany and (2) standardized telephone interviews with 760 residents living in the vicinity of 10 different restored river sections in three federal states. The survey covered questions including which activities local residents carry out at restored river sections, how they judge the nature experience, and how they perceive (negative) effects and costs. The restored river sections are perceived positively by > 80% of the respondents describing the respective section as near-natural and beautiful. In the view of the survey participants, both the ecosystem and residents profit highly from the restoration measure (> 90%), while the agricultural sector is not rated as a high profiteer (36%, multiple answers were possible). In full awareness of the costs of restoration projects (approximately 400,000 Euros per river km), 70% of the interviewees regard further restoration projects as useful and only 6% as not useful. The results show that river restorations are of great value and are held in high esteem by the population. Moreover, the interviewees considered the investments made by the public or sponsors to be predominantly useful. These results are highly valuable for water managers and politicians as the societal relevance of river restoration might be a key factor in the ongoing public and political discussion about river restoration.

Key words

perception; restoration success; societal relevance; symbolic aspects; Water Framework Directive

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087