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Changing perceptions about improving rivers – URSULA at the River Restoration Conference Posted: 14/05/2010

Removal of a small weir using a diggerThe river restoration movement like all environmental movements must change and adapt as new knowledge and methods become available. URSULA researchers Ed Shaw and Tom Wild helped contribute to this process, presenting work at the 11th annual River Restoration Conference this year in York.

Ed’s presentation ‘Where weirs were: A look at the benefits of weir removal’ (abstract) looked at how weir removal, a commonly implemented river restoration measure, affects human interests. Using the framework of river ecosystem services (the benefits that people receive from rivers), he discussed the trade-offs that must be made when deciding whether to remove weirs, noting that it is too simplistic to assume that removing man-made weirs is beneficial across the full board of all human interests, such as for canoeing or angling. Further, Ed pointed out that weirs create analogous conditions in rivers as beaver dams, debris jams and bank collapses no longer occur in many heavily modified and well maintained rivers. So even from a purely ecological perspective, while weirs are clearly detrimental barriers to many riverine spp., the role in creating natural-like river heterogeneity must also be considered.

With weir modification, as with all river restoration measures, there are multiple options that stakeholders need to weigh up and collaboratively decide what they think is the best solution. Tom’s presentation, ‘Can collaborative visualisation help deliver more sustainable urban river corridors?’ (abstract)  discussed the experiences of using 3d visualisation technology within URSULA to help stakeholders make such decisions. Potential changes to the River Don in Sheffield were represented using 3d computer based visualisation technology and presented to local stakeholders. It is often said ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, reflecting the efficiency of communicating information using imagery. Tom concluded that the iterative process of using 3d visualisation, sharing perspectives, sketching ideas, and refining responses in light of people’s varying aspirations, was a far cry from the usual practice of decide-announce-defend.  Consequently 3D visualisation technology offers a potentially valuable method in envisaging what river restoration options will look like, engaging stakeholders in an intuitive way.

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