, Volume 422-423, Issue 0, pp 413-428

The development of integrated methods for assessing river conservation value

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Abstract

In recent years the conceptual barriers between river `management' and river `conservation' have begun to erode. As the environmental aspirations of water managers and conservationists broaden, there is a need for integrated methods of conservation assessment which can be of value to both groups. This paper considers the requirements inherent in such methods, and explores some of the problems in their design, using for illustration the development of SERCON (System for Evaluating Rivers for Conservation) in the UK. The design of integrated assessment methods, including the selection of attributes for evaluation, must be closely related to the objectives of any conservation activity. For example, selecting a representative series of rivers for statutory protection may require more focused assessment techniques than those needed for setting river conservation management objectives. In the European Union, the Habitats Directive provides a good example of the former approach, in which specific river types and species listed in the Directive must be evaluated for selecting Special Areas of Conservation. In contrast, the forthcoming Water Framework Directive will need to rely on a more comprehensive method of integrated assessment to ensure that `good ecological quality' can be reliably defined, monitored and maintained. Attempts at developing integrated conservation assessment methods need to address six main issues: (i) differences in perception of conservation `value'; (ii) defining conservation criteria (such as `naturalness'), many of which are to an extent subjective; (iii) establishing weighting systems to differentiate important from less important conservation features; (iv) ensuring that methods are rigorous and consistent; (v) the need for extensive datasets to allow comprehensive assessment; and (vi) providing clear guidance on interpreting the outputs. This paper illustrates these problems using experience gained in the UK. It concludes that the inevitable search for pragmatism should not detract from the need for an inclusive approach to river conservation assessment.