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Nature-based management increases river resilience

A recent study led by the University of Melbourne and Macquarie University has found that, in Australia, nature-based management is currently making rivers more resilient. 

The experts analyzed the articles delivered to the long-running Australian Stream Management (ASM) conference over a period of 25 years (1996 to 2021) to assess how the structure and approaches of Australia’s river management industry have changed over time. 

Although the analysis revealed that the industry has significantly matured during the study period, with increasing diversity and collaboration between its different components, unfortunately there has been little expansion of the participation of local communities and the use of adaptive management (“learning by doing” or “learning from mistakes”).

An event such as the flooding of the Wollombi Brook in New South Wales in July 2022 is a good example of sustainable environmental restoration in the management of rivers. 

“Yes, there was widespread inundation, but the flood waters were slower and the vegetation prevented large scale erosion and sediment movement,” said co-author Kirstie Fryirs, a geomorphologist at Macquarie. “All the hard work that a very active community put into nature-based rehabilitation for more than 20 years, such as continuous streamside revegetation, played a role in this outcome.”

However, the researchers warned that, although Australia is performing rather well at the local level, this work needs urgent upscaling and better resourcing in order to be able to meet the river health goals set by the United Nations in its Decade on Ecosystem Restoration

Adopting UN’s environmental goals as principles in river management is essential for conserving and improving river health, making effective use of diverse and traditional knowledges, integrating grassroot movements to the global action, improving the robustness and cost efficiency of restoration efforts, and securing river resilience to climate change and natural disasters.

On the basis of their analyses, the experts provided five recommendations to boost sustainable development:

  1. Practitioners from various areas of management should collaborate among themselves and with other communities (including First Nations communities) holistically.
  2. Nature-based rather than engineering solutions should be found, prioritized, and implemented.
  3. More resources should be devoted to adaptive river management.
  4. Knowledge and understanding should be preserved by institutions.
  5. Practitioners should have more influence in formulating government policies.

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications Earth & Environment.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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