Public support for river restoration. A mixed-method study into local residents' support for and framing of river management and ecological restoration in the Dutch floodplains

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In many European countries, accommodating water has become the dominant paradigm in river management. In the Netherlands, extensive river restoration projects are being implemented, many of which draw serious opposition from the public. To investigate the causes of such opposition, a comprehensive study of public attitudes towards river restoration was conducted in three floodplains, both before and after river restoration. The study combined quantitative questionnaires (N = 562) with open interviews (N = 29). This paper describes how local residents perceive the effects of river restoration on landscape quality and how residents and protest groups use landscape quality in combination with other arguments to strategically frame river management policies. Results show that measurement of the perceived outcomes of nature restoration needs to be complemented by a more dynamic type of research, focusing on the social processes of the framing of restoration plans. Theoretically, the paper aims to contribute to the development of a rigorous research strategy to study framing processes in environmental management, using a mixed-methods approach. In general, local residents are supportive of river restoration projects. Although restoration may diminish feelings of attachment to an area, for most people this negative effect is compensated by the positive effects on scenic beauty and perceived protection from flooding. However, these positive effects may become contested because of the active framing of river restoration by protest groups. Residents use three distinct frames to give meaning to river restoration projects: (i) an attachment frame, focusing on cultural heritage and place attachment (ii) an attractive nature frame, focusing on nature as attractive living space and the intrinsic value of nature (iii) a rurality frame, focusing on rural values, agriculture and cultural heritage. Resistance to river restoration plans stems from the attachment and rurality frames. People using these frames challenge safety arguments for river restoration and highlight potential threats to sense of place and to agriculture. In the areas surveyed, the project initiator's focus on biodiversity and safety did not resonate very well among the local community, because of their diverging views on nature. Practical implications of the study include the need to incorporate public perception into river restoration projects and the potential for project initiators to form strategic alliances with local residents to promote ecological restoration in combination with river restoration.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2680-2689
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • water management
  • landscape
  • representations
  • attachment

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