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Updated: Dec 17th, 2019


As a consequence of global warming and human activity, some countries across the world are likely to encounter high river water levels in the nearest future. There also going to be increased levels of river degradation and in the present day, river degradation is a significant issue of natural resource management that is facing such a country as Australia (Brierley, et al, 2002).

In relation to the issue of high river water levels, Samuels et al (2006) point out that, rather than fighting and engaging in the control of flood hazards “with ever higher dikes, new management styles focus on understanding and managing flood risk” (Samuels, 2006, p.142).

Taking the case of the Netherlands, for instance, there is embodying of this policy approach by a national policy referred to as “Room for River” (De Groot, 2010). The objective of this national policy is to ensure creation of additional space for water storage and this is carried out by engaging in relocating dikes “land inwards or constructing side channels” (De Groot, 2010, p.89).

In an effort to ensure combining of a bigger discharge capacity with other functions, in most cases, go together with recreation, nature conservation and river restoration (Van Stokkom, 2005). There has been well documentation of public support for “Room for River” policies and this support is found out to be high.

To this overall finding, it has been pointed out that public support to specific “Room for River” measures may not be higher, like in the case when these involve removing trees (De Groot & de Groot, 2009).

The special interest in this paper is to gain insight into the factors which may give an explanation to the level of people in adhering to “Room for River policy”. The question that comes is; does the adherence that people have correlate with their general ethics on nature, with the way they utilize the river, their good judgment of place, with their age, or with no any of these?

Within this scope of factors, the special interest in the paper will lie in people’s ethics with nature. Is what people believe about the suitable relationship between humans and nature give a reflection in the opinions they have on more solid policies such as Room for River?

In this paper, there is going to be an assessment of where levels of adherence to river management styles resonate with public environmental ethics and the paper will reflect on the Australian situation.

Human/Nature relationships and river meanings

The human/nature relationship images are a portion of wider “visions of nature” concepts as given description to by Van den Born et al (2001). These researchers give a distinction between three components. The first component is images of nature, the second is nature values and the third is images of relationship.

All these components give a reflection of the issues which are subject to debate that has been held by the environmental ethicists. Therefore, as Van de Born (2008) point out, the empirical study about the visions of nature that the lay people have can be referred to as empirical philosophy.

A large number of philosophers call these “basic attitudes” (Zweers, 2000) or “world views” (Norton, 1991).Such views do not essentially need to be a well developed philosophy, they can as well be several assumptions that “the respondents hardly ever recognize or think about” (Norton, 1991, p.20).

The human/nature relationship images are formed on the basis of the philosophical categorization in to the “Mastery over nature, Stewardship of nature, partnership with nature and Participation in nature” (De Groot, 2010, p.91).

Considering “Mastery over nature”, people stand above nature and they may utilize in the way they like, unfettered by ethical chains. Looking at “Stewardship of nature”, people are charged with the responsibility to care for nature towards the generations to come or God. Even if this image “is less anthropocentric, Stewardship resembles the Master in the positioning of human beings above nature” (De Groot, 2010, p.91).

Looking at “Partnership with nature’, this is considered as a metaphor for a relationship that is equal between nature and the human beings; they operate jointly in a dynamic process of mutual development. It is pointed out that “in the most ecopocentric image, Participation in nature, human beings are part of nature in the sense that the connectedness with nature gives meaning to the Participant’s life” (De Groot, 2010, p.91).

The studies that were previously conducted on “Visions of Nature” were based on open ended as well as structured interviews and the Human Nature Scale indicates that the Dutch do discard “Mastery over Nature” and accept “Stewardship over Nature” (De Groot, 2010, p.91).

However, this Stewardship becomes a different variant from the traditional variant; rather than putting human beings above nature; the respondents engage in adhering to a Steward that is a portion of nature. They seem to undertake combination of “Participation with Stewardship” (De Groot, 2010, p.91).

It is pointed out that even if the interviews conducted in Canada by De Groot and Van de Born (2003) made confirmation of such findings, still much has not been known regarding the images people have of relationship in the rest of the Western World (De Groot, 2010).

When looking for other studies in this field of empirical work presented by some environmental ethicists, you find such studies conducted by people like Norton (1991), Minteer and Mannings (1999) and Berghofer et al (2008) and all of them indicate that basically “Nature-friendly ethics prevail among the Western population” (De Groot, 2010, p.91).

The most well-known is the “New Ecological Paradigm (NEP) presented which undertakes the measurement of the ecological worldviews (De Groot & de Groot, 2009). Even if the extensive utilization of this scale has offered much insight in to the ecological beliefs across the world, this scale basically draws out levels of anthropocentricism, “ranging from Mastery to Stewardship” (De Groot, 2010, p.91).

The respondents can just engage in agreeing or disagreeing to this representation that is not wide of environmental ethics with no whichever differentiation in the ecocentric alternatives. This is quite a big deficit when putting into consideration the ecocentric ethics as drawn out in earlier Human Nature studies and the “generally high scores on intrinsic value statements” (De Groot, 2010, p.91).

The other scale is the “Connectedness to Nature Scale” presented by Mayer and Frantz (2004). The focus of this scale is more on ecocentric end of the spectrum. Even if their statements match with the experiences and affections in nature to a large extent which makes up a central theme in the ecocentric relationships, this scale is not used in measuring the environmental ethics.

A study which takes both ends of the spectrum in to account is the one that was conducted by Thomson and Barton (1994) into ecocentrism and anthropocentrism. These researchers point out that “to ecocentrics nature has a spiritual dimension and intrinsic value that is reflected in their experiences in nature and feelings about natural settings” (Thomson and Barton, 1994, p.149).

They engage in combining images of nature and values to capture a worldview concerning the position of human beings in nature. In such sense, the study conducted by Thompson and Barton (1994) can be considered as the “forerunner of HaN-scale studies” (De Groot, 2010, p.91).

Besides ecocentrism and anthropocentricism, the HaN-scale as well fills in the “middle ground” between both ends by drawing out “Stewardship of nature” and “Partnership with nature” (De Groot, 2010).

Other than the images of relationship, there can be expectation of large number of other factors to undertake prediction and explanation of the adherences to flood risk management. In looking for variables that are supposed to be considered, the interpretative exploration carried out by Davenport and Anderson (2005) became an important base because of the inductive character it has.

On the basis of semi-structured interviews, these researchers draw a distinction between four meanings which the members of the community members in Nebraska attribute to the Niobrara River, that is “a river as sustenance, as nature, as tonic and as identity” (Davenport and Anderson, 2005, p.625).

Considering “River as sustenance”, this ascertains the river as being a source of water that greatly is coveted and scarce and as economic revenue. Considering “River as a tonic”, this suggests the river as being “good for mind, body and soul” (De Groot, 2010, p.92).

On the other hand, “River as nature” gives expression of the appreciation of the respondents for the ecology and ‘river as identity’ ties the river to the sense of people of who they are.

In an effort to undertake adaption of these four river meanings to the North Western European situation, “’river as sustenance’ was dropped because previous interviews suggested that this aspect of the river played a minor role in the personal lives of river residents” (De Groot, 2010, p.92).

They rarely lingered over the reliance they have on the river for water supply or over the economic activities that are linked to the river.

In connection to the study conducted by Buijs (2009) as well as that conducted by De Groot and De Groot (2009), there was inclusion of questions instead and this was for the reason of its noticeable relatedness to river management. The river meanings presented by Davenport and Anderson are a product of “Grounded theory” approach which began from “Sense of Place” theories (De Groot, 2010).

This implies that the meanings “river as nature” as well as “river as tonic” do not have a theoretical grounding. In order to undertake expression of the theoretical background in a better way, De Groot (2010) made a decision to give names to meanings basing on the theories that were used; “Sense of Place”, “Leisure experiences” and “Visions of Nature” (De Groot, 2010, p.92).

Sense of Place, Leisure experiences and Visions of Nature

The measurement of leisure experiences were carried out on the basis of the topology of Elands and Lengkeek (2000). The leisure experiences are considered as “a confrontation with out-other-ness, a play with what is masked in everyday life” (De Groot, 2010, p.93).

Typology can be viewed as a continuum which runs “from experience in which the difference between out-other-ness and everyday is rather small” to those where the ‘other’ is rather unknown and inaccessible” (De Groot, 2010, p.93).

Because both river management styles bring about a different landscape and hence different opportunities for particular leisure experiences, there is expectation of this topology to correlate with the adherence to the styles of management.

Moreover, the “Sense of Place” or “SOP” is a portion of the literature that is fragmented on human beings and spatial settings consisting of other concepts like place meaning, place attachment and place identity. Even if a large number of scholars engaged in studying the attachment to the urban environment, among these, there are those that engage in studying a more rural setting, in an outdoor recreation setting, or a river (De Groot, 2010).

The indicators that are utilized in the industry are on the basis of the “Sense of Place-scale” presented by Jorgensen and Stedman (2001) that gave a definition of the Sense of Place as “the meaning attached to spatial setting by a person or group (Jorgensen and Stedman, 2001, p.233). They carry out the measurement of the “Sense of Place” in three dimensions which are; identity, attachment and dependence.

It is important to note that “sense of Place” overlaps partially with leisure experiences. As on one hand strong attachment to a place is clearly the basis of dedication, on the other hand, the other experiences can be considered as being more “moderate or very light forms of Sense of Place” (De Groot, 2010, p.93).

Basing on the study that was undertaken by Buijs (2009), there is expectation of Sense of Place to correlate in a negative way with the adherences to “Room for River” and this is for the reason that this measure impacts more “on the identity of the riverine place” (De Groot, 2010, p.93).

In addition, the preceding experience with flooding, “the likelihood of having one’s house flooded and the safety perception are expected to influence the adherence to flood risk management” (De Groot, 2010, p.93).

Making discovery of this correlation directly is easy after the occurrence of a flood; this is for the reason that, in situations like these, reinforcement support of dikes among the affected residents is high in general. However, the studies conducted previously on the subject of risk perceptions of river floods indicate that the risk perception of the public is usually low and mostly in the Netherlands (De Groot, 2010).

Management Styles

Going towards the interrelationships that exist between the “public environmental ethics as well as adherences to the management styles, it is realized that there is a correlation between Mastery and dike reinforcement and on the other hand, a correlation exists between Guardianship and the sustainable style.

This matches with the hypothesis that is made which give a presumption that the two management styles are formed on the basis of a different ethic. Basing on what is held by the public, a fundamental change occurs within a flood risk management at a time of having a shift from one style to the other style.

It is also pointed out that no Prediction is made by image of Participation of any style and on the hand; the image of Partner has a negative correlation with dike reinforcement. This gives room for having another hypothesis that makes a presumption that environmental ethics are not quite significant in carrying out the prediction of the public adherence to policy.

It is stated in this hypothesis by Norton (1991) that “weak anthropocentrists can reach the same policy objective as the ecocentrics” (Norton, 1991, p.20). Basing on theory, more ecocentric river policies are very imaginable. However, it may here have been that the descriptions given to the two management styles “do not relate readily enough to the wordings of Partnership and Participation items” (De Groot, 2010, p.105).

For carrying out the interpretation of such conclusions, it is imperative to take into consideration the low explanatory power of the two regression analyses. In addition, the ethics of the public are among the several variable that carry out the prediction of the adherence to each style of river management; like “recreation experiences, the place of the residence and the age of the respondents” (De Groot, 2010, p.105).

Considering the case of Australia, river degradation is a significant issue of natural resource management that is currently facing Australia.

For instance, it was found out that about eighty five percent of the river length that was assessed by the “National Land and Water Resources Audit” was affected by catchment disturbance. Moreover, it was found out that more than 50 percent of the rivers that were assessed are affected by the changes to riverine habitat (Brierley, et al, 2002).

Under normal circumstances, the work of catchment rehabilitation in this country has been carried out by the community groups having limited skills as well as resources in regard to priority are identification fro rehabilitation investment The resources for the work of river rehabilitation are limited and there are competing demands for these resources (Brierley, et al, 2002).

There is need to have tools in order for them to help in making decisions on which area to undertake application of resources and effort to realize the highest effectiveness in regard to river rehabilitation.

The “River styles” was set up out of a “Land & Water Australia funded project carried out by Macquarie University in response to the need for a framework that linked reliable knowledge of the nature of different river types and biophysical attributes within catchments” (Brierley, et al, 2002, p.91).

“River Styles” offers a biophysical template for river management which is directly suited to “structure and function of the Australia Rivers” (Brierley, et al, 2002, p.91). It offers a “baseline geomorphic assessment of river character, behavior and condition, and is based on the premise that effective management strategies must ‘work with nature’” (Brierley, et al, 2002, p.92).


In conclusion it can be pointed out that; it has been realized that following climate change that has brought about the problem of global warming, the countries in several parts of the world have a likelihood of being faced with extremely high river water levels in the shortest time to come. Moreover, sustainability comes up as a main international policy driver, bringing in different approach to flood defense.

It has been found out that, instead of fighting and engaging in the control of flood hazards with ever higher dikes, the focus of the new management styles is put on having knowledge about and managing the risk of posed by floods.

In the Netherlands, there has been well documentation of public support for “Room for River” policies and this support is found out to be high. To this overall finding, it has been pointed out that public support to specific “Room for River” measures may not be higher, like in the case when these involve removing trees

For the reason that the more ecocentric images of the relationship such as Participation and Partnership are as well well-liked among people, the river managers have a concrete basis in attempting to ensure incorporation of more ecocentric values in their long-standing policies and move beyond comparatively incremental and technical room for river policies that prevail at present day.

Explorations like these ones are supposed to be carried out in a way which ensures inclusion of the civilians from the very start in order for the parties to jointly engage in learning from one another in a process that is open.

It is important for us as individuals in engage in fruitful activities that can help as to effectively deal with the environmental problems that come up. It is important for us to emulate what others are doing elsewhere to be able to apply it in our own context.

The problems of river flooding and river degradation are facing several countries across the world, Australia being among them. Since these problems are predicted to intensify in the near future, it is important that appropriate measures be taken urgently in order to curb the situation.


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