Interpreting the social picture of river restoration
There may be significant difference and variation between science and private landholder knowledge, and this was the origin of research that I undertook a few years ago. Using ethnographic narrative analysis, this research project attempted to understand landholder practices, interpretations and relationships regarding river restoration. The research focused around five landholders. Their properties all carried creeks and they were spread across the Maribyrnong catchment’s rural parts. All landholders actively managed the creek frontages.
The transcripts of each interview were analysed to determine patterns or themes given to the values of waterway health. The results found that particular thoughts and practices emerged repeatedly through the interview process. Flowing water was regarded as a positive indicator of waterway health and the sense that for streams ‘flow is healthy; stillness is stagnant and dry is death’ was a dominant pattern to landholders’ social picture. Floods featured prominently and mostly adversely in the social picture. Weeds are a huge issue among all landholders and often for reasons other than ecological. Access and view were components of frontage that weeds devalued and the consensus practice was to clear them out. High profile ‘known or noxious weeds’ featured in most landholder’s pictures of waterway condition.
Creeks are art, culture and nature and the social picture of a healthy creek fills the senses. All landholders valued this aesthetic appeal. Vision of the creek through cleared sections of frontage was perhaps the most important element of the picture though. Vision was important and further with this value of ‘flow’ was personal access to the frontage and water. For all landholders the social picture included shades of domestication of the waterway. Access and indeed maintenance of frontage for access was a big part of this ideal. Clearing or ‘cleaning up the creek’ was a recurring pattern of practice by all landholders. Trees are portraits in the social picture, accompanied more or less favourably by understorey plants. All landholders spoke of wildlife along their creek. It was, however, often the terrestrial wildlife that was named when landholders talked of wildlife.
The social picture depicts several key themes on a landholder’s knowledge of waterway health. These will be explored in future blogs.