Does the public's negative perception towards wood in rivers relate to recent impact of flooding experiencing?

Sci Total Environ. 2018 Sep 1;635:294-307. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.04.096. Epub 2018 Apr 24.


Instream large wood (LW) is widely perceived as a source of hazard that should be avoided. This is also the case of Spain, where wood has been systematically removed from rivers for decades. Consequently, people are accustomed to rivers with minimal or no LW at all. However, the presence and transport of wood is natural and has positive ecological effects. Previous studies reported that the general negative perception towards LW in rivers is related to the lack of background knowledge about stream ecology or fluvial dynamics. However, we hypothesize here that recent flooding experience has an influence on the perception of LW as well. To test this hypothesis, we surveyed groups of individuals living in different areas of Spain that have been affected more or less frequently by floods. In addition, we surveyed a group of scientists to test whether their perception towards LW differs from that of the general public. We observe that flooding experience is not the main controlling factor of how LW is perceived. Instead, we observe that respondents, independently of the time passed since the last flood, perceived watercourses with LW as less aesthetically, more dangerous, and with a larger need to improve channels than in watercourses without LW. Regional differences were detected, potentially related to differences in environmental attitudes. We confirm the existence of a gap in perception between scientific communities and the general public regarding natural river systems with wood; thereby highlighting the need to transfer knowledge, training, and education to bridge this gap. The generalized negative perception towards LW could have important consequences on the implementation of river management measures, such as LW augmentation for restoration purposes. This study underlines that wood removal should be more balanced in post-flood works and that public information is needed to implement a balanced LW management policy.

Keywords: Instream wood; Public perception; River management; River restoration; Riverscapes.