Landscape values and stakeholder engagement along the multifunctional river

By Wessel Ganzevoort

For my master’s thesis research I participated in the RiverCare programme, a ‘perspective programme’ funded by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, bringing together knowledge institutes, governmental stakeholders and private parties[1]. The project monitors hydromorphological, ecological, social and technical elements of measures within the Dutch Delta and Room for the River programmes, in order to work towards a ‘self-sustaining river’[2]. For the river Waal these measures include an innovative pilot project called the longitudinal dams; in the project area (near the city of Tiel) dams are placed inside the river to split it into two channels and to regulate the flow of water, ice, sediment and biota. My research was aimed at mapping the landscape perceptions of boaters and local fishermen using the theories of place attachment and Visions of Nature[3], in addition to their view of these measures. In this column I briefly discuss three lessons I learned on stakeholder visions and landscape values in Flood Risk Management (FRM) projects, and their significance for the STAR-FLOOD criterion of legitimacy.

Legitimacy includes the participation of stakeholders and a consideration of the societal acceptance of proposed measures. One way to do both is to include a wide variety of stakeholders and their views on the landscape in the early design stages, so as to ameliorate controversial aspects of proposed measures. This includes acknowledging that a river performs a myriad of functions for different user groups. When FRM involves changing the appearance of a body of water, inclusion of different perspectives on the landscape helps to anticipate which user groups have much to gain or lose if FRM measures are taken. Designing FRM plans and measures that benefit every single stakeholder, however, is a monumental task.

Wessel-Ganzevoort_compressedWhile many river functions are included in RiverCare (including flood safety, ecology and aesthetics), what struck me is the difficulty of balancing different stakeholder interests. This is not just between user groups either; within the user group ‘recreationists’, for instance, there were some conflicting interests between fishermen and boaters. The most significant of these is the removal of groynes, small flood defence structures extending out from the shore into the water. Along with the placement of longitudinal dams, the groynes in the inner bend of the river are removed to provide ‘room for the river’. This landscape change carries several benefits for boaters, such as a broader river and the removal of groynes as navigation obstructions. For fishermen, however, the disadvantages seem to outweigh the benefits, since these groynes are currently used as a prime fishing spot and the dams are not accessible as a replacement. As such, some fishermen will feel forced to relocate, which conflicts with attachment to ‘their spot’.

This ties in with a second difficulty in balancing stakeholder interests: short-term and long-term effects of FRM measures. For boaters, the benefits of a separate recreational channel are immediately clear. For fishermen, however, the loss of fishing spots is immediate while possible benefits for river ecology (including fish populations) might be projected for the longer term but are much less tangible during decision making and implementation.

Finally, in addition to the institutional path-dependency as discussed in STAR-FLOOD, I also witnessed how dependency on structural measures creates a sense of familiarity. Respondents would occasionally distinguish the ‘new’ dams from the ‘familiar’ groynes as if the latter are a natural part of the landscape, even though they are decidedly man-made FRM structures as well. The groynes have become a characteristic feature of the river landscape, however, and as such foster a sense of attachment and cultural significance. Though the longitudinal dams might become part of this cultural landscape eventually, at first such radical changes lead to a reduced sense of place identity and engender opposition.

While stakeholder engagement, including public consultation and joint visioning, is important to improve the legitimacy of FRM measures, my experiences in RiverCare reminded me not to regard public participation as a panacea. Because rivers perform so many functions in nature and society, it is inevitable that changes in the river landscape will be more beneficial to some stakeholders than to others, or will provide their benefits more quickly to some, which has implications for social equity.

With broad stakeholder participation visible in several of the STAR-FLOOD case studies, the programme allows us to learn more about how these dilemmas play out in practice. These findings will be of value to practitioners engaged in FRM projects, an explicit aim of the STAR-FLOOD programme. Stay tuned!


The author would like to thank Marjolein van Eerd for her helpful comments on the draft version of this column.


Picture on homepage: Groynes in the River Waal. ©, Rijkswaterstaat , Ruimte voor de Rivier / Ruben Smit




[3] De Groot, W. T., & Van den Born, R. J. G. (2003). Visions of nature and landscape type preferences: an exploration in The Netherlands. Landscape and Urban Planning, 63, 127-138