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'Natural' rivers, 'hydromorphological quality' and river restoration: A challenging new agenda for applied fluvial geomorphology

Lookup NU author(s): Emeritus Professor Malcolm Newson, Professor Andy Large


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Fluvial geomorphology is rapidly becoming centrally involved in practical applications to support the agenda of sustainable river basin management. In the UK its principal contributions to date have primarily been in flood risk management and river restoration. There is a new impetus: the European Union's Water Framework and Habitats Directives require all rivers to be considered in terms of their ecological quality, defined partly in terms of 'hydromorphology'. This paper focuses on the problematic definition of 'natural' hydromorphological quality for rivers, the assessment of departures from it, and the ecologically driven strategies for restoration that must be delivered by regulators under the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD). The Habitats Directive contains similar concepts under different labels. Currently available definitions of 'natural' or 'reference' conditions derive largely from a concept of 'damage', principally to channel morphology. Such definitions may, however, be too static to form sustainable strategies for management and regulation, but attract public support. Interdisciplinary knowledge remains scant; yet such knowledge is needed at a range of scales from catchment to microhabitat. The most important contribution of the interdisciplinary R&D effort needed to supply management tools to regulators of the WFD and Habitats regulations is to interpret the physical habitat contribution to biodiversity conservation, in terms of 'good ecological quality' in rivers, and the 'hydromorphological' component of this quality. Contributions from 'indigenous knowledge', through public participation, are important but often understated in this effort to drive the 'fluvial hydrosystem' back to spontaneous, affordable, sustainable self-regulation. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Newson M, Large ARG

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Earth Surface Processes and Landforms

Year: 2006

Volume: 31

Issue: 13

Pages: 1606-1624

Print publication date: 01/11/2006

ISSN (print): 0197-9337

ISSN (electronic): 1096-9837


DOI: 10.1002/esp.1430


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