How do you connect with rivers?

Victoria Keele is a PhD student funded by SNH and based at Plymouth University. Here she talks about her work investigating the multiple benefits that rivers in Scotland provide for human wellbeing.

I have always enjoyed being outside, here I am climbing the highest point in Cornwall.

I have always enjoyed being outside, here I am climbing the highest point in Cornwall.

Hello! I am currently in the 3rd year of my PhD at Plymouth University. Growing up in Cornwall I developed a strong connection with the outdoors. Rain or shine (mostly rain) we spent our childhoods building sandcastles, splashing in puddles and paddling in rivers. Geography was the most natural choice for me at University. During my undergraduate degree I developed an interest in river forms, patterns and processes. On completion of my degree I was very lucky to be awarded a SNH studentship to develop a method to assess the different benefits provide by Scottish rivers.

I would like to give a brief overview of my research and ask for your help in fulfilling one of my aims.

The first time I saw the Tweed and Tay I was shocked, I mean coming from Cornwall our rivers are trickles in comparison. Scottish rivers are dramatic, seasonally changing and beautiful; however, they are much more than beautiful landscape elements. My PhD research focuses on investigating the multiple benefits or ‘ecosystem services’ that rivers provide. In particular, I am looking to see if benefits differ between rivers designated as Special Areas of Conservation and those without designation.

‘Ecosystem services’ are split into three categories; provisioning, regulating and cultural. Provisioning services are the products we obtain from river environments and include freshwater and agriculture. Regulating services are the benefits we obtain from natural ecosystem processes, for example natural flood mitigation and water purification. Finally, cultural services are the non-material benefits and include opportunities for recreation, educational experience and social relations.

My research is focusing on developing a method to assess the potential ecosystem service delivery from river corridors using Google Earth. Traditionally in the scientific and management community there has been a strong focus on provisioning and regulating services with cultural services being neglected. It is therefore very important that my method takes into account cultural services.

I am particularly passionate about the inclusion of cultural services because I have personally experienced the non-material benefits of connecting with nature. Last year Ollie became part of our family (see photo). I have always enjoyed walking but since getting Ollie I have spent even more time outside and I can honestly say I feel happier, fitter and healthier. On our walks we can connect with heritage sites, meet new people (and dogs) and sit with picnics enjoying the view. These experiences give me a break from my PhD which can be stressful.

Our Collie Ollie enjoying a splash in our local River Fowey, he barks when it’s time to leave!

Our Collie Ollie enjoying a splash in our local River Fowey, he barks when it’s time to leave!

To allow me to include cultural services in a way that makes them comparable to provisioning and regulating services I need to understand how other people experience river environments. I want to see if experience type is linked to different river features. Having this information allows river management decisions not just to be based on the products we get from rivers but also on how they contribute to our mental and physical wellbeing.

Please take a few minutes to fill out my survey and help with my research.

All images © Victoria Keele



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