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Environmental capital: an information core to public participation in strategic and operational decisions--the example of river 'Best Practice' projects

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Sustainable development and solutions to existing environmental problems depend heavily on information and its translation into usable knowledge. Increasingly, affected communities are being drawn into environmental decision-making, both in the development of strategy (plans) and in the delivery of plans through management and operations. Variants of the 'natural capital' theme are popular amongst those who see an effective dialogue between the sciences of ecology and economics as the most promising interdisciplinary context for environmental decision making by empowered communities. A decision-making framework is vital in practical, community-based schemes (wider than 'stakeholder platforms') which have become popular for promoting 'best practice' in managing river basin units. The EU Water Framework Directive renders use of interdisciplinary techniques within a participatory framework a statutory requirement. A final practical need for communities and professionals involved with such schemes is the creation of a system of adaptive (rather than reactive) management, supported by ongoing research and monitoring to detect, and adjust to, ever-changing physical and social contexts for both strategies and operations. This paper describes the authors' experience in applying the 'Environmental Capital' (also known as 'Quality of Life Capital' (QoLC)) approach to information management in two headwater catchments in northern England: the Wharfe and the Coquet. In the case of the Upper Wharfedale Best Practice Project (UWBPP) the components of basic environmental survey, consultation, strategy formulation and the use of the strategy are illustrated to guide immediate and longer-term actions. In contrast, the Coquet application of the technique, whilst socially more pervasive, was less successful for a number of reasons: geographical, institutional, project and participatory. As a proposed development of the methodology based on the authors' experiences, extending public participation through monitoring activity, together with formal application of environmental economics to the perceived elements of 'natural' and 'human' capital in the two catchments would appear desirable. Conclusions are also drawn regarding the demands of the EU Water Framework Directive for ecological, economic and participatory approaches to river basin planning and management.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Environment Agency, North East Region Dales Area York UK

Publication date: November 1, 2004

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