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The human factor as a success factor in wetland restoration projects

  • The human factor as success factor in wetland restoration projects

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About the blog

Eric Chanal
General Manager of the Syndicat Intercommunal pour l'Aménagement Hydraulique des vallées du Croult et du Petit Rosne.

Projects for the restoration of rivers and the creation of wetlands are now increasingly naturally calling for multidisciplinary engineering: hydraulics, civil engineering, ecological engineering, ecology, etc.

However, experience shows that while difficulties may exist in the emergence, design and implementation of such projects, the management phase of these sites is the most complex part to manage for the public contracting authority.

Particularly in urban areas, the perception of nature in the city is very diverse and each user, each inhabitant, has his own conception of what a wetland should be, of what is "beautiful" and it is often complex to reconcile the general interest of the river with this diversity of points of view.

In order for the completed project to be able to live on the long term with and for its users, it must therefore be... Got it. This necessarily leads project owners to question their culture of project management, which has long often considered working with locals to be a waste of time for the project. In fact, NO, quite the contrary.

The time taken during the study phase to explain the river to future users, how it lives and indeed how it should be managed, is essential.

Many projects in France have shown that it is possible or even desirable to co-construct certain aspects of the project with the inhabitants

Many projects in France have shown that it is possible or even desirable to co-construct certain aspects of the project with the inhabitants (educational path, choice of tree or shrub species) within the framework of collaborative approaches supervised by experts.

It can also go through site visits, with the elected representatives of the territory and with their fellow citizens. Nothing beats a two-hour visit to a showcase site to convince a local decision maker that such a project is feasible in his municipality.

This specific communication with the future actors and users of these sites can even, and must go, as far as training. The SIAH experimented with this in 2021, by organizing training in the field, for the attention of elected officials, associations of residents, and green spaces services of municipalities: all the actors involved on site and likely to relay the discourses of good practices vis-à-vis ecological issues and uses. This SIAH communication is based on all the ecological scientific monitoring carried out thanks to its internal resources and partnerships with public bodies (Regional Agency for Biodiversity of Ile de France), naturalist associations or design offices specialized in ecology.

The education of children, with the development of educational programmes for children (8-11 years-old), as set up by the SIAH in 2020-2021, is also part of this desired involvement of all actors.

Because the life of the river is, for sure, everyone's business!

Waste management, the control of uses, require a presence on the ground as strong as possible. Motocross, quads, squatters, like waste, are all phenomena that can negatively affect in a few months the image of a natural space vis-à-vis users!

The solutions seem simple but are often complex to implement because of the convergence of social, public safety and environmental policies of the competent communities. Thus, promoting at all costs the maintenance of human presence (shared gardens, agriculture, walking, cycling, etc.) is one of the means to try to preserve these beautiful spaces.

And, in terms of public safety, not lighting these sites, contrary to some preconceived ideas, generally does not increase real violence, while promoting the implantation of nocturnal species (birds, bats) that have a major role on the species at the top of this entire food chain: the Human!

Introducing nature in the city, as simple as it may seem, is however a complex and permanent search for balance, consensus, and management of people's feelings, but many experiences, in France and elsewhere, show that it is possible to succeed, together!

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