Truths of the Riverscape: moving beyond command-and-control to geomorphologically informed nature-based river management

Gary Brierley*, Kirstie Fryirs

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
16 Downloads (Pure)


Truths of the Riverscape refer to the use of geomorphological principles to inform sustainable approaches to nature-based river management. Across much of the world a command-and-control philosophy continues to assert human authority over rivers. Tasked to treat rivers as stable and predictable entities, engineers have ‘fixed rivers in place’ and ‘locked them in time’. Unsustainable outcomes ensue. Legacy effects and path dependencies of silenced and strangled (zombified) rivers are difficult and increasingly expensive to address. Nature fights back, and eventually it wins, with disastrous consequences for the environment, society, culture and the economy. The failure to meet the transformative potential of nature-based applications is expressed here as a disregard for ‘Truths of the Riverscape’. The first truth emphasises the imperative to respect diversity, protecting and/or enhancing the distinctive values and attributes of each and every river. A cross-scalar (nested hierarchical) lens underpins practices that ‘know your catchment’. The second truth envisages management practices that work with processes, interpreting the behaviour of each river. This recognises that erosion and deposition are intrinsic functions of a healthy living river—in appropriate places, at appropriate rates. This premise underpins the third truth, assess river condition, highlighting the importance of what to measure and what to measure against in approaches that address the causes rather than the symptoms of unexpected river adjustment. The fourth truth interprets evolutionary trajectory to determine what is realistically achievable in the management of a given river system. Analysis of whether the river sits on a degradation or recovery pathway (i.e., condition is deteriorating or improving), alongside assessment of catchment-specific recovery potential, is used to foresight river futures. Viewed collectively, Truths of the Riverscape provide a coherent platform to develop and apply proactive and precautionary catchment management plans that address concerns for biodiversity loss and climate change adaptation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number14
Pages (from-to)1-26
Number of pages26
JournalGeoscience letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2022. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Fluvial geomorphology
  • Climate change adaptation
  • Biodiversity management
  • Command-and-control
  • Sustainable development
  • Catchment
  • Adaptive management
  • Precautionary principle
  • Conservation
  • Geoethics


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