The role of education in attitudes towards temporary and perennial rivers

A little bit of education can go a long way.

ACEMS researcher Dr Catherine Leigh and colleagues have found that learning about the environment positively influences attitudes towards the environment, and in important ways. Their findings were published in People and Nature.

Not all rivers on Earth flow all year round. Most stop and start flowing and can even dry up completely at times. These ‘temporary rivers’ provide vital habitat for many species, both on the land and in the water. But despite being so prevalent and ecologically important, they are typically poorly managed.

Article in the Medium: "When rivers stop flowing, do we stop caring?"

Dr Leigh and colleagues wanted to know why, and what might help change this, so they surveyed participants doing undergraduate studies in Australia, the UK and USA to ask them what they thought about rivers and if their attitudes changed after doing short courses of environmental education.

At the start of courses, attitudes towards temporary rivers were mostly positive, but attitudes towards rivers that always flow were always better. What’s more, the aesthetic and recreational amenity of temporary rivers was very much underappreciated.

But attitudes always improved by the end of the courses, even when those courses weren’t specifically about rivers. This finding is important, because if the wider community were able to access general education about the environment, then we might see attitudes towards temporary rivers improving at the societal level, and this might help champion the wise protection and management of these important ecosystems.

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