Gary Brierley

Professor and Chair of Physical Geography in the School of Environment at the University of Auckland

Gary is a Professor and Chair of Physical Geography in the School of Environment at the University of Auckland. He is co-developer of the River Styles Framework (Brierley and Fryirs, 2005). This suite of procedures generates geomorphic insights into the character, behaviour, pattern, condition and evolutionary trajectory (recovery potential) of any given river system, providing a coherent platform of information to guide management applications. Through field interactions and professional short courses, he has supported the development and uptake of this work in Australia, Europe, North and South America, China, India and elsewhere. He has a particular interest in proactive approaches to scientifically-informed management of River Futures (Brierley and Fryirs, 2008). Inspired by collaborations with various inspiring researchers in Aotearoa, and the wondrous solace of life on Waiheke Island, Gary’s recent research is captured in a 2020 book entitled: Finding the Voice of the River: Beyond Restoration and Management.

Some scientific considerations in moves to reanimate the strangled rivers of Aotearoa New Zealand

Wed 11:20 am

Although scientific considerations may not drive river management agendas, as other factors determine what is politically expedient or societally acceptable, science plays a major role in working out what is realistically achievable in the management of a given river system, and sensible (cost-effective) ways to go about it. Increasingly, a geoethical lens promotes the development and uptake of nature-based solutions that ‘work with’ river systems, explicitly recognizing inherent uncertainties and emergent outcomes of river responses to climate and land use change. Proactive and precautionary programmes apply preventative and mitigative measures that seek to maintain the adaptive capacity and/or resilience of a given river. Inevitably, path dependencies set by legacy effects can impose significant constraints upon what is realistically achievable through contemporary management practices. Command and control management regimes have asserted human authority over rivers in Aotearoa New Zealand. Many rivers have been silenced by dams and/or strangled by stopbanks (artificial levees, embankments). Such practices work against nature. They suppress the inherent freedom of living rivers as disturbance-driven entities, diminishing their range of behaviour and the functionality of the dynamic physical habitat mosaic of healthy rivers. In various parts of the world Space to Move management interventions seek to address this shortcoming. To date, this is yet to happen in Aotearoa New Zealand. In this presentation I outlines scientific considerations that can underpin the potential roll out of such inherently place-based, catchment-specific deliberations. Building upon a conservation ethos, I develop a traffic-lights scheme that appraises what is realistically achievable in the management of a given river system. This scheme works with the character, behaviour, condition and evolutionary trajectory of a given river, emphasising concerns for self-healing properties that support its recovery potential. In efforts to allow each and every river to express its own voice, supporting assertions of a sentient river, I highlight how socio-cultural relations to rivers provide a critical platform for scientifically-informed applications, focussing attention upon how we live with rivers, rather than how we seek to manage them.