The River Itchen, a chalk stream, near Winchester, UK.
Photo credit: Jennifer Ball

By Jennifer Ball, Jennifer Hauck, Robert A. Holland, Amy Lovegrove, Jake Snaddon, Gail Taylor, and Kelvin S.-H. Peh.

Read the full paper here.

Chalk streams are globally important habitats. However, many chalk streams in England are in poor ecological health, in part due to inadequate water quality. Our research identifies ways to improve water-quality governance systems to help address this issue.

How we design the governance systems, the structures and process by which society makes decisions, for natural resources is important. Governance often involves many different people and organisations, actors, who take on different roles and interact with each other, forming a social network. The structure of a social network, for example, the number of connections between actors and the shape and patterns formed by these connections, can influence governance outcomes.

We mapped the social network for two chalk stream catchments, the River Test and River Itchen in Hampshire, UK. By interviewing individual stakeholders, we identified the actors involved in governance, determined their roles in the network, and mapped the connections between these actors. We brought stakeholders together to analyse the combined outputs from the interviews and to discuss ways to improve governance.

We found there is a diverse range of actors from the state, private sector, and civil society in the network. These actors are relatively well connected to each other with a few exceptions. However, decision making about water quality primarily lies with a few state actors in the network. We also noted that many civil society actors lack trust in some state and private actors within the network. We recommend devolving more authority to other actors in the network, improving connections to peripheral actors, and repairing trust to facilitate better communication and collaboration. Our work has implications for water governance beyond chalk stream as well as for chalk stream policies, for example those driven by the Chalk Streams Restoration Strategy.