Charles Sturt University (CSU) research shows that women place a much higher value on the environmental and social values of rivers than men.
Last year Ms Seymour surveyed more than 500 people in central Victoria including those living in and around Maryborough, Castlemaine, Guildford and Newstead; those working in natural resource management (NRM); and members of Field Naturalists groups.
Her survey, which aimed to determine how different groups within the community value different natural assets, focused on three such assets in the region: the Moorlort Wetlands, Box Ironbark Forest and the Loddon River.
“Environmental agencies usually rely on scientists and technical experts for guidance regarding the value of certain natural places,” Ms Seymour said. “However, understanding how community values natural areas can help reduce conflict over how they are managed and by whom. I also wanted to find out whether people’s general values about the environment and the world might influence their conservation behaviour or the types of values they assign to specific places.”
“I found that females placed a much higher importance on the environmental (habitat for fish and threatened species) and social (peaceful, attractive, a place where people can gather) values of the river than males did,” Ms Seymour said. “Men, on the other hand, placed a higher importance on the economic (place for grazing stock alongside, irrigation) value of the river. But, as can be expected, the Field Naturalists place a higher importance on the environmental value of the river than anything else.”
Another finding was that professional people and retirees valued the river for its environmental value more so than farmers.
“While farmers did place high importance on the environmental value of the river, it wasn’t as high as professional people and retirees,” said Ms Seymour. “Farmers placed a higher importance on the economic value of the river compared to professionals, retirees and people working in Natural Resource Management.”
Ms Seymour said she found a “bit of a difference” between the values of farmers and people working in NRM. “The people working in NRM placed far more importance on the environmental values than farmers and scored the economic values much lower,” she said.
“Retirees just liked to know the river exists. They like it because it’s a peaceful place and for other social values such as it being an attractive place and somewhere to go to study nature.”
Ms Seymour found that growing up next to the river made no difference to the values people placed on it. “However it did make a difference with how people valued the Box Ironbark Forest,” she said.
“If they spent their childhood in Melbourne or a big city like that, they placed much more importance on the environmental and social values of the forest than people who grew up in small country towns or on farms.”
Ms Seymour also found that people who lived closer to the river assigned more importance to economic values and as a peaceful place where people could gather.
“The further away people lived from the river, the more they placed importance on its environmental value,” she said.
Other findings were:
- People who had lived in an area for a long time placed higher importance on the river for its economic value and for fishing
- Newer residents placed more importance on environmental values
- People who lived on small properties valued the river for its habitat, its historical value and just the fact it existed more so than those who lived on large properties
Ms Seymour, who research has been funded by the Future Farm Industries Cooperative Research Centre, has almost completed her three year project.
“My last bit of analysis will look at what role values have in predicting people’s environmental behaviour, as I also surveyed landholders as to whether or not they had revegetated river frontage or fenced off areas,” she said.
Ms Seymour will run a series of talks in the district to present her findings to the communities she surveyed.