Landscape, humans and usage
The project’s first thematic area addresses how the Sélune’s ecological restoration will impact local residents and users of the river, river basin, and reservoirs. This work will be carried out by geographers and sociologists. In particular, researchers will examine how to develop a restoration plan that takes into account the inhabitants of the river valley. The ultimate goal is for users to view the river’s restoration as advantageous. Researchers are therefore interested in the following issues :
- the governance process (project development, stakeholder concerns, public policy, and local specificities)
- reaction to and appropriation of the project by residents and users
- historical use of the area (activity types, landscape types, frequency of usage)
- future physical changes (new landscape types, new uses) and non-physical changes (new perspectives) resulting from the river’s restoration
Some results from the project’s first phase have been published in a special issue of Water Alternatives (Germaine and Lespez, 2017) and have been presented during feedback meetings with locals.
Characterizing landscapes over time—the Landscape Observatory for the Sélune River Basin
In spring 2013, a photographic landscape observatory was established for the Sélune River Basin. The observatory focuses on about 90 locations scattered across the basin. Most occur along the shores of the river and the reservoirs. Each location is photographed once per season. Some locations were chosen based on old postcards (from the early 20th century) or archival records dating back to the last reservoir draining event (1993). The photographs obtained thus far have allowed scientists to identify the landscape’s most significant seasonal changes (Fig. 2). The Syndicat Mixte du Bassin de la Sélune is a partner in these efforts.
Usage and user perspectives
The project is not only interested in describing landscapes. It also seeks to understand how inhabitants are using the river basin’s resources. It is therefore important to understand the basin’s historical usage, dating back to before the dams were built. Several types of usage are being examined. Fishing is one example. It is an activity that is tightly connected to the dams’ fate and is thus a central topic of research. For instance, restoring the salmon population along the length of the Sélune would improve salmon fishing. In contrast, coarse fishing has benefitted from the presence of the Vezins and Roche-qui-Boit reservoirs. Both types of fishing have led to established physical landmarks (e.g., fishing cabins, fishing spots; Fig. 3). The project has been characterizing the opinions of residents and users via different methods, including field surveys, questionnaires, analyses of articles appearing in the local press, and narrative mapping. The goal is to understand how people view the river, its basin, and its reservoirs to identify the sites to which they feel strongly attached and to characterize their expectations and concerns with regards to the river valley. The first set of surveys has revealed that locals are worried about the abandoned landscape returning to its wild state if certain uses are disallowed. Residents organize river cleanup days, which shows that they are dedicated to maintaining their surroundings and local environmental conditions. Such efforts also demonstrate that locals want to preserve the river basin and ensure its accessibility to all. Researchers plan on holding group workshops to collect further information on residents’ perceptions.
Local governance and project acceptance by users
Researchers are also interested in the controversies engendered by the dam removal plan. Consequently, they have been studying the different steps that led up to the initial announcement (November 2009) that the two dams would be dismantled (Germaine and Lespez, 2014) and the Prefect’s directive (late 2016) that the reservoir at Vezins would be drained. In particular, they are looking at the different contexts in which elected officials, government representatives, and non-profit organizations debated the dams’ removal, with a view to understanding the roles played by different stakeholders. Another aim is to grasp the relative importance of different elements, such as the dams themselves, their reservoirs, or the salmon population, which are topics that unite members of the community who are concerned about the river’s use and its fate. This analysis has identified the main players involved, as well as the impediments, interruptions, and challenges experienced. The conflicts observed in the case of the Sélune are being compared with those observed in other dam removal projects in northwestern France and the eastern US (this is the topic of L. Drapier’s thesis work). The ultimate goal is to understand how dam removal proceeds in very different administrative and cultural settings, so as to highlight the factors that determine success or failure (Fig. 4).