Martin Luther King Jnr & the value of our rivers

Martin Luther King Jnr

I recently had the pleasure of reading Martin Luther King Jnr’s autobiography. It’s an excellent read. Rather unexpectedly, a short extract written by King in 1953 during his Education at Crozer Theological Seminary stood out in relation to river restoration.

The seminary is a beautiful sight, particularly so in the spring. And it was at this time of year that I made it a practice to go out to the edge of the campus every afternoon for at least an hour to commune with nature. On the side of the campus ran a little tributary from the Delaware River. Every day I would sit on the edge of the campus by the side of the river and watch the beauties of nature”.

In the book King records how his character and actions were influenced by his upbringing; his education; and his faith. In addition, the extract, and the words that precede it in the book also pay special tribute to the influence of a connection with nature. You cannot help but think of how significant that tributary was to King, and also how difficult its influence would be to value. Few would question the immensity of King’s positive influence and leadership in The Civil Rights movement and other important causes, both in the U.S.A. and globally. To what extent did the tributary have in forming King’s character, and how is the value flowing from that best expressed? How do we value these social benefits?

Identifying and expressing the value of ecosystem services

Although important in certain situations, it is a common misconception that valuation of benefits is always monetary. Kings words above as they are in fact a form of qualitative valuation. In some situations, a paragraph such as Kings may be the best way of communicating value. There are many other valid forms of valuation which should be used situationally, largely dependent upon (1) the ecosystem service being valued and importantly (2) the audience its value is being communicated to.

We need to be sharing best practice as to how to go about valuing ecosystem services. This is why there will be a workshop at the RRC conference on benefits assessment (view the programme) and through CaBA, a new Benefits Advisory Group has been formed,  which the RRC is a part of. The RRC also ran an ecosystem services training course last July where we discussed such issues. You can view my write up from the day here.

Your river restoration project

The role partnerships and community groups have in delivering river restoration is ever increasing. To meet the requirements of the Water Framework Directive the amount and diversity of funding sources therefore also needs to increase, in part through funding which is provided to deliver social benefits, such as community development and reconnecting people with nature. Think about what the societal benefits of the projects you are planning potentially are. There may be new funding opportunities through focusing on social and economic as well as environmental gains.

Who knows who or what a locally restored river may inspire, or contribute towards. What we do know is that benefits can be multiple and substantial. It’s important we think about how to identify, increase, track and value these benefits as best we can, and look for any new alternative opportunities for funding which looks for the delivery of such benefits.

Thanks for reading! We would also be interested to hear of any other examples of historical figures who benefitted from a connection with nature, specifically natural rivers. Let us know If you have any!

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