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Water Sci Technol. 2004;49(7):39-53.

Forests and water--closing the gap between public and science perceptions.

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Centre for Land Use and Water Resources Research, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.


The public perception that forests are, in all circumstances, necessarily good for the water environment, that they increase rainfall, increase runoff, regulate flows, reduce erosion, reduce floods, "sterilize" water supplies and improve water quality, has long been questioned by the scientific community. The evolving "modern" science perception suggests a more complex and generally less advantageous view of forests. It is suggested that the disparity between the two perceptions needs to be addressed before we are in a position to devise and develop land and water policies which are aimed at either improving the water environment, and by doing so improving the livelihoods of poor people by greater access to water, or conserving and protecting forests. Examples are given of "interactive" research projects in different parts of the world including the UK, South Africa, Panama and India where, through the involvement of stakeholder groups, often with representatives comprising both the science and public perceptions, research programmes have been designed and are being implemented, not only to derive new research findings with regard to the biophysical processes, but also to achieve better "ownership" and acceptance of these research findings by the stakeholder groups.

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