17. The Use of Palaeoecological Techniques to Identify Reference Conditions for River Conservation Management

  1. Philip J. Boon3 and
  2. Paul J. Raven4
  1. Emma L. Seddon1,
  2. Paul J. Wood1,
  3. Chris P. Mainstone2,
  4. Malcolm T. Greenwood1 and
  5. Lynda C. Howard1

Published Online: 17 FEB 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781119961819.ch17

River Conservation and Management

River Conservation and Management

How to Cite

Seddon, E. L., Wood, P. J., Mainstone, C. P., Greenwood, M. T. and Howard, L. C. (2012) The Use of Palaeoecological Techniques to Identify Reference Conditions for River Conservation Management, in River Conservation and Management (eds P. J. Boon and P. J. Raven), John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Chichester, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781119961819.ch17

Editor Information

  1. 3

    Scottish Natural Heritage, Edinburgh, UK

  2. 4

    Environment Agency, Bristol, UK

Author Information

  1. 1

    Department of Geography, Loughborough University, UK

  2. 2

    Natural England, Northminster House, Peterborough, UK

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 17 FEB 2012
  2. Published Print: 23 MAR 2012

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780470682081

Online ISBN: 9781119961819



  • restoration;
  • sub-fossil;
  • palaeochannels;
  • channelization;
  • Water Framework Directive;
  • Habitats Directive;
  • SSSIs


It is widely recognized that human activities have resulted in significant changes to the hydromorphology (flow characteristics and fluvial geomorphology) and ecology of riverine ecosystems globally. Across much of lowland England a number of riverine habitats, and the flora and fauna inhabiting them, have been lost or disadvantaged by historic channel modification. Some of the most significant modifications have taken place in the decades following World War II, in a drive to increase food security through improved land drainage and associated flood management. A better understanding of the geomorphological, hydrological and biodiversity elements that have been compromised or lost is required in order to characterize the benefits of planned measures to restore and reinstate channel form and function. Given that natural processes have been affected over varying temporal scales, a method that combines research on contemporary and past riverine conditions (palaeoecological and palaeohydrological) is required. To achieve this, the analysis of historic archival material (maps, photographs, local authority and management records), and detailed investigation of sedimentary records and sub-fossil insect remains (Trichoptera, Coleoptera and Chironomidae) associated with in-channel bars, weirs, bridges and palaeochannels can be used. These records may provide vital data regarding changes to instream hydromorphology and the aquatic macroinvertebrate community within specific reaches subjected to physical modification. These historic data can be analysed in parallel with contemporary data on instream processes and faunal community composition. This approach enables a direct comparison between past and present channel hydromorphology and the instream faunal communities inhabiting them. The approach has the potential to provide a benchmark for future conservation and restoration policies within riverine ecosystems through the identification of near-natural or ‘reference’ conditions.