1. The restoration of riverine habitats that have been physically modified by man has gained momentum over the past two decades, driven by a number of objectives. Formalizing the planning and implementation of such activity, however, so that it demonstrably meets national and local environmental objectives without compromising essential societal needs such as flood risk management, has proved problematic.
2. This paper addresses the operational realities of river restoration in the UK as experienced in England by the authors, and in doing so attempts to provide a vision for how strategic planning and implementation of restoration measures sensitive to these realities might be introduced. Specifically, the paper explores:
the prevailing perspectives on river restoration, shaped by both legislative drivers for ecosystem and biodiversity protection and the multiple uses made of rivers, their floodplains and catchments;
how decisions have tended to be made to date and how the government agencies for environmental protection and biodiversity conservation in England are planning to make decisions in the future;
the key obstacles to putting in place scientifically and technically robust, large-scale, long-term, economically viable plans for river restoration;
the potential for using rivers with special conservation designations for wildlife as a springboard for a strategic approach to river restoration more widely.
3. The issues hindering a strategic operational approach to river restoration in England are common to the rest of the UK and other developed countries grappling with the enormity of the river restoration challenge. To make real progress with river restoration, an operational decision-making framework is needed that promotes progressive and strategic action but at the same time gives everyone confidence that such action is realistic and worthwhile. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.