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Media analysis of river renaturation



Since January 1, 2011, Swiss cantons have been obliged to restore rivers. In addition to flood protection measures, there is a pressing need to prevent ecological deterioration. Typically, the general public supports this aim to minimize the human, economic and ecological losses while maximizing the benefits of ordinary floods. On the other hand, concrete river restoration and revitalization projects are often met with widespread resistance from local populations. The diversity of claims on the restored river areas inevitably affects the tasks of modern disaster management and flood risk reduction. Furthermore, problems like environmental revaluation potential or flood awareness also complicate the issue. To sum up, the inevitable consequence of different value systems and perspectives of the participants is a state of constant conflict.

The public is confronted with such controversies and public discourses of restoration by media coverage. Mass media influences the way we consider information and contributes to our experience or perspective of restoration. Despite this, the research on river restoration and revitalization seldom mentions the role of media communication and information flow. By monitoring media, we can analyze the information flow and the exposition of this theme in selected case study areas in Switzerland (Bern/Valais/Aargau).


The aim of this media monitoring is to reconstruct the themes of restoration and revitalization in the media coverage of different newspapers over the period between 2000 and 2014. This will provide some socially, factual and historical context to the public discourse of restoration and revitalization. Consequently, differences and modifications of the information flow are measurable. With this data, social developments concerning the perception and evaluation of treatments for environmental revaluation or natural flood protection can be explained.

Main research questions

  • How has the topic of restoration and revitalization been developed in the regional press?
  • Who are the main actors involved in the debate about river restoration and revitalization in the public press?
  • Which positive and negative impacts of planned or implemented river restoration projects are thematized in the public?
  • Which conflicts concerning restoration are treated in the media?
  • Has there been any change in the point of view concerning the opportunities and risks of restoration and revitalization?


This media-monitoring project will be accomplished with social and media-scientific approaches of a quantitative content analysis of selected local and regional newspaper outlets. Using a detailed study of local media coverage of river restoration and revitalization from 2000-2014 in three Swiss cantons, Bern, Valais and Aargau, this research illustrates the salient features and dynamics of the information and communication flow, the framing of the discourses, the relevant actors, and how these relate to changes in the environment and flood prevention behavior in the public sphere.


The project is co-funded by the „Renaturierungsfonds (RenF)“ of the canton of Bern, the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) and the Swisslos-Fonds of the canton of Aargau.

Project Team WSL

Group Social Sciences in Landscape Research: