In this study, we explored what river health means to ordinary citizens in the community through a survey of residents (n = 302) living in the peri-urban region of the Hawkesbury–Nepean River catchment in south-east Australia. Community responses concerning the meaning of river health included explanations that were simple and used everyday words but integrated a number of perspectives of the river as a natural and community resource which have often been lacking in descriptions pursued by experts and government agencies. A considerable proportion of participants surveyed related river health to its ecological integrity, visual appeal, hydrologic balance and ability to serve the community. The description of river health was not really affected by participants' age, gender or the distance they live from the river. The study provides a number of insights that can assist in the engagement of communities in future river monitoring and management programmes.

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