If rivers are to be managed sustainably, and the potential to resolve conflicts of use realised, the general public must be more involved in their management. Participation in water management in England and Wales occurs at three levels: formal consultation; public involvement; or actual direct participation by the public. Formal consultations often leave the public in the role of the “objector” and ignore the “silent majority” focusing on the more vociferous minority of the population. Public involvement is less formal and can take a variety of forms. Although not allowing the public to be directly involved in the decision making processes, it provides the public with the opportunity to comment upon plans for river works or the re-development of a river location, or to indicate what they want from the rivers that flow through their own local area and which they use for recreation and amenity. True participation is where the public are actively involved in the decision making processes. Citizen participation at all three levels provides environmental education, however, personal experience promotes a greater environmental awareness and understanding by the public.
This paper reflects upon approaches to citizen participation in the UK and provides examples of specific projects involving both formal organisations and the general public.