What did our systems mapping work reveal?
The Medway catchment comprises a mix of rural, urban and estuarine areas. Transport links between London and Europe mean the area serves as a continental ‘gateway’, key to the local and national economy.
The area is also known for its fruit farming. Eden is a rural catchment known for dairy and sheep farming, and which has suffered significant flooding in recent years.
We used participatory systems mapping (PSM) to reveal the complex relationships of cause and effect in both catchments. PSM involves engaging with stakeholders and working with them to produce a systems map, with nodes representing ‘functions’ (broadly defined as outcomes, outputs or services that matter to stakeholders) and ‘factors’ (variables that influence or are influenced by these functions, directly or indirectly). Arrows between these functions and factors show where positive or negative causal relationships exist. The qualitative information in the maps was then analysed with numerical methods to create quantifiable data, with sub-maps providing more detail on core areas of interest where needed. The point is to understand common interests and causal interactions between stakeholders to inform strategic thinking and maximise the outcomes of any interventions.
In Medway we explored two contrasting pathways for development of the catchment. With stakeholders we set out an ‘agricultural vision’ involving sustainable farming practices geared towards greater fruit production. As well as creating jobs, this scenario would contribute to better soil health. The benefits of this include greater carbon sequestration through increased vegetation and reduced flooding due to slower water run-off. Boosting traditional fruit growing would also contribute to tourism and a reinforced sense of place. A ‘gateway vision’ which focuses on Medway’s urban development and transport links would have positive impacts on jobs, population growth and commercial development, but would increase flood risk. However, these two visions can be interlinked, with farmland development helping to mitigate the risk of flooding from urban development, while access to markets benefits the agricultural sector.
The Eden map provides useful insights into land use and the catchment ecosystem, with sub-maps highlighting how upstream influences such as land use, land management practices, soil health, climate change and nature-based solutions affect water quality, biodiversity and carbon storage. We also developed a better understanding of how to embed change in farming practices. We investigated the competing influences of convention and cultural norms, policy incentives, market prices and advice from trusted partners in enabling change in on-farm adoption of more sustainable practices.
Both maps can assist policy makers or strategic planners in supporting collaboration between water companies and local stakeholders for mutual gain, meeting catchment objectives and delivering wider value to the community.