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Substance, Desire and Control: Water in the New Forest

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Water, like much else in the landscape of the New Forest, England, is highly contested. Recent major environmental works have changed the flow of water by adjusting river beds, slowing flows and holding up water in parts of the Forest. These changes are elaborated as reversing past interventions, restoring rivers and increasing environmental values. Under the rubric of conservation, some of the greatest physical changes in 150 years are taking place in the Forest. This paper traces how, since the early nineteenth century, ideas about water have shaped management interventions and dramatically changed the flow of water over the Forest landscape. The works have also given new impetus to arguments about the meaning and value of water, rights of access and the control of water resources in both economic terms and in terms of social status and identity. How value is assigned by small-holders and visitors to waterscapes is compared to that of the agencies managing the environment. A key cause for conflict is shown to lie in the different ways of measuring and constructing value, and in two forms of environmental expression.


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