Book: Geomorphology and River Management

Geomorphology and River Management

Gary J. Brierley and Kirstie A. Fryirs (2005) Geomorphology and River Management: Applications of the River Styles Framework. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, UK, 398pp.
ISBN 1-4051-1516-5

Back cover

Rivers show a remarkable diversity of river character and behaviour in any catchment. Human activities, whether purposeful or otherwise have impacted profoundly on the inherent variability in patterns and rates of river adjustment, altering what rivers look like and how they behave, and the structure and function of aquatic ecosystems. This book outlines a generic set of procedures, termed the River Styles framework that provides a set of tools for interpreting river character, behaviour, condition and recovery potential.

River management programs that ‘work with nature’ must respect the inherent diversity and behavioural regime of aquatic ecosystems. Each catchment is managed in its own right, recognizing the patterns and connectivity of river forms and processes, as shaped by the configuration of the system and responses to disturbance events. Applications of the River Styles framework generate a coherent package of geomorphic information, providing a physical template for river rehabilitation activities. This book will suit a wide range of river practitioners, including students, technical officers, consultants and academics.


Management and restoration of rivers is a rapidly growing topic for environmental scientists, geologists and ecologists – this book provides a learning tool with which to approach geomorphic applications to river management. The book:


  • describes the essential geomorphological principles underlying river behaviour and evolution
  • demonstrates how the River Styles Framework can turn geomorphic theory into practice, to develop workable strategies for restoration and management
  • based on real case studies and authors extensive experience
  • applicable to river systems worldwide
  • synthesises fluvial geomorphology, ecology and management

Clearly the audiences for this book are students taking a course in river management; they will find everything they need in it. The book is up-to-date, clearly written and the quality (photographs, figures and layout) is good.

Journal of Sedimentary Research, August 2005

This book is a very useful addition to existing literature on river forms and processes within the context of river management. The introduction provides a geomorphic perspective on river restoration and introduces the “river styles” framework, a set of procedural guidelines for documenting and appraising rivers. The first two chapters on spatial and temporal considerations focus on physical processes and descriptors as these relate to river ecology. The next four chapters continue to explore river geomorphology, emphasizing river character, behavior, change, and responses to human disturbance. The final six chapters of the book provide details on how to use the river styles framework, with the Bega catchment of southeastern Australia as an example. The book concludes with an extensive reference list and a thorough and useful index. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in rivers as well as river management. The text is clearly written and is easily understandable to nonspecialists and to researchers in disciplines outside fluvial geomorphology, but it also provides an excellent overview of fluvial geomorphology suitable for use as a textbook in upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses. The authors have effectively integrated an extraordinary range of information, and the numerous beautiful illustrations enhance and complement the text. The authors emphasize the importance of three key points throughout the text: understanding river processes, addressing processes within a catchment context, and recognizing that rivers are dynamic landscapes that are constantly changing across a variety of spatial and temporal scales. In this context, the book forms part of the (delayed) response to current simplistic approaches to river management by the fluvial geomorphic research community. Much of the river restoration presently undertaken has an extremely small spatial and short temporal focus and assumes that a segment of river can be restored by engineering a fixed form. The river styles framework advocated in this book is neither simple nor easy in comparison to current river engineering, but it should not be; the currently widespread failure to recognize the complexity of river dynamics has resulted in many failed restoration projects.

Ellen Wohl

Department of Geoscience, Colorado State University

River lovers and anyone else interested in handson river system management will find the new Brierley and Fryirs book an interesting and useful read. The book, organized into three large sections, begins by taking a quick but lavishly illustrated look at the basics of fluvial geomorphology, emphasizing both basic concepts of spatial organization and the processes involved in temporal change. The second and largest section of the book delves more deeply into the details of both topics. It would, by itself, make a very nice supplemental text for use in river restoration or fluvial ecology courses.

Overall, readers interested in restoration issues, river science, and of course geomorphology, will find “Geomorphology and River Management: Applications of the River Styles Framework” a useful reference work. The combination of comprehensive review of principals (Parts A and B) with an explicit methods primer and case study (Part C) undoubtedly makes this a powerful training document for those directly interested in understanding or implementing the Rivers Styles approach. At the same time, this combination of generality and specific methodology makes the book a less obvious choice for use in university courses and workshops. For readers interested in riverine wetlands, Brierley and Fryirs’ new book provides a lot of useful background but little integration of geomorphology with fluvial ecology.

Michael J Wiley

School of Natural Resources & Environment University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA 48109, In WETLANDS, Vol. 26, No. 3, September 2006, pp. 884–885

The main focus of this text is the river styles framework (RSF), a geomorphic approach developed by the authors (see also Fryirs, 2001) for assessing the condition and recovery potential of rivers. The basis for the approach is the recognition that “(I)nformation on the diversity and abundance of river types, their condition, and associated ecological values provides a critical starting point for management activities in any given catchment or region” (p. 51).

The text, which has a very clear structure and layout, is well written and has excellent illustrations throughout, provides a clear argument for the need to “appraise each field situation separately, viewed within its catchment context and evolutionary history”. It is a timely contribution to the literature and should be essential reading for all those with an interest in the science and practice of river management and river restoration. Although the river styles framework has been developed in Australia, it is presented as a generic research and management tool and the test of RSF will therefore be its global uptake and successful application to different river systems.

Geraldene Wharton

Queen Mary, University of London

Peoples’ attitude to the environment has evolved as society has matured. Over the past 150 yr our use of the environment has moved along a continuum; from colonisation, through resource exploitation, to environmental stewardship. The Resource Management Act has further encouraged analysis of, and reflection upon, our effects on the environment. Water is a fundamental consideration, either directly or indirectly, to almost all resource decision-making. It would appear opportune, therefore, that Geomorphology and river management – applications of the River Styles Framework has been published to guide our interpretation, analysis, management, and rehabilitation of rivers. Rivers exhibit a remarkable diversity of character and behaviour which is complicated further by a high degree of inherent spatial and temporal variability. This diversity has been impacted profoundly by a wide range of human activities, both intentional and unintentional, which also have strong spatial and temporal components. In combination, this creates an almost infinite range of river forms, processes, and change; with few rivers remaining in pristine condition. This presents a major challenge to land and water resource managers. Developing a meaningful framework to recognise, understand, document, and maintain this diversity is a core theme of this book. The book actually goes further arguing that “Our efforts to sustain healthy, living rivers provide a measure of societal health and our governance of the planet on which we live”. While holistic river management has become fashionable, there is little consensus as to how rivers should be managed, or even how river systems will change and evolve under particular management scenarios. Fundamental to moving forward is our ability to understand why rivers are the way they are, how they have changed, and how they are likely to look and behave in the future. This book goes a long way to overcoming this constraint.

Clearly, this book will become a primer for all those interested in river dynamics and change, and rehabilitation. Its coverage of this theme is comprehensive, with the material being up to date and clearly written. The text is supported by a range of high quality, informative illustrations. While the price is perhaps a little expensive, this is offset by not having to now purchase a number of technical texts. I have already suggested that our library purchase a number of copies for student reference.

Jack McConchie

School of Earth Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

This book is a welcome addition to the literature on river management. The authors ground their work in a solid knowledge of fluvial geomorphology instead of focusing on river ecology or river engineering as do many other river management texts. The book does not take the place of such texts but provides much needed geomorphic context on the root causes of river disturbance at the catchment level. The approach taken highlights the need to identify and deal with the causes of river disturbance instead of attempting only to fix the symptoms through engineering of river channels. To this end, the authors have developed a generic approach to analyzing rivers and their catchments called the River Styles framework.

The River Styles framework is not a cookbook approach to river management. It provides a generic set of procedures to organize data and observations at different scales to predict the future condition of the river and its rehabilitation potential.

River managers, river engineers, aquatic ecologists and fluvial geomorphologists will all benefit from reading this book.

Leif Burge

Okanagan College