Operationalising the ecosystem services approach in water planning: A case study of indigenous cultural values from the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia

Rosalind H. Bark, Marcus Barber, Sue Jackson, Kirsten Maclean, Carmel Pollino, Bradley Moggridge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


Cultural ecosystem services (ES) are particularly challenging to value as well as to subsequently incorporate in scientific assessments and environmental management actions and programmes. In this paper, we apply a cultural ES typology to an Australian water resources case at a location of major indigenous cultural significance, the Brewarrina Aboriginal fish traps, and consider the potential implications for water planning. Data from qualitative interviews with indigenous custodians demonstrates diverse cultural values and associated benefits with respect to the fish traps themselves and to their connectivity with another key water site, an upstream lagoon. Supported by additional analyses of water planning legislation, flow requirements, and non-indigenous tourist values, we analyse the applicability of the typology and the implications for water planning. Key issues include: the distinction between values and benefits; whose values and which cultural ES benefits are identified and managed; the challenges of categorising indigenous aspirations within cultural ES frameworks; and the implications for water planning of indigenous perspectives on connectivity. Case studies of culturally specific minorities are useful for testing cultural ES frameworks because they posit conceptual and categorisation challenges. In addition, culture is often of strategic and symbolic value for such minorities, representing the key means by which they gain access to, and traction within, natural resource planning and prioritisation processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-249
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Biodiversity Science, Ecosystem Services and Management
Issue number3
Early online date3 Jan 2015
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2015


  • Aboriginal people
  • cultural ecosystem services
  • cultural heritage
  • customary fishing techniques
  • indigenous water values

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