To be effective, wetland management must understand public perceptions, including what people notice when they look at wetlands. Previous studies have investigated wetland perception in terms of attitudes, knowledge and values. None have revealed what people ‘see’. Thus, this study applies a novel methodology associated with Personal Construct Theory to reveal how Victorian freshwater wetlands that might be encountered incidentally in urban, peri-urban or rural landscapes are ‘seen’ by members of the public. Using photographic surrogates as stimuli (N = 70), similarity photosorting tasks and open-ended interviews (N = 50) generated numeric and categorical data, which were analysed qualitatively and quantitatively. Content analysis revealed how the wetlands were characterized, classified and valued. Data-reduction analyses revealed the cognitive structure of wetland perception, a framework of categories and constructs that underpin wetland meaning. Victorian freshwater wetlands were not perceived as an homogeneous group but as six categories, differentiated by the amount of water visible, presence of trees, water quality and habitat value. For these percipients, who had no attachment to the specific wetlands depicted in the stimuli, these biophysical properties constituted their meaning. They also suggest that the perceptible realm extended beyond landscape patterns to include organisms, habitats and ecosystems and perhaps ecological processes. Associated values were predominantly ecologistic-scientific and aesthetic. Implications of this study for wetland management lie in the difference between the perceptual classification system and that used in wetland management, and the likely difference between what is ‘seen’ in wetlands by casual percipients and by residents actively engaged with the local landscape.


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Last updated: 18th Aug 2016