Residents’ perceptions of water quality improvements following remediation work in the Pymme’s Brook catchment, north London, UK
Residents’ perceptions of water quality change following remediation work in the upper Pymme’s Brook catchment (north London) were elicited by questionnaire and compared with monitored changes in Escherichia coli count and BMWP (The Biological Monitoring Working Party (BMWP)) score. The wider usefulness of consumer perception surveys was then discussed. Monthly data collected between 1990 and 1996 shows that both E. coli count and BMWP score improved following flushing of the foul sewerage system in 1992, but that only E. coli count improved following the subsequent completion of large-scale remedial engineering works. Local residents were surveyed regarding their awareness of the scheme, and the causes of pollution, together with their perceptions as to the effects of the engineering works and of the resulting water quality improvements. Most respondents selected and ranked indicators in a way that suggested they had an awareness of the significance of various indicators of pollution severity. Following completion of the remediation scheme, residents perceived the watercourse to contain less rubbish and sewage fungus, and to have an improved colour and smell, which corresponds favourably to the monitored improvements. However, respondents’ perceptions were found to vary when the study population was sub-divided using a range of parameters. For instance, frequent observers of the brook were most likely to correctly identify sewage as the main form of pollution. These divergent perceptions suggest that there may be considerable difficulties when perception surveys are used to quantify ‘benefits’ following environmental improvement programmes. Nevertheless, the survey was clearly beneficial in enhancing residents’ awareness of their environment and the role of their voice in its management.