Adaptation Guidance Document

Transformative adaptation of rivers in an urban context - A toolkit


Transformative adaptation of rivers in an urban context: An ecological infrastructure and socio-ecological toolkit

Source 3.58 MB
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  • Authors CFF GroundTruth

Ecological infrastructure plays an important role in the overall health of rivers. They are largely viewed as nature’s equivalent to built infrastructure and are functioning ecosystems such as catchments and rivers. Ecological infrastructure largely underpins our economy and life as we know it. It is so important in regulating and delivering ecosystem goods and services, and yet little is known about how to design, plan, implement and finance ecological infrastructure elements that can support socio-economic development. The CFF has, therefore, compiled this toolkit to guide practitioners, decision-and policy-makers, and anyone interested in the topic, on how to improve the overall health of rivers. This toolkit has been developed in collaboration with eThekwini Municipality (Durban) as a result of our ongoing cooperation since 2018. The case study for the toolkit is, therefore, Kwa-Zulu Natal.


The toolkit is underpinned by the principles of transformative adaptation, building on the work of LIRA2030. These principles are:

1. Fundamental changes in thinking and doing

2. Inclusive

3. Challenges power asymmetries 

4. Must be demonstrable in practice 

5. Responsive and flexible

6. Holistic, complex systems thinking

7. Sustainable 

At the beginning of the toolkit development process, we were focused on ecological infrastructure. However, as a result of many interactions with municipal officials, it became clear that socio-ecological interventions are also important to consider alongside ecological infrastructure. Socio-ecological interventions, when planned and implemented in a thoughtful manner, provide longer term sustainability and engagement around problem identification and solving, and ultimately building political and civil society support for transformative riverine management. 


The toolkit is composed of three sections, namely:

  • Part I: In this section, the user is encouraged to identify and consider the context of the issues that they would like to address through the use of ecological infrastructure. The user is prompted to consider the issue at the local level and in relation to the broader catchment. These include elements such as the socio-economic characteristics of the catchment, the physical and ecological characteristics of the river and streams, the stakeholders in the catchments, the beneficiaries and users of the river, and the land use in the catchment.
  • Part II: This is designed to be a lens through which to view and then apply the river management interventions (projects, programmes, and specific interventions). 
  • Part III: This section presents a suite of ecological infrastructure and socio-ecological intervention options with the relevant information on selected interventions that can be implemented on a localised and catchment-wide scale.



The following steps are recommended when using this toolkit:

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The interventions included in this toolkit are: 


Light touch grey infrastructure intervention

  • Rip rap and sloping
  • Brush packing 
  • Invasive Alien Plant control and rehabilitation
  • Wetlands
  • Debris walls 
  • Sloping and revegetation
  • Gabion retaining walls and weirs
  • Trash booms
  • Concrete gabion groynes 


Socio-ecological intervention

  • Leadership seminars for ecological infrastructure
  • EnviroChamps
  • Training courses in Ecological Infrastructure
  • Citizen Science tools
  • Learning and engagement platforms
  • Pocket Parks
  • Tree-preneurs

Each of the interventions mentioned above, is accompanied by a specification sheet that provides a description of the intervention, the challenge addressed, the impacts, capital intensity, the level of skills and expertise required, etc. It would be prudent to discuss and agree on the selected intervention from the toolkit - challenge to be addressed, potential impact, socio-ecological characteristics, beneficiaries, stakeholder engagement, legal permits and authorisations, upfront and maintenance costs, etc -  with a multidisciplinary team. 

Whilst the interventions proposed in the toolkit are focused on the Kwa-Zulu Natal context, they can be applied elsewhere following the appropriate contextualisation process.


Below is a recording of the webinar explaining the toolkit, and a copy of the presentation. 

Webinar on the Ecological Infrastructure Toolkit. This includes presentations by the CFF, the City of Durban, and GroundTruth.

PDF Presentation: An ecological infrastructure and socio-ecological toolkit

Source CFF Library 15.75 MB

Transformative adaptation of rivers in an urban context: An ecological infrastructure and socio-ecological toolkit

Source 3.58 MB
view the toolkit