The Bioregional Learning Centre (BLC) received SDCP’s endorsement and a small amount of funding to help progress the UK’s first River Charter for the Dart at Dartington. It was felt that the nature of this work and BLC’s approach towards citizen engagement would bring important learning to the Partnership. Since then, BLC have followed through on their strategy to implement a pilot project in partnership with Dartingon’s estate team. Together, they have raised awareness for the importance of collective stewardship by engaging people’s imaginations in a wide variety of ways.

Activities have included stakeholder workshops, Citizen Science Investigations (CSI) trainings with Westcountry Rivers Trust, door-knocking throughout the Dartington parish, a pop-up presence at key local events, an interative exhibition space, a 2-minute film, ‘Being the Dart’ (a river walk for wellbeing that provides a new income stream for a self-employed guide), conversations with hundreds of people and media coverage. Upcoming events include more CSI trainings, a Charter Making Workshop and celebration picnic.

BLC’s initial findings

Over 1,200 people so far have participated, noting what they value about this particular stretch of the Dart, such as “wildlife corridor”, “healthy water” and “tranquilty”, or particular places, like the hole in the oak tree in first field, the log near the boat house ruins, swimming beach or still pool. People care deeply about the Dart and they are aware of what threatens it: “People not looking after it. People frowing rubish in it. And drying out.” A wish for its future: “to see the whole watershed and act to safeguard its ecology–from rainfall to the sea.” They see the Dart as a whole, from source to sea: “Impossible to isolate one place. Whole river is equally special.”

According to many of the people of the Dart, the river might dream of “being clean and able to roam and weave and curve and bend and come and go as she pleases” with “a belly full of eels, salmon and trout”.

Observations like these seem to make it clear that people do have an embodied understanding of the ecosystem (and our place in it): “it’s like nature is proud of itself, asking me to look, showing off”… “water has an incredible memory”…”the selflessness of a plant that propogates with a flood, but may not survive past flowering”. BLC believes that this is a vital part of rebuilding a culture of care because without a direct memory, experience or connection it’s less likely that the concept of stewardship will ‘stick’ for those who haven’t been fortunate enough to spend significant time on the river.

For BLC, the River Charter for the Dart at Dartington confirms the importance of creating multiple opportunities to bring people closer to Nature on their own terms–through intrinsic values, experience, contemplation, curiosity, logic, science, creativity–in order to help re-awaken dreams and demands for a more ecologically sensitive world. The charter simply creates focus and purpose. The backdrop is climate resilience.