The River Dart Charter for Dartington

About this project

The River Dart Charter for Dartington is about those who live near or use the river here agreeing together a shared vision for stewardship of the river as it passes through the estate.

Dartington Hall may ‘own’ the four-mile section of river which runs along the estate – but in reality, the wildlife it supports, the water which flows to it and from it and the beauty and leisure pursuits the river enables are assets we all share in and share responsibility for. It makes sense that the community of people who live in Dartington, or make use of the river, can work together to plan for its future.

From stakeholder mapping to community conversations; from a public document to river-keepers and a solutions forum, this project is all about sharing a duty of care to the river. We will be delivering this project in partnership with the Bioregional Learning Centre (BLC).

The thinking behind the project

We are living in an era of global, systemic (start anywhere and it goes everywhere) and wicked (hard to solve) problems. It is beyond the capacity of governments, state agencies, research labs and experts of all kinds to solve these issues alone – especially when part of the solution lies in large-scale behavioural change across society. The imperative now is to work together. How do we do that?

In the context of the Dart Charter, Bioregional Learning Centre is inviting many stakeholders to find common ground; prototyping the roles that citizens can step into; opening up a conversation about sharing responsibility; imagining a generative process for holding to account; building trust; and valuing community-sourced innovation in solving many of the big issues around water.

Take our survey

We’d like to learn what people value about the River Dart… as many people as possible! The goal is to create a culture of shared stewardship by putting the river first, so that it stays in good health long into the future.

The story so far

The River Dart Charter for Dartington project held its first public consultation event as part of our Open House series in November 2018.

Around 20 people came together to learn a little more about the health of the river and management challenges, both contemporary and in the future. Attendees were asked to share their favourite features along the river and then to discuss which they would prioritise for inclusion in the charter.

Download the full summary of the event (.pdf) ⇓

The partnership between Dartington and the BLC

The Dartington Hall Trust is pursuing an agro-ecological approach that includes management of water in the landscape. The land along the river is mainly farmed, but also allows access to the public. Challenges include the competing needs of farmers, their stock, the people who want to use the river for recreation, the abstraction of water to supply local communities and the conservation needs of the ecosystem. The ‘Charter’ process will involve many local people in deliberating a shared values-based agreement on how to care for water in this four-mile stretch of the Dart traversing the Dartington Hall estate and Dartington Parish.
At the same time, the Bioregional Learning Centre has been working with the South Devon Catchments Partnership to prototype an innovative way to give communities a voice in managing the River Dart. Catchment partnerships were set up across England by DEFRA following the EU Water Framework Directive of 2000 which mandated that rivers should be managed from source to sea. The Dart is not currently managed from source to sea, and there is an opportunity here to include the voices of communities in what happens next. We have taken the first step towards trialling this approach and this is likely to be the first section of the Dart to have a River Charter.

Who are the BLC?

The Bioregional Learning Centre is leading the work on the Dart Charter. They are a Community Interest Company set up to operate as a ‘backbone organisation’: a trusted neutral player that works with multi-stakeholder partnerships. BLC is a member of the South Devon Catchments Partnership that was set up as part of a national initiative overseen by DEFRA and the Environment Agency following the EU Water Framework Directive.

The catchments-based approach has now been embraced by organisations across Europe, joining up many organisations and agencies that have responsibility for rivers or surrounding land in each watershed.