(As explained by the Bioregional Learning Centre)
Charters have been around for a very long time, and in many places around the world they have been used by the powerful and wealthy to grant rights of usage of land and other resources to communities and individuals. The earliest known charter in Devon (England) goes back to 729AD and was granted by the Anglo-Saxon King Aethelheard of Wessex to Glastonbury Abbey for land in North Devon in the Valley of the River Torridge.
Our most famous English Charter is Magna Carta, which was issued in the reign of King John in 1215 and reissued in 1225 in the reign of King Henry III, together with the Charter of the Forest, as ‘The Great Charter of English Liberties’. Clauses of this charter are in the Statute Book of the United Kingdom today.
Current examples of charters
Most recently, the Community Charter that was made in 2013 by residents of Falkirk in Scotland put down a marker in defence of shared assets that were under threat by the first application for a commercial license to extract unconventional oil and gas (UOG) in the UK (in this case coalbed methane).
In the subsequent appeal the Charter was cited as the will of the community, and because this was a test case it was taken up to the Scottish government to rule on. A moratorium on UOG was called for two years while research was gathered and in October 2017 the Scottish Parliament voted to ban fracking and other forms of extracting UOG because it would be harmful to communities and the environment.
What is a River Charter – what could it do?
A River Charter that expresses our shared values and what we care about engages civil society in co-stewarding of the water in our watershed (or catchment) in partnership with statutory and other bodies as well as landowners. It can give rights to water and the water cycle while local people protect those rights.
We suggest it does not give rights to people. Rather, in keeping with how communities identify with their stretch of the river, each community will be invited to name their local water assets and create a local Charter that enrôles them as stewards and is on public display for visitors as well as locals.