What is a watershed and why is it important, wherever we live?

A watershed is a bioregion and one of the invisible natural systems that are vital to our existence.  When we acknowledge our bioregion – our natural limits – and the ecologies and economies within it we can feel more connection to the life of that place and with each other.  What does this mean in terms of our everyday lives?  Let’s find out.

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What’s new?

Hal White, Stephan Harding, Sean Kelly and BLC’s Isabel Carlisle co-taught a 5 day course at Schumacher College in July 2017 entitled The Great Work – Science, Consciousness, Jurisprudence and Ethics based on The Great Work of Metalaw: A Paradigm of the Entireties by Hal White.  Isabel also contributed to the Ecological Restoration By Design short course with John Thackara and Lisa Maria Enzenhofer.

The Bioregional Learning Centre was shortlisted for the Lush Spring Prize – the Intentional Projects Award, which is all about knowledge sharing.

Many weeks of  design resulted in a science-based report for California Trout that gives each of California’s 32 species of salmon, steelhead and trout its own ‘Level of Concern’ and describes the anthropomorphic threats that are affecting them.  The San Francisco office of the Environment Protection Agency has requested a copy for their library.

Hosted a conversation at South Devon Wool Works’ Wool Gathering in Buckfastleigh.  Momentum is gathering to get a small-scale processing plant up and running.  Spent a day on Paula Wolton’s farm who shared her knowledge and experience of hill farming. We worked through the beginnings of our Fibreshed Lab, and discussed how One Hut Full might be incorporated into the Bioregional Learning Centre.

And we are beginning two funded projects – to scope out new economic opportunities in Devon and to advance the work of South Devon Catchment Partnership.

Whole Systems Change

In a system, like the human body or a transit system, it is clear to see that there are many functions performed by many parts.  All of the functions impact on all the other functions, and when the network of relationships that connects them all up is working well, the whole system flourishes.  And the opposite is true: if one or two lines on the London Underground are out the other lines are forced to adapt.

To have impact at the scale and reach that is now needed, work at the whole systems level is essential for social change; we have to pay attention to the smooth running of the whole network, as well as the parts.  Change is not linear, power is not top down or even bottom up, relationships between actors are as important as what each is doing, and shared vision becomes the glue that holds the network together.

Communities have always played a role in stewarding their bioregional ecologies and managing their local economies. Now that the issues that we are facing need all of us to tackle them, not just experts, our work is to ally the expertise of communities with local government, learning organisations, businesses, civil society and many other kinds of organisations.  And to do this with imagination, creativity and the will to rediscover what it means to be a citizen of place.

Interdisciplinary Design

Representing a bioregion and giving it an identity involves a wide range of skills and capabilities: the geographer’s knowledge of mapping; the conservation biologist’s expertise in biodiversity and habitats; the ecologist’s literacy in ecosystems; the economist’s ability to measure flows and leakage of money and resources; the artist’s capacity to represent real-world phenomena in ways that change our perceptions; the designer’s capacity to create platforms that enable regional actors to share and collaborate.

We practice interdisciplinary design – the process of developing design solutions with people of different backgrounds, cultural and professional, where a wider range of needs and requirements are all folded in, producing ideas which are then co-developed.  This approach, where “there is a collective ownership of ideas and everybody takes responsibility for them” (Tim Brown, IDEO) is an ideal way to engage with a very complex system like a bioregion.

We are starting a list of bioregional design deliverables…

River Keeper Project

The River Keeper Project is educational, creative, scientific and experimental.  Our collective experience shows that people want and need a voice, a better chance in life, an opportunity to be heard, a better future for the next generation, a sense of belonging to a place and community.  So beginning with the River Dart, we are testing out activities designed to re-connect rivers and their watersheds with people and communities.  We want rivers and watersheds to be cared for by more people and to receive better protection and management based on a shared vision of the future. And we want to invite people in communities, businesses (including landowners), all kinds of civil society groups and families of all ages and backgrounds to join in.

Would you like to participate?  Let us know.


Who we are



Isabel Carlisle, Founder

Isabel leads the team that is bringing the Bioregional Learning Centre into being.  She jokes that she started her career around 250,000 years ago as a student archaeologist and is now working her way into the future.  She is Education Coordinator for Transition Network and has created two new programmes: Schools in Transition and One Year in Transition (1YT), an informal and challenging training in social change for over 20s that is now being replicated abroad.  Isabel is a co-founder of the Community Chartering Network.  Read about Isabel’s extensive experience in the arts.

Jane Brady, Director

As a director with Totnes Renewable Energy Society, Jane has developed expertise in community-owned energy, getting to know the landscape and culture of the South Devon bioregion along the way.  She is currently designing California Trout’s ‘SOS’ report on threatened wild fish species in California.  The Eel River in Humboldt County is ‘a different kettle of fish’ to the Dart in Devon but the challenges we face are similar and multi-stakeholder conversations are now essential.  Jane’s experience in the design world brings to BLC an agility around implementing ideas that work.


Stewart Wallis
“We need to stop seeing ourselves as consumers and owners and start seeing ourselves as caretakers and creators.” stewart@nexteconomy.org.uk

John Thackara
To do things differently, we need to see things differently. doorsofperception.com

Pamela Mang
The world is complex.  We need to stop dumbing it down.  The current state of our world requires us to work hard to fully understand the complexity of living systems and to design elegant approaches that honor and appreciate that complexity. regenesis.com

Jay Tompt
If we want a new kind of economic system, then we must create the conditions for new economic actors and new economic relationships to emerge and thrive. enterprisingecosystems.org

Jonathan Dawson
This is a particularly exciting time… you can almost smell the revolution… we have an opportunity to change the way that we as a society learn. www.schumachercollege.org.uk/about/jonathan-dawson