What does the River Dart dream about…?

You’d be forgiven if you hadn’t yet got around to considering this question. Not many people have, and that was the point the Bioregional Learning Centre (BLC) was trying to make at its Pop-Up ‘Lets Talk Dart’ stand at the Totnes Longbow Canoe Festival on June 10th.

Young and old were invited to consider what the hopes and fears of the river might be, what they give and gain from it, their favourite places and memories of the river; if the river were a person, what might they look like and who might they be friends with, and what indeed might the river dream about…?

The purpose was to for local people to begin to consider what the river really means to them and re-weave their relationship to it. To move not just their minds, but their hearts too. It was all in preparation for what the BLC, alongside the South Devon Catchments Partnership and Environment Agency hope will lead to communities, alongside government, the private sector and civil society organisations collaboratively developing a new platform for the sustainable regeneration of the Dart Catchment.

This would include a charter for the river Dart to establish its rights which local people protect through mechanisms such as a network of River Keepers to monitor its well-being and a River Assembly.

There is method in the madness. By inviting people to pause and reflect on what they value about the river and how they feel about it, it triggers peoples intrinsic values. Personifying the river, rather than objectifying it, strengthens this effect. As humanity faces increasingly complex global issues such the environmental depletion an increasing body of research has looked into values as they help us answer the question of ‘how do you widen, deepen & maintain public commitment to bigger-than-self issues?’ (Compton, 2017). This research has looked at what kind of values promote, for example, ‘environmental sensitivity’, and how those values can be developed and strengthened in such a way that it leads towards attitudes which support more environmentally sensitive behaviour.

In the coming months, the BLC will be facilitating more pop-up stands around the catchment alongside a series of stakeholder meetings to begin to get people to re-engage with the river, map out its key assets and develop a vision for its future for inclusion in the charter.

So what might the river dream about? Well according to some of the people of Totnes it might dream of “being clean and able to roam and weave and curve and bend and come and go she pleases” with “a belly full of eels, salmon and trout” then “slipping into your skin and calming and strengthening your spirit”, it dreams of “a world where ‘the people’ and ‘the river’ are one”. Dreams that are maybe worth us all sharing and believing in.

Josh Levene – BLC

Crompton, Tom, 2017Values and Frames. Common Cause presentation at Schumacher College. For more information on how values work see this TedEx video by Tom Crompton



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