The UK’s first River Charter for the Dart at Dartington

Our community wants our local river, the Dart, to be fish-able, drinkable, swim-able, paddle-able and sustainable way into the future. Do you feel the same about your river? Together, we made a Charter on behalf of the river, to give it a voice alongside ours and to name the things we really care about and want to protect. A big thank you to everyone who has contributed and signed up to the Charter so far.

A River Charter is the first step in a 3-part process towards citizen-led common pool resource management. River Charters support the work of a movement of river stewards called River Keepers. A River Council addresses any issues that arise.

We began making the charter for the stretch of the Dart River around the Dartington Estate in 2018 and the final Charter was launched at the Water Resilience Summit on 12th September 2019 in Totnes Civic Hall. Over 1,250 people participated in its making and we knocked on more than 500 doors in the parish. Working with the estate team at Dartington Hall Trust we brought together people who live and work on the Dartington estate, as well as interest groups like canoeists, swimmers and fishermen. We surfaced what we all value about the River Dart, as well as what is not working. We also ran free Saturday river science training with Westcountry Rivers Trust.

The story so far

The Charter is a public document, currently held by Dartington Hall Trust, supported by Dartington Parish Council and included in Dartington’s Neighbourhood Plan (the April 2020 final draft). Today, the Charter is being carried by the River Dart Wild Church as part of its Sacred Waters Way pilgrimages up and down the Dart. The Charter is also a signatory to the Universal Declaration of River Rights.

The manifesto

We the people who live, work and play here, name ourselves as stewards of the water in our catchment. We therefore uphold the rights and responsibilities of the River Dart from Staverton Weir to Totnes Weir:

• To be alive and to thrive so that it can give life and enjoyment to all.
• To be clean and unpolluted so that it can enable biodiversity to flourish.
• To flow freely from source to sea so that it can be a vital part of a healthy ecosystem.

In this place of Dartington we especially value and name as our shared assets:
• The river’s role as a wildlife corridor for otters, birds–especially kingfishers–and fish.
• Healthy water in sufficient quantity.
• Trees along the banks, particularly the oaks that give the Dart its name, and the stability of their roots.
• A cherished river that enhances our mental and physical wellbeing, provides tranquility, beauty and memories – now and for future generations.
• Respectful, agreed access along this sacred length of the river, from Staverton Weir to Totnes Weir, where we enjoy the water, both in, on and beside it.

The invitation

Communities along the river are invited to be part of a joined-up plan of resilience for the River Dart. Would you like to help us build a chain of Charters from source to sea to give the Dart a voice?

Create your own River Charter; download our How to guide and PDF of the steps we took in the Learning Centre. And please sign the Charter on Dartington Hall Trust’s website and share with friends.

We work in and at the intersection of economy, ecology, learning, arts and culture and the gaps in between.