This is the River Charter for the Dart at Dartington. Download the PDF version here. Next stop: more communities along the Dart, upstream and downstream, and the Avon at South Brent. We have also been invited to explore possibilities in Spain, the Netherlands and Brittany.

Download the summary of the workshop held at Dartington as part of their Open House 02 – Dart-Charter-Workshop-2-Summary-Dartington-2018

Our second, open-to-all workshop took place on 2nd November 2018, forming part of Dartington Open House 02.

The first meeting to initiate the Dart Charter @ Dartington took place on 20th September 2018. It brought together around 25 people who live and work on the Dartington Hall Estate, as well as interest groups like canoeists and fishermen.


We want the Dart to be a fish-able, drinkable, swim-able, paddle-able and sustainable river, do you? We have co-created a Charter on behalf of the river, to give it a voice as climate change challenges us all to consider our priorities… like water and soil. A big thank you to everyone who has contributed to the UK’s first River Charter for the Dart at Dartington.

If you agree with the principles of our River Dart Charter at Dartington, show your support by signing it here on Dartington’s website.

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 eco-system.


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 Charter, a public document, was launched at the Water Resilience Summit on 12th September, 2019 and has been officially endorsed by Dartington Parish Council. Over 1,200 people participated in its making. Working with the estate team at Dartington Hall Trust for over a year and a half, we brought together people who live and work on the Dartington estate, as well as interest groups like canoeists, swimmers and fishermen, to surface what we all value about the River Dart, as well as what is not working. From stakeholder mapping to community conversations, and from a public document to river-stewards and a solutions forum, this ongoing project is all about sharing a duty of care. 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? Please get in touch.

What is a charter?

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. You can view the Falkirk charter here.

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.

About 60 people came to our River Dart Charter Making Workshop in June 2019 to help bring this pilot project one step closer to the creation of an actual Charter! Three tables of participants discussed: ‘A reminder, what’s the rationale for the Charter?’, ‘What should the Charter specifically seek to protect?’ and ‘How can the Charter be upheld?’ Those contributions are now being folded into the draft document.

We are taking our cue from Defra’s 25-Year Environment Plan:

“Momentum for positive change is growing and in government, as well as society as a whole, we must harness this in coming months and years. Government will … work with all parts of society and all sectors of the economy as we implement the 25 Year Environment Plan to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. We will invite bodies and people to reduce the environmental impact of their actions, and do more to help communities and individuals to engage with nature and enhance what they find there…”


25-year UK Government Environment Plan, 2018, p.22