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

The second meeting to initiate the Dart Charter @ Dartington took place on 2nd November 2018 forming part of the Dartington Open House 02 series of events. It challenged the people who live on or near the Dartington Estate to consider what the river means to them, asking: “Do we want the Dart to be drinkable, swimmable, fishable, paddle-able and to be there in all its beauty for future generations?”

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, to explore what we all value about the River Dart, as well as what is not working so well.


Over 1,200 people have contributed to what will soon become the UK’s first River Charter for the Dart at Dartington. Working with the South Devon Catchments Partnership and Dartington Hall Trust we are trying out ways in which communities along the river can be involved in a joined-up plan of resilience for the River Dart. This is our pilot project.

We want the Dart to be a fish-able, drinkable, swim-able, paddle-able and sustainable river. 

We are bringing 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. Perhaps you’d 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.

Another hugely successful Community Charter that has recently been produced is the St. Ives Community Charter in Cornwall.


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.

We have been learning a lot about what people value about the River Dart.  On our desks are huge piles of postcard questionnaires (the online version is at the bottom of this page), dozens of drawings and quotes. We are pulling together all of this information and will be creating a draft Charter at our River Dart Charter Making Workshop.

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