Re-awakening people’s environmental values.
In New Zealand, the indigenous Maori there have a saying that “I am the river, and the river is me”. In 2017 the Whanganui river in New Zealand was given legal personhood with the rights not to be harmed and to flow freely from source to sea. Any person could, on behalf of the river, go to court if they felt that these rights were being infringed.
Could the same be done to protect rivers in the UK? The Bioregional Learning Centre, a small UK non-governmental organisation based in Devon, wanted to find out. So, alongside the South Devon Catchments Partnership and the Dartington Trust, it set itself the challenge of creating a charter for the river Dart, one of the most iconic rivers in the UK. Charters are nothing new to the UK – the most famous being the Magna Carta which was issued in the reign of King John in 1215. More recently, a charter for Falkirk, Scotland was developed which helped secure a moratorium on local fracking. A Dart charter would aim to reflect peoples shared values and what they care about the river and help engage communities in co-stewarding the water in the Dart catchment in partnership with statutory authorities and landowners. It would give rights to the Dart water cycle, while local people would protect those rights.