Water and the Dart
We don’t have a “water group”.
That there are Transitioners here thinking about water issues, I have no doubt. Water conservation is a chapter in the Transition Streets programme. “If it’s yellow, let it mellow” is a common mantra. One can’t even begin to contemplate climate change without thinking about sea level rise and rainfall patterns. It’s rained almost everyday in June, and while every Britisher will talk about the strange weather under his or her brolly, those in the know recite the causal factors: warm air carries more moisture, therefore more rain, and therefore this deviation from the norm is simply another example of global warming. In other conversations, the topic of water may turn to the problems of fresh water access for millions of people in other parts of the globe. Chris at Oxfam and Minni at Earthlinks UK are two local superstars in that regard.
But these important issues are abstract for the local consciousness and do not readily translate into local resilience-building projects. Someday, when drought comes or when erosion from heavy rainfall events becomes too much to ignore, those realities will inevitably lead to rainwater harvesting and greywater workshops, a range of projects to combat runoff and its effects, and maybe even an official TTT water group. In the meantime, there is the reality of the river.
The Dart begins as a drop somewhere up in the moor, twenty-something miles from Totnes, and then on it flows another 7 or 8 miles to the sea. It once formed the heart of the old economy here and now is a pretty tourist attraction. Up until only about twenty years ago, timber-laden cargo ships were piloted up to Baltic Wharf, which is now a boatyard and will soon become a housing development. The bulk of river traffic now comprises tourist ferries, skulls, a few kayaks, sailboats and pleasure craft.
This is where Hal Gillmore often begins his story of Totnes when conducting “Transition Tours” for TTT.
“For hundreds of years this was an important port. In a blink of historical time, petrol and the automobile wiped out the need for this form transport. You can see how all the infrastructure that once supported river transport has been converted to housing,” he says, pointing to the flats that were once warehouses along what was once quayside. “Now the last bit, maybe one of the most important bits in terms of the long-term resilience of our town, is going to be lost for more homes. How long before we might need to be a port town again? We might need that connection to the wider world.”
The Dart is central to many of the narratives Hal develops for his livelihood as trainer and educator. In addition to the Transition Tours, his new company Big Green Canoe, also delivers deep ecology based programmes for young people and professionals building personal resilience. Source to Sea, a new programme, will help participants connect deeply with Gaia theory and the river.
It was natural that Hal would join up with Isabel to help develop the watershed mapping project that she wrote about the other day. I’m fortunate to be a part of that effort, too. What we share is the belief that rivers and watersheds connect us to each other and the world in a profound way, although most of us have little awareness of that fact. Our industrial culture has variously crowded out or crushed that kind of indigenous awareness. To rediscover and cultivate it for one’s self requires effort. To help others make that shift requires massive effort. Bringing the practice of watershed mapping to young people in school and community groups seems a wise place to begin.
This awareness and the love for the river are not exclusive to Transition. A recent meeting sparked by a visiting marine scientist, Glenn Edney, aimed to begin building a coalition of groups throughout the watershed that would take responsibility for its health and well being. Glenn came from New Zealand for the Holistic Science programme at Schumacher and brought with him the knowledge that plastic poses one of the greatest threats to the health of marine ecosystems. Plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller bits, ingested by smaller and smaller organisms, including plankton, the base of the oceanic food chain. The proximate source of plastic is shoreline and river systems, and so the genesis of his idea to form a group to clean plastic from the Dart.
It’s very early days – the first meeting was only a few weeks ago – but it looks like there is interest from the AONB, Dartington, Devon Wildlife Trust, Encounters Arts, National Trust, South Hams District Council, Transition, with a leading role being played by Chris and Rebeh of Wild Wise. And it may be that an initial clean up day in the autumn will lead to a range of ongoing awareness raising activities and art projects. Perhaps a ban on plastic bags and styrofoam will not be far off, too.
Ultimately, these efforts may prove to be giant leaps toward re-establishing that sense of connection to the river and its natural catchment, and the relations between the communities that it home.
Images: Me and Chris Bird considering the effort required to haul water; Hal Gillmore; plastic food wrapper on bank of Dart River.