The River Plym Project is a partnership between Barbican Theatre Plymouth, Devon Wildlife Trust, and Plymouth Sound National Marine Park. The project is made possible by funding from Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.
The River Plym travels 30 miles from bog, to city, to the sea. If communities know their river much better, can they work together to improve the river’s health?
This 8 month fact-finding project is about understanding community engagement along the River Plym. We will be working with the resident communities along the length of the River Plym – from businesses, to homeowners, community groups and informal networks who engage with the river.
We will be exploring whether there is interest in restoring ecosystem health by granting rights of nature to their river.
“This project is a radical departure from the traditional ways we’ve looked at the future ecological health of the River – because we’re putting communities and the rights of rivers at the heart of it.” Pete Burgess, Devon Wildlife Trust.
Barbican Theatre and the River Plym Project Partners are excited to be able to explore the following questions- and will be running a host of community workshops, outreach projects and surveys over the next 6 months and would LOVE to hear from any individuals or organisations who would like to get involved.
Who isn’t engaging with the river Plym- what are the barriers and why are they not feeling connected to one of the primary ecological systems in the area.
Who is- and what are their own ambitions, and how can we design a project that reflects and supports that citizen led leaderships and changemaking?
What happens if we consider a river as a citizen?
How could this potentially shift the power and control back to nature and multi-generational care and respect.
How do we change the narrative not just for this river, but many like it?
“It’s our passion at the Barbican Theatre to create space for communities to find their own creative voice and to give it a platform- this project is a really brilliant way for us to do this, whilst getting to learn and explore our passion for green arts, our environment and city’s future” Laura Kriefman CEO and AD Barbican Theatre
Alongside our work across the River Plym Community we will be working with legal experts to understand:
Who is leading the way in the UK and Worldwide and how can we learn from them?
What legal precedent is there for the full project to build off of?
Where does water have the right to flow?
The Partners intend to plan and apply for funding for a multi year project as a consequence of this research, which will approach the idea of the River Plym as a citizen from a whole new approach:
“For many, many years conservation is something we’ve done to people, not with people. We need to join up the rights of nature with the rights of people. That’s got to lead to better outcomes.” Elaine Hayes, CEO Plymouth Sound National Marine Park
The Geographic History:
The river Plym rises on the deep peatlands of Dartmoor and travels 30 miles through moors, dense temperate rainforests, and urban landscapes to the sea at Plymouth. The river connects our most highly designated sites both in marine and terrestrial environments. The city is named after the river.
Through its history the river and its surroundings have been exploited by people and this has left an indelible imprint on the river, its catchment, the quality and resilience of the water resources, the species and habitats.
Decades of regulation have not achieved what the River Plym and its catchment so desperately needs. Pollution from abandoned mines, towns, cities and transport, physical modifications, and changes to the natural flow of the river, exert chronic pressures on the Plym’s health. The Plym hasn’t received the flagship protected status of its sister river the Tamar. This means the Plym does not have the same plethora of designations, projects, and programmes that benefit the Tamar.
The Plym passes through huge areas experiencing social-economic deprivation. It flows through the heart of very localised multi-generational communities with long term connections to the Plym across 100-200 years. The river passes Sewage Treatment Plants and industrial landscapes and agricultural silos. It has few swimming places and access is very variable limiting opportunities for community engagement.