River Rights Fellowships
In addition to representing the natural world in the courts under the current laws, Lawyers for Nature also campaigns for the natural world to have proper legal rights. One of the most pressing such demands is for rivers to have legal rights.
When people first hear the idea of a river having legal rights, they often wonder what that can mean and there is still much discussion about what the content of the rights should be. One of the most comprehensive examples so far drafted is in the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Rivers by the Earth Law Center. The full declaration is at the link below, but it includes such rights as the right to flow, the right to be free of pollution and the rights to restoration and regeneration:
These rights have been given to rivers in a number of countries around the world, from New Zealand to Ecuador. In the UK we are a long way from seeing Parliament or the courts granting rights to rivers in general, but there have been successes at a local level, with the River Frome being granted rights under local byelaws and similar campaigns starting for other rivers (eg the River Dart). Given that it’s at a local level that such campaigns are most likely to work, we believe that as many rivers as possible should have local campaigners and advocates for their rights.
A group of people who already look out for our rivers are boaters, given that they spend much of their lives on and around the water. Therefore, we would like to encourage boaters to become more engaged with the rivers they live on by offering a number of River Rights Fellowships. In return for spending 10 hours a week dedicated to championing the rights of the river they are moored on, those undertaking the fellowship will receive a free mooring on that river for their boat.
What would advocating the rights of the river look like? Given this is the first iteration of the fellowship, we would want to keep that question reasonably broad and leave it (with some guidance) to each person to decide what to do. Some ideas would be:
- Researching what rights other rivers around the world have been given and which of these rights would be most applicable to their river.
- Researching how river rights campaigns in the UK have been carried out and what options are most likely to be successful.
- Joining up existing organisations and charities involved with the river and seeing if they would support it being given rights.
- Working out how these rights might apply in a practical sense on the river (eg how could pollution be stopped or reduced? How could the river begin to be restored? Etc).
- Undertaking practical activities out on the river to begin upholding it’s rights (eg organising rubbish collection days, planting trees, removing non-native species etc).
There are currently three fellowships available, two on the River Medway and one on the River Stort. The moorings have been donated by a riparian landowner who believes in the idea of river rights. It is hoped that if the fellowship is successful, other riparian landowners will donate moorings to allow the scheme to be extended to other rivers.
If you’re interested in applying for a River Rights Fellowship mooring, or if you have any questions, do get in touch at email@example.com