Seeing South Devon as a "bio-region" - which makes all kinds of new connections possible


We are loving the range of voices and initiatives that are contacting us from Plymouth and South Devon, as a consequence of our Friendly last week. What we love most of all is the often effortless mix of levels of citizenship they have. We try to capture this in our phrase "I - We - World" - where the health of the individual, the community (existing or imagined), and the planet are all mutually implied. 

So thanks to Isabel Carlisle, Director of The Bioregional Learning Centre based in South Devon, for introducing us to their profound vision and complex range of interventions. It begins with defining brilliantly what a "bio-region" is: 

A bioregion is an invisible natural system that is vital to our existence. When we acknowledge our bioregion – our natural limits – and the ecologies and economies within it, we can feel more connection to the life of that place and with each other. What does this mean in terms of our everyday lives?

...Such an area must be large enough to maintain the integrity of the region’s biological communities, habitats, and ecosystems; to support important ecological processes, such as nutrient and waste cycling, migration, and stream flow; to meet the habitat requirements of keystone and indicator species; and to include the human communities involved in the management, use, and understanding of biological resources. 

It must be small enough for local residents to consider it home... A bioregion is also defined by its people. It must have a unique cultural identity and be a place in which local residents have the primary right to determine their own development. 

This primary right does not, however, imply an absolute right. Rather, it means that the livelihoods, claims, and interests of local communities should be both the starting point and the criteria for regional development and conservation.  Within that framework many other state, investor, and other economic interests must be accommodated.

This project is a learning centre - so their job is to educate those in the South Devon "bioregion" (defined here, and pictured to the left) about how they might think of themselves hanging together this way, as a whole system. There are four education programmes: 

An ecology programme to a) engage citizens in taking care of the environment and b) work at whole-systems level (food, energy, water, waste, fibre and the connections between them). See the River Keepers Initiative.

An arts and design programme that gives local people a greater sense of belonging, and opens up the question of what it means to be a citizen of this place. Imagining our shared future is central to the brief that will be given to artists. We will engage the arts with ecology and economy and create events that open up our imaginations. We are particularly interested in mentoring/training young adults in curating arts installations and engagements. See The Archimedes Screw FestBioregionalism by Design and Let's Talk Dart.

An economy programme that promotes sustainable, low-carbon enterprise as an existing feature of this region... Our community-and-business generated future economic scenarios will inform next steps: skills and business training for a greener wellbeing economy; green investment for our area; and community-led problem solving, creating livelihoods and new community enterprise in the gaps in social services.

A learning programme that offers direct experience of real-world problem-solving in the context of sustainable economies and ecologies. 

The Bioregional Learning Centre has an ambitious programme, and is connecting with local education and development authorities to build an understanding of South Devon as a bioregion. We are constantly amazed at and inspired by the environmental literacy on display in this part of the world. What levels of power and voice can it reach?