The Cascadia Department of Bioregion is excited to share this case study featuring the Bioregional Learning Centre located in the South Devon bioregion in the United Kingdom and explore how this group of passionate artists, academics and organizers has adapted bioregional organizing strategies to their watersheds. Read more on their website, and follow their twitter here.
What is the Bioregional Learning Centre…?
The Bioregional Learning Centre is a education and social movement organization located in South Devon in the United Kingdom, and defines itself in geographical rather than political boundaries.
For those unfamiliar, Devon is a county in southwest England that is encompassed by sandy beaches, fossil cliffs, medieval towns and moorland national parks. The English Riviera is a series of picturesque, south-coast harbour towns including Torquay, Paignton and Brixham. The South West Coast Path follows the coastline, taking in the towering cliffs of the northern Exmoor Coast and rock formations on the fossil-rich southern Jurassic Coast. South Devon is the southern part of Devon, England. Because Devon has its major population centres on its two coasts, the county is divided informally into North Devon and South Devon.
The Bioregional Centre is established as a Community Interest Company (CIC) to be a backbone organisation serving the sustainable and resilient future of this area. This is similar to how the organization CascadiaNow! was established as a 501(c)3 fiscal sponsorship and administrative backbone organization – but takes an extra step to focus on bringing statutory bodies, NGOs, individuals and communities together to address whole-systems change towards a flourishing bioregion. That means finding practical ways to work collaboratively towards long-term economic and ecological resilience.
Their Mission: To grow a learning network reflective of this region’s uniqueness through which we collaborate, co-create and tackle real world problems.
Their Vision: A flourishing, resilient, bioregion where we are inspired to find purpose, and where we care for the ecology, economy and culture of this place we call home.
Their Purpose: We believe that by working together in practical and imaginative ways, citizens of South Devon can more effectively look after their natural assets, regenerate regional systems for food, water, energy and waste and enjoy life.
In addition, they focus on:
ECOLOGY: Engaging and empowering citizens to care for their environment and to work at whole-systems level.
ARTS: Giving local people a greater sense of belonging and opening up the question of what it means to be a citizen of this place.
ECONOMY: Promoting sustainable, low-carbon enterprise in this region as part of a long-term resilience strategy
LEARNING: Creating a learning region that offers direct & enjoyable experiences of ‘real-world problem-solving’ to people of all ages
How does the Bioregional Learning Centre define bioregionalism?
A good definition is provided by the World Resources Institute:
“A bio-region is a land and water territory whose limits are defined not by political boundaries, but by the geographical limits of human communities and ecological systems. 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 would typically embrace thousands to hundreds of thousands of hectares. It may be no bigger than a small watershed or as large as a small state or province. In special cases, a bioregion might span the borders of two or more countries.
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.
Within a bioregion lies a mosaic of land or aquatic uses. Each patch provides habitats in which different species survive and flourish, and each has its own particular relationship to the region’s human population. All the elements of the mosaic are interactive; the management of a watershed affects riverine habitats, farms, estuaries, fisheries, and coral reefs. The components are also dynamic; each changes over time as rivers change course, fallow fields regenerate, storms batter coasts, and fires ravage forests. This dynamism gives a well-managed bioregion the resilience and flexibility to adapt to natural evolution and human-induced activity—be it changing climate or changing markets.
Within this ecological and social framework, governmental, community, corporate, and other private interests share responsibility for coordinating land-use planning for both public and private land and for defining and implementing development options that will ensure that human needs are met in a sustainable way. Innovative forms of institutional integration and social cooperation are needed to meet these needs. Dialogue among all interests, participatory planning, and great institutional flexibility are essential. A wide range of conservation tools and technologies must also be brought to bear—among them, protected-areas management, ex situ technologies, landscape restoration, and sustainable management of such resources as forests, fisheries, and croplands.”