As part of our River Festival last September, delivered in partnership with the Railway Wildlife Trust, Love our Ouse invited the public to participate in our community mapping activity. This consisted of a large interactive map taking in the whole length of the Ouse and surrounding 4km of land. People were asked to share their concerns and experiences and mark key features of the river by writing on post it notes which they stuck directly on the map. The brief was pretty broad but was tailored around our three pillars: Celebrate, Learn and Act. It was a popular activity, gathering 128 entries.
At first glance, when reviewing the content, we were a bit disappointed that entries weren’t more hard hitting. The multitude of problems the river faces and possible solutions featured little. Comments seemed brief, obvious and a bit fluffy. However, the more we started categorising the comments into themes and looking at the correlations between them, we found it more and more insightful and a poignant snapshot of how people regard and relate with the Ouse.
Locals describe a much loved river
Most striking was that comments were overwhelmingly positive, very descriptive and personal. Some were even reverent. Of course, the festival likely attracted those who already have a vested interest and it being a ‘festival’ probably invoked a heightened sense of celebration.
A majority of entries combine three or four common features; a specific place, the way they interact with the river, what it means to them and often an animal species too. Here are a few examples:
“I cycled from Newhaven to Lewes and back. Also sailed a dinghy to Lewes from Newhaven – magical!”
“Piddinghoe. The river there is my spiritual home- my church…swim there every day if I can! Nature heaven…egrets, swans, cormorants, gulls, kingfisher and sometimes blessed with a seal!”
“Massive flock of honking geese flew over us on our 3rd date here, Barcombe Mills.”
It’s overwhelmingly clear that the river is pretty active in hosting a wide variety of recreational activities. Nature spotting was the highest ranking activity at 30%, swimming at 23% and combined kayaking/canoeing/paddleboarding at 13%. Unsurprisingly Barcombe Mills and Southease/Piddinghoe areas were the most densely populated with comments. People mentioned 19 species including invertebrates, birds and fish. Kingfishers were the most popular.
Here are the descriptive words used. It’s important to view them all together. It is a touching and vibrant tribute. Poetry in the making:
Lovely, lucky, love, like, favourite, magical, great, wonderful, beautiful, perfect, best, sacred, enjoyed, enjoy, better, stunning, spiritual home, long, celebrate, flowing fast, memories, hidden, sacred, launch, chute, flew, honking, safely, dredged, working, abounds, heart shaped, flow, wild flow, dreaming, my church, nature heaven, blessed, secret delight, life, bank, massive, escaping, stomach problems, water, clean, septic, cut, lifeblood, growth, catch, essential, priority, dipping, diving, jumping, paddle, polluted, protected, blessing.
Connecting people with their local waterways is a powerful means of protection
It became easy to draw simple, and probably obvious, but powerful conclusions. Interacting with the river builds strong connections to place, positive affirmations and lasting memories. There is also a plethora of well-being associations and implications.
It has bolstered our belief that investing in connecting people with their local waterways in celebratory and practical ways is a powerful means to mobilise upscaled action to protect and enhance our river. In the wise words of Oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau: “People protect what they love, they love what they understand and they understand what they are taught.”
It’s an important reminder that water unites us. We are still animals gathering around the watering hole. We are interconnected and explicitly reliant on each other not only for our survival but for pleasure and a sense of belonging. It’s encouraging to have the evidence that all sorts of local people really do Love their Ouse.
Love our Ouse is planning an exciting year of events in their ‘River People Tour’, creating opportunities for people all along the Ouse to take part in the community mapping, as well as a range of other exciting river focused activities. See https://loveourouse.org/
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