Students for Rivers Camp

The last Students for Rivers Camp took place on the Dart River in the UK, from September 3rd to September 10th, 2023. Below you find the information for this camp, to give you an idea of what such an interdisciplinary gathering looks like!

The River Collective invites 30 bachelors, masters and PhD students from around the world, representing a diverse range of disciplines, to the Students for Rivers Camp (SRC) on the River Dart and Estuary, south-west England. For the 5th annual SRC in 2023, the River Collective is taking a new direction through a source-to-sea exploration of the Dart, combining science, art and community empowerment for an interdisciplinary and intercultural education. A week-long programme of workshops, lectures and practical fieldwork training will engage students in the protection of free-flowing and thriving rivers and coastal ecosystems. The SRC base will be located along the banks of the winding River Dart, where participants will return to each day after learning from local river and coastal communities, researchers and experts, inspiring creative collaborations between participants.

We discuss the future of river and coastal ecosystems in the context of a fast-changing planet and the power of community-led action in protecting these most vulnerable habitats. Students will expand their ideas by asking questions at the forefront of environmental and social sciences; how can nature-based solutions be used to restore healthy, thriving ecosystems? How can we reestablish the connection between nature and people in the quest for resilient climate change solutions?

Our aim is to celebrate rivers, from source to sea, and learn from local communities in the protection of the natural world to sustain a healthy living environment (social, economic, and environmental) for all species including humans. Through the case study experience of the Dart Valley, which has parallels to many threatened rivers worldwide, the SRC provides an entry point for future scientists, artists, lawyers and other experts to take an active role in river conservation.

Flowing through granite moorland, temperate rainforests, and small villages and towns including Buckfastleigh and Totnes, the Dart travels 75 km before joining the sea at Dartmouth and Kingswear inside the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and South Hams district. Local residents and visitors from afar enjoy the river and coastal waters for recreational swimming, kayaking, fishing and hiking throughout the year, with the local tourism industry benefiting from the natural beauty of the valley. In 2019, the Dart Estuary Marine Conservation Zone was designated in recognition of the Dart’s rich coastal saltmarshes and intertidal habitat. However, the Dart faces increasing pressures. Several sources of pollution combined with geological but also anthropogenic factors threaten the river and cause e.g. the risk of flooding during flash flood events. In recent years, communities within the Dart catchment have additionally expressed concern over the lack of water flowing through this valley and there has been a rise in outdoor swimmers calling the bathing water quality of the Dart into question. Though, the Dart is home to a strong community of willing and dedicated river defenders who are actively involved with citizen science opportunities to monitor the health of the water. The challenges and successes of managing this catchment presents an opportunity to introduce students to river-to-coast approaches in water conservation and protection, highlight the need for strong partnerships and inclusive community engagement to deliver climate-resilient solutions for the world’s rivers.

The Students for Rivers Camp is open for Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD students from ALL disciplines. If you are not currently enrolled in a university, you are still welcome to participate – just send us an email regarding your situation. If you live in the UK and are interested in participating as a non-student, we are also happy to hear from you! (If in doubt, feel free to send us a quick message.) We hope to welcome 15 students from the UK, and 15 students from the rest of Europe. We specifically invite students for the Balkan region and Ukraine. 

Also, it is worth noting that you do not need any kayak or raft experience to join the camp!

The program of the camp is aimed to give space for creative discussions. Just like there are endless ways to describe a river, there are endless thoughts on why and how to protect rivers. This year we are taking a new approach through a river-to-coast exploration of our chosen catchment; the Dart. Throughout the days, we will address several questions together with you and with the experts, and collect valuable biodiversity data through immersive experiences. The talks and workshops provide different perspectives that help you get closer to an understanding of what the protection of aquatic ecosystems means to you, and what your role can be. Find a description of the themes of the camp below:

Welcome: After your arrival to Schumacher College on the banks of the River Dart, you will pitch up your tent and be welcomed with a good meal. We have some activities prepared to get to know each other and the organizing team. 

Experiencing the Dart: Often, the best way to learn about a new environment is to just dive into it head-first. In groups, we will go out to explore different sites in the Dart Valley and get our bodies down to the geography of the place. How does the river interact with its surrounding landscapes from source to sea and how does human activity interact with nature?

During the week, we will practice a Home River Bioblitz, where we will get to know the biodiversity of the River Dart. We will compare this with a bioblitz in the coastal area, learning about how life transitions between freshwater and marine ecosystems. All experiences will be shared during a participatory creative mapping and animationsession, where we will learn new skills in science communication, later in the week. 

What is a river? Some see a river as a water body that flows from the mountains to the ocean, some see it as a playground and others prefer asking the question ‘Who is a river?’ and answer it with ‘our ancestor’. We will learn about the history of the Dart valley by taking to the water during a canoe tour of the Dart estuary, as well as the possible futures of the River Dart and Estuary by hearing from local experts. If you would prefer not to participate in any water-based activities, you can let us know and we will consider an alternative activity for you. 

Why protect a river? Aquatic ecosystems are facing a challenging combination of pressures from rising global temperatures, changes to rainfall, invasive species, land management practices, and a cocktail of pollutants, including chemicals, microplastics, pharmaceuticals. The majority of UK rivers fail to have ‘good ecological status’, with only 14% of waterways in England, 46% in Wales,  50% in Scotland and 31% in Northern Ireland reaching the threshold. During panel discussions with local experts, artists, and outdoor explorers, we will discuss why it is important to hold onto the few remaining water bodies in good ecological health and what we can do to restore those we have lost. We discuss the context of the protection of the Dart river and coastal zone in relation to global climate change. What is the story we want to tell and how could this align with climate activists, rather than oppose them? 

How to protect a river? Worldwide, people celebrate and defend the places they love. We seek inspiration from river projects around the world, as well as inspiring stories of citizen science activities in the Dart and its neighbouring river catchments. 

However, you don’t have to call yourself an activist to turn your knowledge into action. We talk to scientists, business owners, outdoor athletes and legal experts that, through their careers, contribute to healthy and free-flowing rivers and thriving coastal ecosystems. 

Evening Activities In the evenings, we will leave the space so stories can be told. The camp is set in the beautiful location of Dartington Estate with signposted riverside walks – you may even spot a seal if you venture to the tidal limit of the Dart! Public transport is available into Totnes town where there are restaurants and cafes. We will also welcome a theatre performance where we explore how creative arts can bring lasting impact and encourage positive environmental action. 

Dart Fest! Get to action: This last full day of the camp, we turn all we learned into action. We will be launching a 1-day community water festival; Dart Fest! This will give you the opportunity to meet Schumacher students and local residents and share what you have learnt about the Dart during the week. Here we will present work created during the creative mapping and animation session, guided by experienced fellow PhD researchers.

Cordelia Roberts

Cordelia is a microbial ecologist. She is particularly interested in the unstudied marine fungi and how they contribute to carbon cycling, but also is interested in other protists/microbial eukaryotes and bacteria and their importance within nutrient cycling. Her study sites of interest include where land meets water such as estuaries and coastal oceans, as well as more open ocean environments like the Southern Ocean. She loves talking about her own and others’ science, even whilst she is in the sea swimming. She really enjoys using stop-motion animation as a tool, and hopes to show you some insights on how you can make your own!

Jazz Austin

Jazz is the Dartmoor Headwaters Coordinator at Dartmoor National Park managing a programme of work to help reduce flood risk to local communities through natural flood management and progress nature recovery goals. Previously, Jazz has worked in a national water policy role for the RSPB and was the Vice Chair for Wildlife and Countryside Link’s Blueprint for Water Group.

Tom Dauben

Tom works for the Environment Agency and is Senior Advisor for flood and coastal risk management in Devon. His role includes developing strategies to help communities become resilient to flooding and coastal change and adapt to climate risks.  He leads a partnership between the Environment Agency, Dartmoor National Park Authority and Devon County Council to deliver the Dartmoor Headwaters project. The project is working in the River Dart catchment and is using nature based solutions to increase resilience to flooding originating on the moor, whilst also exploring opportunities to restore and enhance habitat and store carbon.

Sofie Paulus

Sofie is a rock-climber and currently working at a German university as a PhD student in Sportecology. Since last year she’s actively involved in strengthening the Ecopoint movement and works with different local partners on opportunities to promote public transports and environmentally friendly climbing.

Jasmin Dorinda

Jaz is an ecologist specialising in the land-to-sea connection between ecohydrology and climate science. Jasmin previously worked for the Environment Agency and Devon Wildlife Trust, building her knowledge in water quality monitoring and ecosystem restoration for people and wildlife conservation. She is half way through a PhD working with Plymouth Marine Laboratory, the University of East Anglia and Sercon Ltd. to refine methods in monitoring hydrological influences on greenhouse gas emissions from natural sources, including rivers, estuaries and coastal waters. Jasmin will be talking about flow – exploring hydrological connectivity beyond the water itself.  

Travel: The camp takes place at Schumacher College, Dartington, Devon, UK.. The nearest train station is Totnes. It is possible to walk along the River Dart from Totnes station to the campsite, otherwise there are bus services available and we recommend making use of these if arriving in the evening. To get to Wales there by train from mainland Europe it is probably the best option to travel to Brussels and then take the Eurostar to London. From London a regional train brings you to Totnes. If you decide to come by car, we encourage you to travel together and we will help you connect with the other participants. If you need to fly, consider the option to fly into Bristol or Exeter, otherwise most international flights will arrive into London airports where there are coach services or connecting trains to Totnes.  We can advise you on local services and connect you with others traveling from the same location – please reach out if you’d like more information at any time!

Camping: We will be camping outdoors. No experience is needed, but be ready to experience outdoor living!If you do not have camping equipment (tent, sleeping bag) we can provide this. Temperatures will be mild in September, but the evenings can get cold. We will provide a full kit list close to the time of the camp so you will have everything you need for an enjoyable experience.

Participation Fee: We ask participants to pay a contribution that helps us to cover expenses like food, logistics, camping, and the River Experience. The total amount requested is £ 300,- for Bachelor and Master students and £ 500,- for PhD students. If you, as a PhD student, cannot get the contribution funded through your institution, please notify us through the application form and you will pay the same amount as Bachelor and Master students. 

Scholarships We do not want your financial situation to be the reason why you cannot participate in the SRC. If you are not able to pay this contribution or need support financing travel arrangements, please let us know in the application form. We have some scholarship options available.


Dates to keep in mind
Extended application deadline: May 20th, 2023
Selection announcement: June 1st 2023
Students for Rivers Camp: September 3rd-10th 2023
Dart Fest: September 9th 2023

You can help us spread the word by sharing our messages on Instagram (@therivercollective), Facebook (@rivercollectiveriver) or Twitter (@collectiveriver). Or download our amazing poster made by Ali North by saving the image on this link and hang it at your university! (Find Ali on Instagram)

This Students for Rivers Camp is a collaboration with the Schumacher College and is supported by our business member NRS. We are still looking for further support. For more info, see