The Pumlumon Project's ethos of working with the communities who are already connected to the land makes it a particularly relevant project for the Hydrocitizenship team to consider.
'Effectively the Pumlumon project came about because it was recognised that there was a number of threats in the Welsh uplands; threats to biodiversity, which was our first interest as a wildlife trust, but also threats to the way that people engage with the landscape. Agricultural income was falling, the environment was declining, and these were all thought to be very separate things, until we started looking into the situation a bit more closely and we discovered that they were all very tightly interlinked. So the way that the land was being managed, or not managed, was having a significant impact on the quality of the environment that was up there and therefore the quality of habitat and the different types of wildlife that you would encounter.'
Essentially, the Trust is working to restore very drained peat-bogs in a landscape that has suffered from intensive sheep farming. They have explored and promoted a range of solutions to this problem, such as advocating for some agriculturally marginal land to be kept sheep-free. This would allow trees and shrubs to grow (in gullies for instance), drawing water from the land with their complex root systems. There are benefits to all if nutrients can be drawn and held in the landscape, rather than washing into the sea. Such measures to restore the peat, and hold water in the land will also slow the flow of water downstream and help with flooding. Locking carbon into the peat will help to control emissions, relevant to climate change. Helping to explain these connections to the communities involved is an important aspect of the work.
'The most important message that we’d like to get across is that all individuals have a role to play in the water as it moves through their community.'
This means being far more conscious of water, for example: using it responsibly, thinking about how to make our own gardens more permeable, making sure that septic tanks are empty, and collecting rainwater. A particular characteristic of ecological citizenship is that it shifts more weight towards responsibilities, rather than rights (as Andrew Dobson explains here): 'The source of the ecological citizen's obligation does not lie in reciprocity or mutual advantage, but in a non-reciprocal sense of justice, or of compassion.' Although acts of ecological citizenship can provide direct benefits for individuals and communities, that is not the primary motivation. Rather than having some kind of contract with the state, we have a set of obligations towards strangers, 'distant in time, as well as in space' (p6). Thinking of 'downstream' and 'upstream' responsibilities means acting in real, physical ways, but also conveys something more abstract; it is a commitment to act for those that we may never know, including the non-human.
'I think that method of word-of -mouth communication is something that works particularly well here in Wales, and is probably more effective than any other form of marketing or trying to force policies on people.'
'I think it’s necessary to go to events and explain what’s happening, and also to give power, to empower the individual and small communities, into believing that what they do matters, and it’s not always that they give the responsibility to someone else, to government agencies, to water authorities, that it’s always someone else’s fault. Because there’s an awful lot that we can do as individuals and communities, and I think that people don’t realise that really. I also don’t think that they would expect Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust to be leading such an initiative and I think it’s important to explain that to them.'
Indeed, the Wildlife Trust may not be the first organisation to come to mind when considering the issue of flooding, and its effects on human communities. Yet Liz presents a compelling argument:
'What’s really crucial is that now the scientific community is presenting strong arguments that a healthy and robust natural environment is very, very tightly related to a healthy and robust economy, and that of course then has significant effects on our social environment. So it’s all very much inter-related. We, as a wildlife trust – it’s no longer just about what’s outdoors. It’s about how people engage with that landscape, and the quality of their lives, as well.'
It does certainly seems like a false distinction to separate the ecological and social.