Knowing that rivers are essential for life:

Rivers are essential to life. They support a diversity of species and ecosystems, feed wetlands and other habitats, deliver nutrients to estuaries and seas, and carry sediments to river deltas that should teem with life.

Rivers play a vital role in the Earth’s water cycle. This requires careful maintenance of their catchments and floodplains.

People are dependent on rivers for clean water for drinking, for recreation and culture, and nourishment of the human spirit.

Recognising that our river is under threat:

The threats to our rivers are connected to the climate and biodiversity emergencies that threaten all life on earth.

Our river and its tributaries is polluted with sewage effluent, with nutrients and sediment from agricultural run-off, with poor quality surface water run-off from our urban surfaces and highways and with microplastics and other waste from careless human activity. Such pollution endangers the health of the river, human health, and our enjoyment of the river.

Natural flows are vital to the survival of the river’s ecosystems and the ecosystems of its banks and associated wetlands. Excessive abstraction of water from the River Wharfe has reduced its natural flow and threatens its future as a living body of water.

The degradation of blanket bogs on the hills through which it runs has increased the speed of rise and fall in river levels, leading to flooding in the communities through which it runs.

Climate change, also caused by human activity, is exacerbating these problems and impeding our ability to mitigate their effects.

The River has been adversely affected for generations by human changes to its banks, and encroachment on its flood plains. The increase in buildings and infrastructure on flood plains will increase the risk of flooding in the adjacent communities, and will fragment habitats, reduce biodiversity, imperil fish populations, and the retention of sediments and nutrients, fundamental to downstream ecosystem health. It will directly affect the flow of the River and its streams. It will exacerbate climate change that rebounds on river health.

National and international laws are inadequate to protect the health of rivers and river basins. These laws fail to ensure the provision of adequate supplies of clean water to present and future life.

Acting in solidarity with communities across the Earth:

We are part of a growing worldwide movement seeking to reverse environmental degradation through the recognition of nature rights, including river rights. In sharing rights with rivers, we show our determination to end the human exploitation of nature and instead, to live in harmony with it.

Declaring the rights of the River Wharfe:

We therefore declare that the River Wharfe, its tributaries, and aquifers have the following rights arising from their very existence in nature:

• The right to flow and be free from over-abstraction.
• The right to be free from pollution.
• The right to perform its essential functions of flooding and moving within its floodplain, recharging groundwater, and sustaining biodiversity.
• The right to feed and be fed by sustainable aquifers.
• The right to native biodiversity.
• The right to restoration.
• The right to maintain its connections with other streams and rivers.

In declaring the rights of the River Wharfe, we are, at the same time, declaring the rights of all rivers. We acknowledge especially, the rights of the River Ouse into which it flows and carries its water to the sea..

Pledging to be guardians:

We pledge to act as Guardians of the River Wharfe reducing the threats to its health and survival. We call on all people to engage with the River in a relationship of respect and stewardship and to cease its exploitation.

Adapted from the Draft Universal Declaration of the Rights of Rivers, by the Ilkley Clean River Group