• Posted on: 5 July 2021
  • By: Tony


Julie Kavanagh came to the declaration of the rights of the River Cam with an eye on how she could convey the messages of the event more widely. She explains how important nature has become to her and others during the pandemic, how this has been expressed through art, and how this might help to spread support for river rights.

She writes:

“For the past Covid year or so I have been entertaining myself, and the children on our street with various nature-based art activities.  These have included painting and naming butterflies, caterpillars, insects and wildflowers as they appear locally, onto pebbles for children to collect and on pictures for displaying in our front windows.  I’ve painted pictures of wildlife and birds that neighbours have seen, made “stained glass” spring flowers and many rainbows.  The message is: “Nature Lives Here Too”.  A friend has been naming and chalking around urban plants that grow wild on our pavements, aiming to change our perception of them through the link: www.morethanweeds.co.uk

We went to the Friends of the Cam event to declare the Rights of the River with environmental art already in our minds.  I loved the visual impact of the blue river spirits and was very moved as we read out the rights of the River together. One of the speakers suggested we put the declaration in our windows, but it would be difficult for people to read the whole declaration as they pass, so on our weekly ArtSkype session my friend and I shared other ideas.  We read the declaration again picking out words and images we liked.  We loved the words chalk stream and aquifers (we had to look this up)! and the notion of making friends with and being guardians of the river.  

So, I’ve used chalks on blue paper for an abstract pattern of chalk streams, and painted pictures of some of the visible life on a healthy river that everyone loves to see and protect.  We tried to think of simple phrases that might mean more than “keep the river clean”.  I have started with: “Be a guardian of the River Cam” and “Protect the chalk streams that feed our river Cam”.

We’re still working on a good way to convey the idea of river rights. I’m sure others can find simple phrases to get the messages across – and explore the many ways to illustrate them on paper, pebbles and fabric, using chalks, paintings, collages and 3D art.  You don’t have to be a great artist to make something colourful that conveys your message.