Monday19th March 2012

At last the Peatland film and booklet have been completed and today on a bright sunny, if a little chilly, spring day I took some copies to Brecon to distribute in various places. I saw Mrs Prosser again with her sheep, at this time of the year all ready for lambing.

On the way back to Worcester a very young lamb, only hours old, had somehow become separated from its mother and had ended up on the main Hereford to Worcester road. Two burly blokes traveling in opposite directions stopped to help the little thing, I left them trying to find a way back into the field of sheep in the hope that it could be reunited with its mum.  This act of compassion brought a very special moment to the day. A  human intervention, a little help offered to a vulnerable  creature lifts the spirits, even though the creature will  probably be slaughtered in a short while.

As I drove on I thought how the lamb symbolized the natural environment, lifted up and helped  to safety for the short term, but later to be sacrificed to satisfy human requirements .

For example my film looks at peat uplands, where there is a very big effort, often carried by groups of volunteers, to try and restore and protect these very important habitats

 However the government's environment adviser, Natural England, has scrapped plans to ban the burning of peatland on a grouse moor in the Pennines, even though the detrimental effects caused by burning these very fragile environments is very well understood and documented, except perhaps by those who pay to hunt and eat grouse and who would seem to have influence over our custodians of the countyside.

Voices in a Landscape

Friday 13 January 20012

The outcome of my Brecon project is a short docufilm that tries to look at the way in which lives and attitudes are richly imbedded in the landscape.The need for a secure livelyhood and good source of income is what drives decission making. But now more than ever this must be linked to the needs of the Earth and its ability to sustain mans activity in a more positive way.

     The Russian summer of 2010 was extremely hot; a series of peat fires started and burnt for several weeks producing acrid smoke high in nitrogen and carbon oxides that caused respiratory problems for many Muscovites. 

The peat took 300 years to accumulate and acted as a carbon sink. The fires burnt up to 10 times more biological mass per acre than an above-ground fire.

It is estimated that the Russian peat fires cost more in livelihoods, lives and was a bigger environmental disaster for the planet than the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster of the same year. 

           peat burn

     The film "Voices in a Landscape” focuses on the peat uplands of the Brecon Beacon

National Park and gives voice to some of the people who live and work there. Like the rest of us they too have dreams and aspirations for a reasonable living standard and life opportunities.

Waun Fignen Felen means the bog of the gorse, as gorse generally prefers dry areas, the name would imply the bog has been drying out for many years. Certainly, aerial photos taken before World War II show large areas of exposed peat. In recent times changes to weather patterns, farming and land management have contributed to a speeding up of this erosion. In 2000 the expanse of bare peat reached worrying levels, causing problems that affected the wider population. Peat runoff from the mountains reduced water quality and at times cut off public water supplies to a wide area .

The film 25 minute fiilm plus foldout booklet will shortly be on sale for £10. postage and package free. Please contact me directly via email.

CLIMATE CHANGE PROJECT UPDATE.

 

At a government level, an increased interest in carbon emissions and carbon trading has given rise to a new interest in these, generally, economically poor regions. 

Small scale restoration programmes similar to those set up by the Brecon Beacon National Park, which rely heavily on local volunteer groups, are trying to stem the flow or water loss from the bogs and restore the health of the sphagnum moss and thus enable the bog to function as a living breathing organism once more.

We may well learn from our past mistakes, but we can also learn from past successes.  Examples of sustainable land management have been practiced at different times throughout human existence. We all need to adjust and make changes not only to what we do, but how we view the Earth and the part we play in its existence.

 

 

When looking back over the material I have collected either as images or conversations, there appears to be a marked difference between those people who live in rural communities and urban dwellers. On the surface lives and outlooks seem very different; opportunities and richness of choice are measured in very different ways.

I am aware that this project has focused on rural communities and therefore my last statement is a sweeping generalisation, but rural dwellers generally have to be much more proactive if they want anything to happen. There are many ways to categorise and compartmentalise the population of Great Britain, but the division between marginalised rural communities and large urban conurbations is vast. Yet they all share the same responsibilities

 

window

.sheep in penshop window

 

Kymin sculpture Exhibition

On Friday I installed my mud and hair bowls created for the Kymin Sculpture exhibition The Art of Picnic. This open air sculpture exhibition on the Kymin near Monmouth runs from July through to September. The site is looked after by the National Trust and entry to the site and exhibition is free.  The grand opening is on 3 July, 11am until 4pm. The Navel Temple placed on top of the Kymin honors Nelson and his Admirals who used to meet on the Kymin to picnic and socialise.

The Glorious Victory Picnic Place Setting

 

In 1803, Nelson and Lady Hamilton traveled down the Wye from Ross to Monmouth where they stayed for 2 nights before traveling onto Kymin, where he breakfasted and greatly admired the views.

16 earth and hair bowls are placed in an oval format that mirrors the shape of the memorial plaques that honour Nelson and his15 Admirals. The bowls are made from unfired earth and human hair. This earth, collected from the 9 counties that are said to be visible from the Kymin Folly, as well as the key points along the River Wye  and the south coast of England.

At the end of July, I intend to add germinated poppy seeds and mulch to the bowls as they start to soften and gradually disintegrate.

 

The Glorious Victory Picnic Place Setting

                                                          The Glorious Victory Picnic Place Setting

 

The Glorious Victory Picnic Place Setting  Kymin

The Glorious Victory Picnic  image 2

26 March 

I have heard from the Arts Council that my grant application for my Change, Climate, Landscape, Me project, has been successful. The project will focus on the Brecon Beacons, a landscape that changes in appearance and mood as rapidly as the clouds scud and skim the tops of the hills. There are many different ways in which this landscape is held in regard by its inhabitants and those many people who visit the area. I want to explore those relationships in order to find out what part this very visual landscape plays in shaping the views and outlooks of those connected to it.  At the same time I will be looking at some of the scientific work being conducted to assess the impact of climate change over the next 50 years in this area. I hope to produce a filmic essay that presents a multi layered response to my central question. What will the impact of more rapid change have on the way people respond and relate to their landscapes and to each other?

Currently I am at the preliminary stage of contacting or meeting people who have interesting things to say about the area. I have my first meeting with one of the many farmers who have commoner grazing rights lined up for April and also someone from the National Trust, who have many tenant farmers working on National Trust Land.

Visit my blog designated to the Change, Climate, Landscape, Me project.

march 7 no 2

Sunday  7 March Llanthony Abbey viewed from Hatterall Hill

image 1

Sunday  7 March. Old Box Trees above Llanthony .A very bright and surprisingly  mild spring day. It really felt like the long winter was at last coming to an end.

 

          

image 3

Saturday 20 March, Started reasonably dry, becoming cold and wet with poor visibility. Lichen circles.

 

image 4

Saturday 2O March, despite the torrential rain, the remaining pockets of snow still felt crisp and hard under

Foot.

 

 

5 March 2010

The water forum at CCANW Exeter was a very interesting day but as always –just as the real discussion gets underway -it is time to go home. What became clear from the presentations was the large number of interesting environment /ecology projects being developed by art groups and independent practitioners, all of whom are increasingly aware of the pivotal role economics and particularly economic policy will have, not only on the development of current work, but also on much wider issues such as urban and rural planning and development schemes. It is clear there is a real need for those in positions of power to embrace ways in which artists can help bring about the cultural changes needed, and to help people come to terms with changes to our environments bought about by the ongoing changes of our climate and how we can address these.

This was also backed up by recent discussions I have had with people who both work for the National Park organisations as wardens and careers of the country side, but who also are commoners, exercising their rights to graze live stock on the Brecon Beacons. It is interesting to see the corporate need -versus individual rights meeting head on in one person.  Despite the awareness of a need to change grazing policy and the benefits of tree planting -the right to graze came first and thus what was best for the environment would not be tolerated.

 

Walking Weekend 13 and 14 February 2010

Fantastic weather and wonderful walking, the views were stunning and for ever changing as the landscape continually hid and revealed different aspects throughout our journey.

 

Grid 993202 13 Feb. 2010

      

gri ref 993202 13 Feb 2010

Grid 002216 13 Feb. 2010

grid ref 002216 13 Feb 2010

12 FEBRUARY 2010

During the week I have emailed people regarding the project, trying to secure venues for the finished film. I visited the people at Pen Pont, what an amazing place that is and well worth a visit if you are in the area. I am also starting to look for people to talk to, people who “know " the Brecon area form many different perspectives, young and old, new comers and old timers, workers and recreation pursuiters- anybody who has an opinion about the place, what the landscape means to them and how it shapes their understanding of who they are. As always II have received help and encouragement from the Brecnock Art Gallery and Museum team and I have left a contact list with them so that visitors to the gallery can get in touch with me if they wish. If anyone who reads this blog also would like to make a contribution or who would like to find out more-please contact me through my email link on this site. A project specific blog will be set up at the end of March.

As I wrote last week, I will be presenting the project to a Water Culture forum organised by CCANW Exeter, so it was very sad news and quite shocking to find out this week that they have lost the financial support of the Arts Council and are now struggling to survive - so if anyone wants to offer contributions or words of encouragement then please visit their web site. 

This weekend I am off to have a look at the group of landslides that have already occurred around Pen y Fan and Fan y Big so next week I will have some images to post.

Grid 037201 14 Feb. 2010

grid ref 037201 14 Feb 2010

 

 

5 February 2010

Today I emailed off the last details of my grant application for a science/art project based in the Brecon Beacons and now I feel it is time to move on and address the practicalities of making this project really happen. I want to use the blogs to create interest and awareness of the project before the main body of research starts in May this year. The main scientific thrust of the project will be to look at recent concerns raised by increases of precipitation; the incidents of land slippage and their subsequent effects on the locality. The research will use past climate records as well as modeling and simulating tools to predict seasonal changes until the year 2059. It is hope that with this knowledge some of the predicted adverse effects may be avoided or limited. I will look at this work from a more human perspective trying to look at the way in which people relate to the area and what effects some of the changes may have to people’s sense of place and belonging. I will be talking to people who have special interest in the area and also to those who have been directly affected by some of the land slides. I will be presenting an outline of this project at CCAW’s Water Culture forum on 25 February.

   becon forestry

Forestry Activity Brecon Beacons

 

16 October 09

During the residency in Fforest Faw I explored the way in which people had interacted with the landscape from ancient times to the present day. The little paths and tracks that crisscross this very open and exposed landscape are remarkable in their remoteness. Occasionally the path passes places of past human activity such as standing stones, old rabbit warrens or the remains of dwellings . The bus routes on the other hand mostly skirt around the edges of this openness and link small communities to shopping centers and to each other. In the past people had lived in the more remote areas but over time have migrated to the edges. Those now living on the edges do not really seem to engage with this inner space but have it as an accepted backdrop to their lives, especially now as most industry or centers of work do not directly relate to or engage people with their natural environment, at least not as much as they did in the days of quarrying inning and droving.

The Brecknock installation tried to explore the human relationship with a harsh environment. The bowls signified an ancient presence but were placed in a 'gathering'  formation and were no longer rooted to the earth but floated on a sea of oil and water. Opposite them almost in military formation hung the grasses and peat mounds , like some form of advancing army or weeping landscape.

This project has deepened my commitment to try and find an arts/science related study that will enable me to look more closely at this relationship with have with soil and what we may learn from it.

 

27 September 2008. Cwm Cynwyn Ridge Walk.
Having followed the working route of Sarn Halen, crisscrossed by some of the drover’s routes and the long track through the open moor that linked Glyntawe to Llanddeusant, I chose to explore a more contemporary walk, the Cwm Cynwyn ridge walk. This walk started and finished at Rhiwiau and follows a fairly distinct path traveling quite quickly up onto Cefn Cyff ridge that takes you on to Fan-y-Big. This was the most populated walk we had done. The day again was bright and sunny, large walking parties as well as solo walkers were out in vast numbers. The views from Fan y Big were magnificent and a mirror image of those we had enjoyed on Fan Frynch the previous week.  Once again the grass clad sculpted hills were truly impressive and somehow in this large landscape that demands your attention it is easy to feel connected to the place. Even on hot sunny days when the space is full of walking “passers by” and gliding Red Kites it is easy to reflect on the harshness of life in this remote landscape.

Path to Bwlch y Ddwyalt

Fan y Big

Looking towards Pen y fan

20 September 2008
Starting along the Sarn Halen near the Standing Stone by Rhyd Uchaf and continuing onto the Fan Frynch, looping back round and retracing our steps back along the Sarn Halen to our starting point. Another bright autumn day but the size of the path was in sharp contrast to that of the previous walk. The track is broad and stony and would be very easy to follow in the most appalling conditions. This path enters the nature reserve near Pont Blaen-cwm-du  and descends into a very different sort of landscape.  There are pine trees hanging onto the side of the rocky  hill that sweeps round to the left. It almost feels like you have entered a different room. The area reminds me of a Chinese willow pattern and on our decent from Fan Frynch this image was strengthened by the little bridge we crossed in order to rejoin the Sarn Halen.  

 

Views from the top of Fan French

Looking towards Pen-y-Fan
The route we took up was well defined  I wondered if at one time it could have been used by those living on top of the mountain to drive cattle down to the main route to Brecon. The views from the top of this really interesting mountain are stunning and constantly changing, it makes it hard to walk along without tripping over something. Pen-y-Fan looked majestic and imposing and the distant mountains echoed its shape and look liked three dimensional shadows.

Stunted tree near Pont Blaen-cwm-du

13 September 2008
Starting from Glyntawe, crossing the Nant y Gwared and walking on to The Red Lion Youth Hostel near Llanddeusant . This was a linear walk that took us into the vast emptiness of the Brecon Beacons. The day was bright with blue skies and white billowing clouds. The space was very open and appeared gently scooped out in places.

Area of shaker holes near Twyn Tal y Ddraenen

Afon Gledd, Ford

The landscape continually rises and levels out only to rise again. For 6 hours or more we walked through this vastness, clumps of bog grass forming dark patches in what otherwise appears to a be large cover of golden wavy hair grass. Areas of this moorland are under threat and some reclamation work is being carried out to try and prevent the further erosion of the peat bogs and underlying lime stone.  The path we followed was hardly more than a sheep run and in poor weather conditions it would be very hard to navigate this route.  No trees or ruins feature in this space, only occasional outcrops of scree help locate you on the map. This open wild space appears cut into sections by beautiful little rivers that journey through it with purpose , and where at times the sky appears to have attached it's self to the ground, perfectly reflected in the dark bog pools, with only the occasional Heron or Dragon fly to disturb the illusion.

 Nant yr Ysgwydd

Having climbed gently throughout the walk a ridge of limestone dramatically puts an end to this and the path takes you down into a much tamer landscape of farmland and buildings dotted about. The last part of the walk is in sharp contrast from the gentler rhythm of the rest of the walk for having descended quite suddenly to the bottom of the valley one has to climb quite steeply to the little church at the top of the hill.

New floor installation project. ..

9 September 2008
I am working on a project to develop a new floor installation that will accompany the Walk in the Park Exhibition when it travels to Brecknock Art Gallery and Museum, Brecon in February 2009.

As part of the research for this project I am currently exploring old routes and pathways across the Fforest Fawr. The Sarn Helen a long distance Roman route that marches from the fort at Tonyfildre to the fort at Brecon was an obvious starting point. This route takes you into the hills rather than onto them. At times, when away from the modern pine forests one has a sense of a landscape that has hardly changed since the times of marching foot soldiers and the forest was a treeless chase and hunting ground.
river nedd crossing point
Image: River Nedd Fechan crossing point.

The path takes you through different types of landscape each with it’s own distinct feel, and it's own distinctive type of grass. It is the grasses and the oozing peat bogs that have had the biggest impact on me. The water that seeps from this dense black earth is oily and the puddles create beautiful oily patterns as they reflect the odd patch of blue sky. The grass covered hills are vast and bereft of any distinctive feature such as a tree or stone wall. It is this grassy wasteland that makes the hills such an easy place in which to become disorientated and lost. This is a beautiful harsh landscape that cannot be prettified or softened.
bog puddle
Image: Bog puddle.
maen madoc stading stone
Image: Maen Madoc standing stone.