What a day on Monday to celebrate Bolton Fell Moss and the work that’s been done through the Moss of Many Layers project. We were blessed with dry weather for the walk, and the buzz continued in Hethersgill Village Hall afterwards.
We were quite astounded with the uptake of tickets for the walk – more than seventy people came along. We separated into four smaller groups, each led by two members of the Moss of Many Layers team who shared insights about the bog.
Huge thanks to everyone who came along – in each group there were people who had never been here before, as well as people who have connections with this place, so there was a lot to be shared, including stories of working here during the bog’s time as a site of peat extraction, or of working on restoration tasks, surveying and conservation. The children shared their own stories and the knowledge they’ve gained during the past year and were able to show others the peat ‘bunds’ they had created, which are now holding water, ready for sphagnum mosses to become established.
In the hall there was plenty of time for people to chat and find out more about Bolton Fell Moss and about the Moss of Many Layers project. People arrived who hadn’t joined the walk, it was a real pleasure to meet so many people who live locally and have their own connections with the bog. There is a lot of pride in this wonderful place!
The ‘star’ of the show was the peat core, which at more than 8-metres long took pride of place. Other work on display included Helen’s beautiful map; a series of portrait images taken by Rob, to share the faces and stories of people connected with this place; artwork from Shankhill Primary School children and young people from William Howard School who have worked with Anne; information about the Moss put together by Emma; a set of poetry written by Harriet; and a drone and GPS tracking devices that the scientists have been using for their research. And Juliet’s film had its premier with back to back screenings.
As with most gatherings, the party extended into the kitchen, and around the wonderful ‘Moss of Many Layers’ cake.
The best way to tell the story is through some images of the day. A digital collection of the work that’s been produced will be coming in due course, and we’ll be sharing the film as well. Watch this space!
Working with young people: Reflections from Anne Waggot Knott
Let’s burrow and borrow,
hand in hand, for tomorrow.
The crux of the Moss of Many Layers project has always been about facilitating a deeper connection between the community and Bolton Fell Moss, more than just visiting the bog and creating work inspired by our visits. Reflecting on our engagement with young people, I think we’ve achieved a rich and profound process of exchange and reciprocity, of sharing and balance, between the students and the bog itself. Not just sharing information and ideas, but a tangible, physical, corporeal exchange.
The students have contributed their time, their minds, their hands and their handiwork. They committed a level of bravery; physical and mental exposure to this unpredictable, new environment and its elements. They’ve been listening and looking and trusting and digging and pushing and probing deep into the peat itself, getting dirt behind their nails, and (literally, in some cases!) immersing themselves the bog. They planted restorative species, putting something back into the landscape, a physical symbol of their involvement.
In return, Bolton Fell Moss has given back to them. As new ambassadors and stewards for this valuable place, they have watched it change through the seasons and they carry with them fresh knowledge and understanding from the land. The bog also gave up pieces of flora and fauna to take away and use in their artwork.
Foraging forces a slow, vigilant journey in the landscape. Through the careful acts of identifying, collecting, handling, protecting and transporting their finds, students developed a sense of ownership and responsibility for these tiny fragments. Their pride was evident in producing their foraged items back in the art room, examining them repeatedly and becoming familiar with the detail. This physical contact with the plantlife over a period of time, this guardianship and forensic examination, cements and reinforces a relationship, like hugging or holding hands.
Prior to industrial peat extraction, bogs were similarly part of the community as domestic sources of foraged foodstuffs. People picked berries, fungi and medicinal plants, and enjoyed a familiarity with their peat landscapes. It’s satisfying to have catalysed an intimate, tactile relationship between the bog and people once again. I like to think of the students’ work as a collective portrait of the bog, personifying and celebrating it as we would a prominent member of the family. We’ve welcomed it as part of the community again.
Letting things happen
I had very fluid expectations of these creative sessions. Although structured, I’ve assumed a broad acceptance of whatever the students and the bog bring to the table on the day. The act of making has proved fruitful as a vehicle for continued, pressure-free conversation and discussion. As we drew and stuck and printed, we’ve created so many opportunities for holistic conversations, anchored in the bog but relevant to the climate emergency and the way we use our natural resources. The students have enjoyed an opportunity to manifest their findings in a personal way, playing to their own strengths, reaching their own conclusions, and processing their experience with no judgement or assessment.
Art, science and community
I think we’ve also helped to embed the idea, early and subconsciously, that science and art don’t sit separately. And that this is a generation of connected, multidisciplinary young people who are broad, creative, confident, analytical thinkers, capable of bringing great breadth and depth to future environmental research and policymaking.
Artists and scientists work in similar ways: we research, experiment, create outcomes, disseminate and evaluate. From my perspective, Moss of Many Layers exemplifies the successful intertwining of approaches and processes, with funded time and space for experimentation. It has created a basis for triangulating art, science and community around our protected landscapes. It’s encouraging to see many more research and engagement projects take this approach as a matter of course, recognising the value of embedding artists and scientists in relationship with our natural world, hand-in-hand.
a school minibus in the distance, driven by sideways rain
heralds the widening of eyes
and the blooming of minds
in the wilderness
As we reflect on the second of three creative activity sessions with young participants on Bolton Fell Moss, I realise we have now really begun to unpack the many layers in the title of the project.
This visit was all about exploring what lives and depends on the moss: plants, insects, spiders, moths and birdlife.
We unloaded moth traps, uncovering beautiful, fragile beasties camouflaged against lichen and logs. We foraged for slugs and beetles and squirmed as a mass of spider babies spilled from their mother’s egg sac. We wafted our sweep nets after butterflies and captured all of the breathless wilderness wonder we could find.
Our final exercise was to guard ‘curlew eggs’ (actually hardboiled chicken eggs), encouraging the students to understand the vulnerability of ground-nesting birds. I had to leave them at this point but the pupils each took an egg and spread out intrepidly to find their own nesting sites out on the reserve.
I turned to face the rain and my trudge to the car park. As I looked back across the vast expanse of heather, I could see little eight-year-old heads hunkered momentarily alone in the moss; sitting grounded like curlews on a nest, looking quietly around themselves with a new wonder and awareness, fully entrenched in their environment. They were totally absorbed, individually forming new ways of understanding the world.
Reinforcing and embedding this experience through creative activity is a challenge, a layer of learning for me and for the other delivery partners too. This time we made collagraph printing plates inspired by the beasties we found, using recycled and repurposed collage materials, embedding another level of environmentally sensitive practice into the project.
One of the most rewarding things about truly multi-disciplinary science-arts engagement is that we can find ways of reaching every individual participant. As an accompanying teacher pointed out last time, literally everyone enjoyed it. A neurodivergent student was completely mesmerised by the insects and moths. This generated a new admiration from their classmates and helped them focus on the follow up creative session too as they were already hooked. Abstract printmaking is satisfyingly inclusive – it doesn’t matter if you ‘can’t draw’ – it’s just mark-making at the end of the day – and the vibrant effects look enticingly cool.
Also enticingly cool are these climate change faces produced during our reflective debrief. We hadn’t talked much about the bigger picture of carbon capture and storage during this session, focusing instead on flora and fauna on quite an intimate scale. But these expressive, striking images paint a thousand words and give me confidence that pupils have made the connection with the broader environmental catastrophe. I hope that by delivering sessions like this, we will help them develop a broad range of tools and knowledge to really make a difference.
The ‘What is Natural Beauty?’ Symposium, run by the PLACE Collective through the Centre for National Parks and Protected Areas, and in partnership with Wye Valley AONB and the Lake District National Park, took place on December 1st, 2021. And what a success it was – the provocative (and unanswerable?) question raised through the symposium invited a diversity of views and opened up many avenues for discussion among more than 100 participants.
A formal report will be shared early in 2022, but for now we thought a perfect way to summarise the symposium would be to share this reflection from Howard Davies, former CEO of the National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Read on …
“I think it begins with 3 main sets of questions:
What is beauty?
Does it exist objectively in things themselves? Is it an inherent quality of some landscapes, and not others?
Does it exist only subjectively in the mind of the perceiver?
Do landscapes possess special qualities that are perceived as beautiful in the mind of all perceivers? Is there a shared, cultural component to this? Do perceptions of landscape beauty vary, dependent upon societal values and norms?
What is the scope of things to which beauty can be applied?
Purely sensible – perceived through the senses? See, feel, hear, smell …
Or is it something more profound – is there an Intellectual or moral quality to beauty?
And if the scope is this wide does sensible beauty lead you to moral or intellectual beauty?
The romantic poets spoke of natural beauty as a spiritual, almost other-worldly experience that was accessed through our relationship with nature. For example, Shelley’s ‘Hymn to Intellectual beauty’ – Natural Beauty was what you experienced, as a result of your relationship with nature. It was a natural phenomenon connected to the experience of nature, not nature itself.
How does natural beauty relate to other value concepts?
The functional, the sustainable, the spiritual? And does natural beauty align with the concept of a sustainable, ecologically rich and functioning landscapes?
Kate Humble opened this seminar with reference to the picturesque and the role of landowners in transforming landscapes in accordance with the aesthetic of counterfeit neglect. She challenged us to reconsider what makes our landscapes beautiful and suggested we take a steer from nature.
Desperate Men provided an entertaining take on the notion that the map is definitely not the territory and questioned the full scope of outstanding natural beauty, and whether beauty is entirely in the eye of the beholder
PennyBradshaw introduced us to the romantic poets and writers, the picturesque in more detail, and Edmund Burke’s notion of the sublime – the agreeable horror associated with some of our more dramatic landscapes.
Crystal Moore challenged us to rethink how we value our environment within the frame of the climate and human emergency that now faces us, and to reinvent ourselves. SteveRatcliffe also framed natural beauty within the wider context of sustainable development and personal impact, with examples drawn from his experience in the globally important, vibrantly lived-in, distinctively special, Lake District National Park
Mike Collier introduced colonialism into the argument, and talked about the impact of race, class, power and privilege and the history of land ownership. Touching on identity, beliefs, and deep-seated cultural values. He made the case for celebrating beauty in difference, rather than the industrial green landscapes of curated, ‘rural’ Britain.
Anjana Khatwa gave a personal reflection of her lived experience as a woman of colour, geologist, earth scientist, and mother in the British landscape and how these lenses affect her view of beauty. Ruth highlighted the benefits of performing in the natural environment, and some of the barriers that exclude people of colour from the countryside. She asserted that no environment can be outstandingly beautiful if it is exclusive.
Sally Marsh examined how we might consider natural beauty today if we embraced its full scope, not just visual amenity, in the planning and management of landscape.
Matt Larsen Daw drew on our nurturing love-affair with nature and our ultimate inter-dependency on this for the wellbeing of our body and mind. I was particularly taken by his description of landscape as “Time and nature made solid”.
Neil Heseltine took us beyond physical attributes and face value, to remind us of the complexity of nature. He made the point that nature needs space and time to play out its processes and intricacies and that the way land has been stewarded over the last 50 years has limited this. He highlighted the important role that National Parks and AONBs can play in helping people understand the complexity of nature and their impact on it, especially with regards the way we produce our food.
So, by way of a summary – for me, sensible and intellectual beauty strike at the heart of what it is to be human. It is the tension between the finite and the infinite, life and death, permanence and transience, lost and found, past and future, harmonious and discordant – it is this symmetry that we inherit from the classical approach to beauty. The wonder, awe, majesty, and drama of nature and our small place within it, we inherit from the notion of the sublime. These marry together to form the yardstick by which we have historically qualified our current suite of protected landscapes, protected for their natural beauty … a concept that is still valid, and indeed important for our wellbeing. Many landscapes however have difficult histories that have given rise to multiple challenges, many of which have been clearly expressed today, and all landscapes are subject, like us, to the existential crisis that is now upon us.
Landscapes are the product of processes and interventions. Ultimately I think, we need to focus less on the product, and more on our relationships with each other and the environment within which we exist, and on which we depend.
We need to be more creative, recalibrate these relationships urgently, and reposition ourselves, our economic systems, and the way society operates, such that a supportive, functioning, environment is the natural outcome. We might therefore focus our search for natural beauty and elegance in these relationships, and become more comfortable in letting our environment be what it will be.
AONBs and National Parks are the perfect vehicles to lead this change and champion what essentially needs to be a new, more diverse, social contract around landscape and natural beauty, but to do this with the intention of triggering systemic change on the basis of kindness, and active and open listening – the point made my Harriet in the poem that started this discussion.
To find out more about Howard Davies, and the other presenters and performers who took part in the symposium; and to browse through some resources, view the symposium programme here.
This question from Catriona Manders, Youth Committee & Junior Ranger, Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park, introduces the Protected and Conserved Areas Joint Statement on Climate Change and Biodiversity, which was announced at COP26.
Why are we sharing this? Well, we think it’s spot on – surely it’s a responsibility of protected places to care for life and set a strong example. And, with PLACE sitting within CNPPA, it’s great to know that CNPPA was among the founding signatories pledging to take action to better care for landscapes and seascapes, and to join together – as no one place can do it alone.
To reflect, here’s Lois Mansfield, Director of CNPPA:
“The significance of this accord cannot be overestimated. For the first time ever, those involved in protected and conserved areas have come together to call on world leaders to support their work in the fight against climate change ad biodiversity loss. We are one enormous family of protected areas. The sheer power of multiple agencies coming together to make one statement of intent means we can now work collaboratively and internationally.
Protected areas are not just pretty places, they are the pinnacle of biodiversity, interrelated to living landscapes in many parts of the world. If the battle against climate change and biodiversity loss is to be won, we must win it first in these special and conserved areas. Our role can be transformational.
Signing this Joint statement is really exciting for CNPPA, and it’s happening in the 70th anniversary of our local national Park, the Lake District. It really brings home the importance of being part of wider family, and the need to help each other achieve a sustainable future for everyone who lives and works in, and enjoys, our national landscapes. Finding common ground and being able to speak with one voice empowers protected and conserved areas to address the challenges of the 21st Century.”
Some of the text from the signed document …
“Over 70 countries are members of the High Ambition Coalition (HAC) for Nature and People that champions a global deal for nature and people with the central goal of protecting at least 30 percent of world’s land and ocean by 2030 (30×30). The 30×30 target is a global target which aims to halt the accelerating loss of species, and protect vital ecosystems that are the source of our economic security.
We believe the global family of Protected and Conserved Areas is well placed to respond to the calls to action from the IPCC, IPBES, IRP and UNEP and to support the ambition of countries around the world, including the G7 and the members of the HAC, by taking rapid and far-reaching actions to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss.
… we can be the first 30 percent that inspires and informs land and sea use choices across the remainder of the planet, and we can be the places where billions of people connect with nature and become inspired to play an active part in combatting the dual crises.