Wide Open day at Bolton Fell Moss

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.

A group of people gathered in a car park before heading out on a walk

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!

A cake decorated to look like Bolton Fell Moss, a recovering peat bog. The train in the foreground carried peat in the days of extraction, in the background the cake is green
Every event deserves a good cake

To find out more about the Moss of Many Layers project and the team, visit this page.

6 people are on a stage at a festival with a colourful backdrop

The Land in five objects: place artists at Timber Festival

How can art dream, reimagine and help shape the future …

Here’s a quick blog to share some smiles and reflections from the recent Timber Festival where a crew of five from the PLACE Collective took to the stage to share a conversation with the audience. The threads that ran through the session touched on ways that art can ignite an ever greater love for the natural world, how artists are part of discussions about critical issues, and the value of art to help us all dream, reimagine and shape the future.

6 people are on a stage at a festival with a colourful backdrop
From left to right: Harriet Fraser, Rob Fraser, Sarah Smout, Charlie Whinney, Kate Brundrett, Charlotte (signing). Image credit: Alex Johnston-Seymour

Our conversations followed on from many thought-provoking discussions and performances during the weekend. There were poets, musicians, writers, dancers, DJs, as well as open conversations held both on the Field Notes stage and around the campfire to explore pressing issues around environmental change.

We weren’t the only ones to come to the Field Notes stage from Cumbria. Earlier in the weekend, specialists in forests, biodiversity and ecology, including Ian Convery, took to the stage to talk about the expansion of woodlands and forests across the UK. This theme of expansion was picked up later in a panel discussion where Harriet from the PLACE Collective joined the CEO of the National Forest, a woodland creation specialist from Defra and member of the Youth Landscapers Collective to discuss the vision for a new Midlands Forest Network.

In the spirit of the festival, there was a strong sense of working together for positive change. This is in no small part ignited by the story of the National Forest, which covers 200 square miles across parts of Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire. The area was previously dominated by coal mines and clay pits, and after these industries closed down, the idea for a new forest emerged: the first trees were planted in the late 1980s. Since then, almost 9 million trees have been planted, the landscape has been transformed, and the forest has become a rich, and highly valued part of daily life for so many of the people who live there. Timber Festival is part of the National Forest’s ethos of involving communities, and bringing people and trees together.

So, back to the PLACE Collective conversation … each person on the panel brought an object with them (listed below*), and introduced their practice and personal reflections while sharing the story behind their piece.

Questions and observations from the audience included an affirmation that scientists and artists should work together more in research and in communities, as we collectively devise ways to inspire, affect and enact change. This fits really nicely with the ethos behind the PLACE Collective where we’re always seeking ways to bring together people with different knowledge sets, and from many different backgrounds.

One question came from a young person wanting to pursue their own art practice, and looking for advice. Each person on the panel had much to share, but perhaps what was most memorable was the advice to ‘stay on your bus’ … don’t get off at other stops, or follow routes just because others are. Keep going, keep following what feels right. This relates to the Helsinki Bus Station theory outlined by photographer Arno Rafael Minkkinen in 2006, but could be relevant whatever field of work you’re in – if you’re curious, read about the Helsinki Bus Station Theory here. It might inspire you!

When the panel session was over, people from the audience came up to look at the objects and talk to the artists, and the chat continued into the sunshine and the beer tents, becoming part of the gentle and colourful interweave of the festival.

Talking about young people, among the many inspirations from the festival what really stood out for us was the Youth Landscapers Collective. This group of young people from the local area has been growing over the years, taking part in forest-based activities, developing creative work and leading important conversations. Their installation for this year’s Timber Festival was all about fungal networks – and a reflection not just on what grows in the soil, but perhaps about the value of more entangled, rhizomatic thinking about all of us humans …

If you haven’t been to Timber, which is run by Wild Rumpus, find out more here:   https://timberfestival.org.uk/ 

And to find out more about the National Forest, check out the website here: https://www.nationalforest.org/

And to finish, a word from Kate Brundrett, who joined the panel. Kate is on the Advisory Board of the PLACE Collective. She’s also an artist and a wellbeing coach, and founded Studio Morland, a community-arts and wellness centre in the Eden Valley, in Cumbria.

“How can art and artists make impact? Presenting ideas that are outside of our day to day framework, to stretch our imaginations into other worldly possibilities. Allowing us to feel, to connect, to reconnect and come home to ourselves. And if the process challenges people out of their comfort zones then all the better.”

*Maker Charlie Whinney arrived with a huge heart-shaped sculpture, steam-bent oak from an off-cut of a fallen tree. Sarah Smout brought her cello, Bernard. Rob Fraser carried a tiny oak tree onto the stage, which was rescued from a woodland cut down to make way for HS2. Kate Brundrett shared a piece called SOTWO (State of the World Overwhelm). And Harriet Fraser shared a segment of poetry, stitched around a heavy rock borrowed from beneath a sycamore tree in central Cumbria.

A short glimpse of the video installation by the Youth Landscapers Collective
A gallery of faces showing the presenters and contributors to the What Is Natural Beauty Symposium

Guest blog: Symposium reflections

from Howard Davies

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 …

Howard begins:

“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?

Presenters and performers

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

Penny Bradshaw 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. Steve Ratcliffe 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.

Thank you.

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.

Kate Gilman Brundrett’s reflections on the symposium … evolving!

Huge thanks to the event supporters and funders: Centre for National Parks and Protected Areas, Wye Valley AONB, Lake District National Park.