with additional writing by Gill Fremantle
Tim Collins and Reiko Goto Collins have spent the past year visiting the Midlands of Eire undertaking a Deep Mapping of Lough Boora. The thing they were invited to visit is a twenty-year old Sculpture Park looking for a new direction. The resulting publication By Collis and Goto is intended to contribute to the goal of an “exceptional and sustainable artistic vision” which will inform the future development of this Sculpture Park in the Land and Environmental Arts facility in Lough Boora Discovery Park.
Below you will find some key points on why peatlands are a current focus of policy intervention, and then you’ll find some examples of other artists and writers drawing attention to peatlands, working with scientists and communities, and representing peatlands to distant communities.
Collins and Goto describe ‘deep mapping’ as, “an attempt to become conscious of a place and its multiple layers of experience, meaning and value.” They say that is ideally a collective exercise which requires, “a commitment to lived histories and current discourse, walking and talking with a wide mix of people wherever possible.”
The land of Lough Boora Sculpture Park has a long and varied story to be interrogated. 10,000 years ago, with the end of late Devensian Glaciation, the depositing of fen plants, forest, heather and sphagnum started a process of forming the raised bogs.
This landscape became the focus of resource extraction which “heated irish homes for centuries” and created jobs, prosperity and communities. Eventually, however, the move from resource extraction to renewable energy and land management became the new driver of change.
The development of the award-winning Sculpture Park in the new millennium brought a different animation to the landscape as aesthetic and community values became of greater importance. This transformation of the land was both a success and a struggle. Just as the choices to previously experimentally reinvent the land with a variety of planting techniques was never straight forward, so it was with how to best make art which “opens a space to imagine new social, ecological and economic relationships.”
Read more on Tim Collins and Reiko Goto-Collins on Deep Mapping, ‘A dialogue about bogs, energy, art and landscape futures’ and listen to a narrative of the project…
Peatlands are currently a focus at international, national and regional levels including in global environmental policy, UK and other national policy, and in Scottish Government policy and strategy.
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, along with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Wetlands International and other institutions launched the Global Peatlands Initiative at the UNFCCC COP22 in 2016. This highlights,
“Peat is partially decayed plant material that accumulates under water-logged conditions over long time periods. Natural areas covered by peat are called peatlands. Terms commonly used for specific peatland types are peat swamp forests, fens, bogs or mires. Peat is found around the world – in permafrost regions towards the poles and at high altitudes, in coastal areas, beneath tropical rainforest and in boreal forests.
Peatlands store large amounts of carbon. Although they cover less than three per cent of global land surface, estimates suggest that peatlands contain twice as much as in the world’s forests.”
And goes on to highlight threats,
“The major threat to the peat carbon stocks globally is drainage. Drained peatlands are mainly used for agriculture and forestry, and peat is extracted for horticulture and energy production. Drainage of peatlands and poor management can result in a variety of problems, the most obvious of which are large and persistent peat fires, such as those in parts of Southeast Asia and Russia in recent years.
In addition to the often reported recent loss of tropical peatlands, degradation remains a significant source of emissions in many temperate and boreal countries after decades of non-sustainable use. In boreal areas, permafrost is thawing, causing land subsidence and potentially leading to high greenhouse gas emissions. Further degradation and loss of peat ecosystems, regardless of their location, could seriously hamper climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts and the achievement of the Paris Agreement.”
The UK Government’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) Natural Capital Account has a section on Peatlands which highlights,
- around 12% of the UK land area.
- provides over a quarter of the UK’s drinking water and
- stores a significant amount of carbon making it an
- important habitat for providing both provisioning and regulating ecosystem.
- major tourist destination and provide cultural history
- form some of the UK’s most extensive wild spaces and are
- rich in rare and endangered wildlife boosting the UK’s biodiversity.
Key UK challenges identified include:
- peatlands form both the highest and lowest value agricultural lands
- agriculture on lowland peats, mainly in the east of England, include areas of high cropping value. However, this activity on peatlands has a negative impact on the peat from drainage and ploughing activities. It is estimated croplands on peat emit a total of 7,600 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents per year (kt CO2e yr-1) in the UK.
Key drivers of peatland restoration programmes:
- conservative estimates of the benefits of meeting the committee on climate change objective of having 55% of peatland in good status were of the order of £45 billion to £51 billion over the next 100 years.
Further detail can be found here https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/environmentalaccounts/bulletins/uknaturalcapitalforpeatlands/naturalcapitalaccounts
Artists and Writers
Robert Macfarlane’s essay on ‘counter-desecration’ challenges the assumption that the Brindled Moor on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides is a ‘wet desert’. He draws together the arguments for understanding the moor as a lived in place with a deep cultural history and not merely terra nulis to be used for a wind farm. His essay re-frames our understanding of the landscape with the explicit intention of affecting landscape decision-making. Macfarlane on the essay which appears in his collection Landmarks.
In Situ and The Gatherings – part of the Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership
The Gatherings is a strand of work developed by arts organisation ‘In-Situ’ http://www.in-situ.org.uk/ as part of the £2.4m Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership scheme, managed by Forest of Bowland AONB. In-Situ characterises itself as ‘embedding arts into everyday life’.
The Gatherings is described as follows,
“The Gatherings came about because of the recognition for the need to open up access to the Pendle Hill Landscape and introduce artists and creative processes to explore the hill and its past, its ecosystems and the way people connect with it. As In-Situ, we are able to bring to the project our experience of working with people in place connecting people and re-positioning how we experience a place through art or artists interventions and processes, which often involve conversation, listening and working in response to these.
Through The Gatherings we are aiming to find longer term approaches and collaborations with artists and embedding artists into longer term programmes. Through differences in the way we commission artists, support the artistic process and encourage a slower, more embedded way of working in place, we are challenging the traditional ways that artists are commissioned to work in the landscape.
Rather than bring something to a place and say “this is art”, we aim to find better or more embedded ways to work with artists in the landscape that lead to more unexpected, subtle or meaningful interventions – and there is likely not be a visible permanent end result. This is challenging because it involves risk on both sides, as it is not always clear what the result or methods will be from the outset, and is a slow process involving investment of time in getting many people on board and talking and revising, honing ideas in a collaborative way.” https://pendlehillproject.blogspot.com/2019/10/the-gatherings-what-its-all-about.html?m=1
In Situ have delivered a number of elements within the Partnership, including:
- commissioning a bespoke mobile hut, a touring art space, to be used as part of engagement across the project https://www.in-situ.org.uk/pendle-hut
- artists Daisy James and Hannah Kay, aka Lunchtime Practice have been working on an archaeology commission called ‘Beyond the Dig’ https://www.in-situ.org.uk/lunchtime-practice
- a full-scale touring performance based on Five Verses on Six Sacks of Earth, a micro opera by artists Nastassja Simensky and Rebecca Lee. https://www.in-situ.org.uk/5-stacks
- ‘Pendle Peat Pie’ is a new regional dish developed by environment artist Kerry Morrison and local chef Andy Dean, in conversation with Sarah Robinson, a Conservationist and Ecologist. https://www.in-situ.org.uk/peat-pie
- Working with peatland ecologists to engage public in restoration processes (by asking people to carry small bags containing Cotton Grass up the hill with them for planting at the top), potentially to be developed into large scale performative work;
- Isabella Martin will be exploring the Pendle landscape and learning about the heritage of its drystone walls and hedges working with rural business partners.
Peat Cultures, Kate Foster’s work in the context of the Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership. She worked with the Crichton Carbon Centre to pilot aspects of a wider project, Peatland Connections (2020-2023), which has a twin focus on restoration and engagement.
Foster’s approach draws on ‘citizen science’ approaches opening up the work of ecologists and hydrologists to wider participation. A future series of workshops will enable those living in and around the Galloway Glens to understand the scientific processes of data gathering, measurement, etc, underpinning the peatland restoration project through hands on participation.
You can read a more detailed summary in Creative Carbon Scotland’s Library of Creative Sustainability. And joint blog post between Kate Foster and Kerry Morrison here.
Foster has also undertaken a residency in Wageningen University in the Netherlands with a creative investigation, Veencultuur, concerning entwined Dutch peatland histories. She supports the work of Re-Peat, including participation in the 24 hour Global Peat Fest. RE-PEAT is an international youth-lead organisation registered in The Netherlands, with members in the United Kingdom, Germany, Estonia, Sweden, and Chile. Re-peat’s creative campaigns include members studying peat at a university level, working with peat in a scientific field, and also simply amateur enthusiasts.
‘Mending the Blanket’, pantea and Kate Foster, 2020.
“We made this short animated film to show how wetlands are now being valued across the world. An example from a remote part of Southern Scotland pays tribute to the commitment needed to restore a ‘blanket’ peatbog. Our Iranian – Scottish creative collaboration seeks to find new ways to say why wetlands benefit people, wildlife and landscape.”
Hannah Imlach, Cryptic and Flows to the Future
Flows to the Future, a Landscape Partnership led by RSPB and focused on the peatlands in Caithness and Sutherland, involved a number of artists residencies including by Hannah Imlach. The following film introduces Hannah’s approach.
You can read Hannah Imlach’s thoughts about working with Flows to the Future here.
Cryptic, a Glasgow based internationally-renowned producing art house, brought the Flow Country Blanket Bog to the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh in 2019 with the installation Below the Blanket, https://www.cryptic.org.uk/portfolio/below-the-blanket/
A previous version of this was prepared for Art and Artists in Landscape and Environmental Research Today (AALERT) Landscape Decisions (AALERT 4DM) project and we are planning to develop further resources on this subject. Please contact ecoartscotland if you have other examples of arts, design and creative approaches to working with peat and peatlands that you think contribute to landscape decision-making.