River Ways and Land Uses

A drawing, a map and a guide are connected by the flow of water in the Tweed tributaries.

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This is soon to be published as a pecha kucha talk . It is about a catchment drawing, a Land Use map, and a guide to how carbon moves for water to air. The connecting theme is the flow of water in the Tweed tributaries. To begin, here are some of their names, collated for a project I was part of, “Working the Tweed” (2013)Kate Foster PC Mtb.003

Catchment maps are handy things for a project to have, but we needed one that was affordable. So I traced these River Ways to make a talking point on our project stall at agricultural shows. The drawing became a project motif. The Tweed is a very dendritic river – this drawing leaves out fine detail.

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This slide gives an impression of the project Working the Tweed. The Borders region is defined and connected by rivers, though people often think of it in terms of its towns. We learned that many people know their River Ways really well (and could point out  inaccuracies).

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Of course, many other artists have been inspired by The Tweed – these are just three that I have followed. Helen Douglas’ sumptuous bookwork Follow the River developed in the Yarrow Valley ; the Tweed Rivers Interpretation Project; and Andrew Mackenzie as project artist with the Hawick Flood Protection scheme.

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Here is Jules’ Horne’s Tweed Tweed made in cloth. It adapts an engineers plan for a re-meandering project at Eddlestone Water (near Peebles). These works were led by Tweed Forum. We showed this work with a toy-digger so people of all ages could help make the river meander again.

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At some point, I realised I should think about Drains too. People have been building a second kind of catchment over the centuries, rushing water to the sea. I began to look for drains in the landscape, and get interested in Subsurface drainage patterns.

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I also have become slightly obsessed by diggers (perhaps I’m not the only one). You see them everywhere when you start looking – performing Landscape Service and doing plenty of Groundwork. But they do seem to hide when it comes to Landscape painting and photography.

 

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Through the Tweed project, I and the other lead artists became involved in Pilot Land Use Strategy in the Borders, led by Tweed Forum as part of Scottish Climate Change Legislation. The consultation process focussed on maps and was framed by the concept of ecosystem services. The technical language of ecosystem services can be daunting …

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… but every person and every creature is affected by how humans use land. There’s various ways artists’ can contribute ‘intangible values’ and ‘cultural meanings’. As a starter, here’s the Tweed’s ‘indicator species’ – including salmon who need to migrate to cold Arctic waters.

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Stone Flies are a favourite food for salmon. Improvisational dancers also paid attention to their midsummer emergence on the riverbank. Stone Lives – led by Claire Pençak – developed as a result. This includes a dance score about personal associations with what happens in particular places.

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The 1930s Land Utilisation map is in the Mapping the Borders exhibition – it is still in copyright. Here’s a hint of what it looks like. This sketch was an experiment in using Claire’s score. The Land Use map itself is very colourful indeed, with yellow uplands of moorland and heath and flowing towards brown and green valleys, and red or purple towns.

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The 1930s map gives bright colours to times I have otherwise glimpsed through black and white photos. I imagine walking in these uplands then – curlew cries, shepherd’s calls, dark skies with crisp cold autumns … but perhaps the colours add gloss to what were hard ways of living.

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So, next, this is a scientific instrument – a Flux Chamber that measures how much carbon dioxide is released into the air from a flowing river. The amount of carbon being released as gas depends on the time of day, what season it is, and how the land is being used. Flux Chamber became the title for an interdisciplinary project about carbon landscapes.

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You cannot sense directly when carbon is moving fast from water to air, but you can learn to read signs of when it is likely – when the river is turbulent, brown and noisy. I piloted a ‘guide’ to carbon landscapes with a biogeochemist and a scholar of environmental literature.

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You can see this guide at the exhibition. It opens with an invitation: think of the lines on a catchment map as places where carbon is being released into the atmosphere. This piece combines Susan Waldron’s scientific observations with poetic responses by David Borthwick, and my drawings.

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Animal life plays a role too. Caddis flies –  like Stone Flies,  need clean waters and live in fast flowing upland streams. Expressed as poetry by David Borthwick:
.. the caddisfly larva (shredder, scraper, collector)
makes an armoured harbour
a tiny sequestration
sealed for instar
pupation for take off

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Another of the six pages is about Water Colours:
‘ soil and inorganic carbon colours the water and is swept downstream, which increases the flux from water into air. So the intensity of the colour of the water gives a clue about how much carbon efflux is happening.’ (Susan Waldron)

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These are colours of clear water of the upland River Yarrow, drawn out by the sun. The range of colours appeal to the senses, more alluring perhaps than after heavy rainfall when the river becomes dark brown.

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You can’t feel a river shedding carbon directly, but we can watch the leaf-fall onto its surface. We can see leaves snagged on trees at the river bank, left by previous torrents. Through drawing, I find meanings of a specific place which are not expressed by technical reports. For example, this next drawing about how autumnal leaves move in a swirling current.

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With winter rains, the rivers will become torrential, opaque brown with silt. I find this sight compelling and formidable.

The fears, hopes and meanings I find in places keep shifting around the metrics of mapping and surveys.

Roaming in Southern Scotland

A walk with a botanist suggests that unicorns might be coming more common in the well-wooded Yarrow Valley.

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© Kate Foster

I suppose unicorns are quite common?

‘Well, yes’  agreed the botanist. ‘Especially’, she added, ‘if the quality of the woods is improving’.

 

Scottish Rights of Way must include Access for Unicorns: the signs instruct us to head up the path to Ashiestiel.

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Up, towards the Southern Upland Way. Woodlands around us are in reasonable condition – see the bryophytes? At the edge of the birch wood, a third sign:

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The plant that is called Yarrow is still in flower in early autumn, and common in upland meadows. The Yarrow Pug is a southern insect, but the Northern Eggar should frequent a good upland meadow. Hares? Yes, should be plenty. Lapwing? well only a very small number nesting on the hill last year – they need undisturbed wetlands.

We enjoyed our rights of way, with the prospect of a unicorn – released from its chains – leaping a closed gate.

For any enquires about Unicorn sightings in the Yarrow Valley go to Fully Wooly  

Any scientific inaccuracy is my responsibility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rift Valley flyway

A road trip from Israel’s southernmost town of Eilat to its northernmost village of Metula offered glimpses of birds negotiating natural and human-made hazards. Birds can fly over the security fences that now entirely surround Israel, but on their passage they depend on the ways people use land to get safe roosting and forage.

The Rift Valley, running south to north through Israel and the Palestinian Territories, pulses each spring and autumn with millions of birds migrating between Africa and Europe.

Eilat is Israel’s southernmost town, very close to the Egyptian and Jordanian borders. At the end of March, thousands of Steppe Buzzards roosted on the ground overnight in the hills above the town. As the morning heat gathered, the birds rose upwards in the thermals.

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A group of Artists for Nature were working at a viewpoint. The guides pointed out that Black Kites, Ospreys, White Storks, Steppe Eagles were some of the species that were flying alongside the buzzards.

Looking into a patch of blue sky through binoculars, you could see raptors appear in spirals and then disappear in high northward streams.

 

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The new Security Fence could also be seen on the Egyptian border, with an observation post on the mountainous skyline.

With just a naked eye in such a sweeping landscape, the effort of the birds to reach the sky could only be seen as minute moving pinpoints.

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Below the viewpoint, the expanding desert town of Eilat sits in the small triangle of land between Egypt and Jordan. A string of luxury hotels now greets tourists who can fly in.

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Travelling north to the Negev desert, the road passes an airport under construction. The new Ramon airport will allow the largest of airplanes to taxi and turn, and will also release land nearer the town for more hotel development.  A peace-making plan for Israel and Jordan to share an airport was abandoned, so there are two airports next to each other on either side of the border.

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Further north an oasis in the Negev provided delightful Organic Dates. I felt the ground shudder: ordnance, I assumed.

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Dried-out ground stretches across the valley towards Jordan at the southern edge of the Dead Sea. This is the consequence of water and potash extraction.

To date, the Dead Sea has already lost over 1/3 of its surface area, the sea level has fallen over 25 meters and is continuing to drop by over 1 meter per year, causing land-subsidence sinkholes and other irreversible damages.

Quote: http://ecopeaceme.org/projects/dead-sea/

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The rapidly increasing scale of human activity was underlined by comparing a 60-year old photo of the road along the Dead Sea (shown in Ein Gedi Kibbutz), with a snap from our car window.

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A lay-by on the road offers a viewing point for Lot’s Wife, a Biblical character. Her name may not be remembered, but her form still stands in the intensely folded rocks.

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A resident Raven flew above the precipice. In the desiccating atmosphere, watercolour paint was dry by the end of a stroke.

 

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On the road north to Galilee, flecks in the sky turned out to be a flock of White Storks looking for an overnight roost.

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Past Lake Tiberias, a road climbs into the hills above the Hula Valley and overlooks what was once an extensive wetland.

Before being drained in the 1950s, the original lake and surrounding extensive marshes were the largest wetland habitat in the Middle East. Since the draining, there has been a slow but steady push to restore wetland habitats, including the Hula Nature Reserve and the Agamon Lake. Today these wetlands, along with the surrounding agriculture and native woodland hillsides, attract the greatest diversity and abundance of wildlife and birds found along the northern Great Rift Valley, among which are over 60 globally threatened plant and animal species. Much of this diversity is directly related to the site’s location at the crossroads of Eurasia and Africa, where several bioregions overlap.

Source:  http://www.artistsfornature.com/projects/the-hula-valley/

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Israel’s northernmost village of Metula is next to the disputed territory of the Golan Heights. Intensely farmed fields characterise the views towards Syria. Looking towards Lebanon, the skylines are truncated by roads and an intensely patrolled border but hint at remains of beautiful forests.

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Around Metula, there were orchards of all kinds – vines, apples, apricots, chestnuts.

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Nahal ‘Iyyon Nature Reserve   boasted an extraordinary variety of wild flowers.

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In the hills, White Storks were using the edgelands of Tsfat town rubbish dump for roosting and forage. Lines of storks dodged the compactor as it moved across the site, with shuffling jumps. Groups of storks then began to form and fly upwards with the morning heat. Birds in their hundreds, in their thousands – all moving north.

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Birdlife International is working to protect this international flyway.  One conservation aim is to prevent of illegal trapping and hunting of birds in passage, especially the small songbirds. In this context, the welfare and free movement of birds and people become interdependent ideas, and human and avian culture inseparable.

Looking back through my sketchbook, these glimpses of migrating birds in such numbers and variety emerge as an intangible memory.

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Dog on a bog (95% water)

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I went, with a dog, to Kirkconnel Flow for inspiration for World Wetlands Day. The National Nature reserve noticeboard had just one message. Yofi and I took note.

dogbog2wFrom the start, Yofi was not sure about this venture, following me closely and not leaving the path. Odd behaviour, for a young dog.

But going through healthy blaeberry bushes, we found something that interested us both. What is “N31” – a Peatland Action?

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Yofi was uninterested by Sphagnum, though I was trying out a new Moss app.

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We progressed towards a drain blocked as part of the peatland restoration programme.

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This open water harboured Feathery Bog-Moss:

dogbog6wYofi (who loves to swim) hung back: No go. No way.

I tried another path by the uncleared Scots pines, that were part of the plantation that almost destroyed Kirkconnel Flow). Yofi still was unimpressed.

A fallen tree made me very curious – but no dog followed me to the pool that had formed where it had stood.

 

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I meanwhile, found much to distract me.

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I wandered to the crater edge – more Feathery Bog-Moss.

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Yofi withdrew to a safe distance and kept an eye on me.

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I finally twigged, walking back to our starting point. Perhaps for a dog on a peat bog, the earth literally shakes? With all four feet on a quaking bog and a water level only just below the surface, she was certainly right to be very cautious.

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Back at the carpark, I found myself compelled to conduct a litter pick.

dogbog13wAn empty bottle of Vimto. Fruit juices, I learnt, make up of 5% of its ingredients – so the other 95% is water.

Just like Kirkconnel Flow! The peat bog is a liquid lens of water and moss atop a foundation of glacial boulder clay. Long and well may it quake.

 

 

How Deep is your Bog?

An event organised by Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership offered a glimpse of the plants which create the depth and the breadth of Beggar’s Moss. The partnership intends to restore this rich Moss, which is fascinating culturally as well as ecologically.

At the end of August last summer, Emily Taylor  led an event for the Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership to Beggar’s Moss in New Galloway Forest Park. This attracted a group of bog aficionados and had all the feel of an expedition.

Beware! It is easy to get lost amidst the Forestry Commission conifers around the bog. The awkward access was all the more exciting for those carrying peat probes and other survey equipment. I was glad that the sandwiches made it through unscathed.

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We created a marker point for our basecamp, on the ‘shore’ of the Moss.

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Beggar’s Moss is a peaty island left within the extensive afforestation of this area that took place in the 1950s and 1960s. The Moss triumphed as it was too wet to plant. Being protected from grazing by the plantation, the Moss has become ever more verdant – with colourful Sphagnum mosses mixed amongst other plants.

Emily’s guidance helped understand something of the environmental contexts that led to the luxurious depth of the bog, and also the plant profile of its living layer that gives it a fascinating breadth. We learned to survey a line of quadrats, showing the plant transitions across the Moss. It took me a long time to tell the difference between deer grass and cotton grass, but expert eyes made it look simple to identify the intriguing bog plants.

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At the same time, others in the party probed the peat and found it was 8 metres deep.

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We discussed the impact of our footprints on the living surface layer. Perhaps wellies do more damage than bare feet?

Sundew plants growing between the mosses were the stars of the day.

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Lodgepole seedlings are menacing because when they grow, these trees’ deep roots can crack the bog. Some seedlings were uprooted exposing their long taproot – perhaps this was the start of a process of restoration.

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At lunchtime, eating sandwiches kindly provided by Galloway Glens, we discussed the Moss’s changing fortunes and the irony of our introduction of olive pits to its plant record. I intend to keep track of the restoration of Beggars Moss, and to learn more of the plants that made the bog a wonderful eight metres deep.

Thanks to Emily Taylor and McNabb Laurie for creating this public event, which was part of the Galloway Glens programme.

reflections on place drawing and relational thinking

Collaborative drawing at Purton Boat Graveyard led us to reflect on conventions of wildlife representation, and how relationships between species and place might be drawn out differently.

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Severn Estuary from Purton Boat Graveyard (image Kate Foster)

This post is jointly written by Jethro Brice, John Fanshawe, and Kate Foster

At Purton Boat Graveyard an assortment of disused river craft were buried over the years to protect the eroding shoreline of the River Severn. Jethro Brice suggested this site as somewhere to continue experiments in shared drawing of place.

Arriving at high tide, we watched the mass of the muddy estuary water drop astoundingly fast. The wind was blowing hard upstream, and patches of sun ripped across the estuary.

We talked about what we aspire to do, through drawing. John Fanshawe has proposed ‘biocultural drawing’ to describe bringing biological and cultural aspects together on the page, in order to mine a sense of place.

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Image: John Fanshawe

John’s conservation work with BirdLife International includes reflection on the relationships between species loss and how that relates to the extinction of experience. Jethro’s PhD research aims to draw multispecies wetland narratives, and open spaces of encounter at different levels, between human and non-human cultures and between disciplines. Kate uses drawing to investigate relationships, focusing on particular vignettes of environmental change and drawing out questions of scale. She draws as a path to reflective observation, making links to what is happening over time and in different places. With Michael van Beinum, we reflected on how – individually and collectively – we might find structures to keep our exploration of places through drawing an open process.

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Drawing by Jethro Brice, in situ

Layering suggested itself as a initial theme, and Jethro’s warm-up solo drawings combined mud, masking fluid, and pen to convey weathered boat hulls. Kate considered the circular growth of lichen on the hulks, the horizontal movement of the tide and wind, and the rapid vertical drop of the water surface measured against a boat’s rudder. John explored how the movement of the wind – through both the riverside vegetation – and the falling tide animates drawings.

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Drawing by Kate Foster

We settled on a structure of shared drawing, with successive five minute attention to line, wash, colour and texture, before passing the drawings on. We all used the same media, preselected to suit the damp setting (wax pencils, water brush, ink and mud) and hoped that the rain might do some of the work.

Some shared drawings are shown below.

Time and weather put a dampener on further experiments.

With cups of tea and shelter, we considered why wildlife drawings (that can become bird portraits fixed in space and habitat) do not always satisfy our viewpoints from both conservation and the environmental humanities?

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We reflected that our perspectives demand that any species is better understood in relation – as a constellation of complex relationships in time and space. It is possible to admire wildlife imagery when it is a triumph of technique combined with observation. However, when such drawing reaffirms a harmonious world, it could also serve to distract and obscure. If we find that through drawing, we distance ourselves from the non human world and objectify it, this runs the risk of reinforcing the idea that nature and culture are separate.  So our discussions focussed on avoiding this dualistic separation, and how we might try to make our drawing more relational and embedded.

Looking at nature or landscape in terms of relationships requires exploration of how of how what we are observing is shaped through human activity, both our own and that of others. The shorebird species, Bar-tailed Godwit is an example of how a relational approach helps. Research into its migration has had practical implications for joining up the links in a global conservation movement.  Bar-tailed Godwits are migrating earlier because of changes in mowing regimes in the Netherlands, and arriving early in West Africa where they can damage young rice crops. As a result, women are forced to walk long distances and grow lower yields of rice in the rainforest.  Just knowing the godwits as a species overlooks a complex constellation of shifting relationships, all of which are critical to understanding the needs of the birds and the people with which they interact along a flyway. But it remains the case that seeing a species as a discrete taxonomic unit is the prevalent way of learning about and representing most birds.

So, what can we do, in terms of drawing or strategies, to keep in mind the possibilities of shifting relationships, and make them more visible? A group, just as much as an individual, can get stuck. The drawing we aspire to in our shared sessions seems to be a strategy to force thought, to keep our affective responses lively, and to use the page as a tool to prompt reflection and conversation. Paper as a medium has strengths, being portable and cheap, but what other media and modes can we combine?

In our next session, we might return to images repeatedly, or work in rotation on different subjects. We may try different ways of using words – both as prompts and as responses.

 

 

‘lungs of the earth’

The meanings of Fala Flow near Edinburgh are sung by Karine Polwart at the Eidnburgh Festival, placing cultural value on the ‘lungs of the earth’. Meanwhile a ‘review of permissions’ may allow peat extraction to accelerate nearby, at Auchencorth in Whim Moss – undermining climate action, and the quality of future lives to be lived.

A wonderful performance about a peat bog is running at Edinburgh Festival – Wind Resistance by Karine Polwart. This interweaves people’s lives with those of plants and migrating birds over generations. Fala Flow is a peat bog near Karine Polwart’s home, south of Edinburgh, and with her voice the Flow becomes urgently alive with wondrously named sphagnum mosses and life-giving (but also deadly) plants. Glimpsing uncertain futures with foul weather, Karine Polwart also draws out what can be done collectively. After listening to this performance, I was left wanting to breathe deep, and keen for Flows and the lives lived within them. As Karine Polwart said, peat bogs are the ‘lungs of the earth’.

Whim Moss is a raised bog at Lamancha not far from Fala Flow and in part of it, called Auchenforth, peat is being extracted. You can see the machinery used here – not quite so industrious as the fearful Two Headed Vacuum (below) but along the same lines, and still able to pick up peat infinitely quicker than sphagnum can ever lay it down.

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It seems that people buy massive quantities of horticultural peat, despite alternatives being available. So extraction continues (see a previous post) and for Whim Moss, a legal loophole has allowed yet more peat extraction:

Plans to dig out large amounts of Scotland’s precious peat from a landowner’s estate near Edinburgh look set to go ahead despite widespread opposition from conservationists and government.

A loophole in the law is likely to allow peat to be extracted from Auchencorth Moss on the Penicuik Estate in breach of local and national planning policy. Peat is a vital store of carbon, and is meant to be protected to help prevent climate pollution.

12 June 2016, Rob Edwards, Herald Group –  full article from the Herald. 

What does Whim Moss look like from above?

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Photograph: Hugh Chalmers, Tweed Forum

The photo, kindly supplied by Hugh Chalmers of Tweed Forum, shows that Whim Moss, if perceived as lungs, have two lobes that are not equally healthy. Overall, the dark brown ‘lobe’ (of active peat extraction) is releasing carbon dioxide from the ground into the air – but the lighter ‘lobe’ slowly absorbs carbon, and has its uppermost vegetation layer intact. The healthy part of the lung is an SSSI bog which has been restored, as part of Peatland Action, to reinstate the dams and fell inappropriately planted trees.  You can also see, middle left, an experimental area used by the Centre for Hydrology and Ecology to study how peatland ecosystems respond to different levels and forms of nitrogen deposition.

Think about the time frames invoked in this image. The raised bog has been creating itself since the Ice Age.  The Clerk family has run the Penicuik Estate since 1654, while their tenant, Westland Horticulture, was initially given permission in 1986 for peat extraction. Since then, Scottish Government has taken legal steps to protect peatlands, but Westland wants to extract 100,000 cubic metres of peat every year until 2042, under a ‘review of minerals permission’ process. A decision is to be announced this summer.

Hold on! a review of permissions? A process that takes account of what time frames, what places, involving whom, and for whose generation?

A peat bog, according to Karine Polwart, can be appreciated best by being seen from two distances. A moss can be understood from the widest possible viewpoint – but also in close-up, its richness and beauty is revealed by the narrowest focus. Shouldn’t a ‘review of permissions’ take the widest possible viewpoint for future generations of all species, so that they are able to enjoy the meanings and values to be found within the slow, cyclical, small-scale pace of the living Flow?