Bare Peat: microtopographies and restoration.

A description of drawing the eroded faces of peat, eventually using peat itself to envisage a restored living surface.

I found myself creating microtopographies and envisioning a restored Raised Bog.

I began by wanting to characterise ‘Bare Peat.’ For people involved in peatland restoration, Bare Peat is an alarm signal. It is an eroded face of the landscape where carbon changes its form and moves into the atmosphere.

Peat erosion can be considered scientifically at a microtopographic scale. I referred to an authoritative text (Evans and Warburton, 2007:181, Figure 7.6) and focussed on nine photographs of different textures of bare peat denoting different erosion patterns, resulting from wind or rain.

Nine microtopographies of Bare Peat @ Kate Foster 2019. Ink drawing,

Microtopographies? This is a word conveying detailed geographical study of small surface areas. This study helped me recognise the details of the processes by which peat is eroded. The description given with Warburton’s photographs gave a feel of the processes, such as ‘smooth surface of redeposited peat’ or ‘major step or wash front advancing from left to right.’


I explored ways to represent the textures of bare peat – through drawing, frottage, and printing, on different papers.

A Cut Peat from Lewis © Kate Foster 2019.  Frottage by pencil on tracing paper.

Drawing a cut peat from Lewis, I observed the presence of grassy fibres binding small segments of compressed peat moss together.

Eroding Peat © Kate Foster 2019. Graph Paper, Bone medium, peat.

The drawing above was about how microtopographies indicate sites where carbon dioxide is invisibly moving into the atmosphere, reflecting on my dependence on science to envisage that this proces even happens.

First Peat Print © Kate Foster 2019

I began to use peat itself to make the marks. Thanks to Dr Emily Taylor, Rachel Coyle, and Drumclog Plant, I was able to recognise and collect a small sample of ‘Squagy’ peat – defined as ‘the perfect consistencey for a digger driver to make peat dams with’.

Image: print-making at Edinburgh College of Art, Kate Foster 2019

Working in the print room at Edinburgh College of Art let me explore peat as a material. It is easily dried and blown away, diluted and wshed away, and readily becomes friable – releasing carbon into the atmosphere as it goes.

This developed as a series of abstract prints reminiscent of landscapes.

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How could I show these prints? Which way up should they go?

In the field, I had seen where Rachel Coyle (Peatland Action Project Officer at Tweed Forum) had measured the depth of peat in an upland area, surveying before restoration began at Crunklie Moss. I had this in mind, with this drawing on one of the peat prints. The peat probe used is typically orange.

SMtBimage 5-3
‘A field-worker probes the depth of the remaining peat.’ Image 5 in Mending the Blanket © Kate Foster, 2019.  Peat print with ink drawing on A4 cartridge paper.

Turned upside down, these prints might make you think about what is under your feet when you are on a raised bog. Given a restored green layer, and plenty of rain, the water table can rise and the bog be restored as a carbon store and habitat.

Ombotrophic Raised Bog © Kate Foster 2019. Peat print and ink drawing on A3 cartridge paper.

Peat seemed to convey the textures of a raised bog better than ink can, as I tested out with the prints below. Peat does its own thing well, especially when it’s wet with a living layer of sphagnum moss.

Raised Bog © Kate Foster 2019. Monoprint with soluble ink on A3 newsprint.
Raised Bog (2) © Kate Foster 2019. Monoprint with soluble ink on A3 newsprint.


This post was prepared as an element of my project, Developing Peat Cultures.

More info:



‘Why wool?’ – an event in Devon

Circular from Centre of Contemporary Art and the Natural World:

Why Wool?
Forum: Wool Culture
Friday 24 September 2010, 10am-4pm
Town Hall, Bovey Tracey
Admission: £19 (£15 conc.). Includes lunch + refreshments. Booking essential

CCANW’s ‘Wool Culture’ forum aims to bring together people – e.g. farmers, policy makers, weavers, knitters, makers and designers – who are passionate about finding new economically and environmentally viable directions for wool, an undervalued yet local and sustainable resource. The day will include exciting presentations, stimulating debate, sharing of information and networking. Presentations will be given by Clemence Cocquet of Ardalanish Isle of Mull Weavers, whose products include organic meat and award-winning woollen textiles and fashion, and Val Grainger, the Woolly Shepherd and Overall Winner of the Devon Environmental Business Initiative Awards 2009.

Devon and UK-wide sheep farmers have seen a steep decline on returns for the shearing of their sheep. An average White Face Dartmoor ewe’s wool is worth around £1.50. Shearing costs about £1 per ewe. Yet wool is one of the few fibres the can still be grown, scoured, spun and woven within the shores of the UK.

The ‘Wool Culture’ Forum underlines one of the exhibition’s themes entitled ‘Designing Locally’ which questions some of the logic of economics-driven globalized production and distribution which dominates the fashion industry today and creates a culture of ‘fast fashion’ consumption in the West. In this economic model, robust social and environmental standards are difficult to enforce within an international supply chain. By contrast, designing and producing locally can create products that celebrate traditions and express cultural heritage. It also has the potential to build communities by creating meaningful employment while respecting local environmental conditions.

The ‘Wool Culture’ forum is part of an ambitious programme of activities during the exhibition ‘Fashion Footprints: Sustainable Approaches’, CCANW’s ground-breaking project on sustainability in fashion and textiles. At a time when the terms ‘green’ and ‘fair trade’ have long-since entered the public consciousness, UK consumers largely seem unaware of the fashion industry’s enormous detrimental impact on the environment and workforces abroad. CCANW’s exhibition, events and other activities are designed to inform people on the more sustainable choices they can make in the clothes they wear.

This event is organised in association with the Devon Guild of Craftsmen.

Venue: Town Hall, Bovey Tracey
More info and booking:    01392 832277

tracking wool, and sheep too

Scottish tweeds are today fashioned from global wool – one of the routes is slow boat from New Zealand to Turkey where it is spun and dyed, and transported by lorry to a Scottish mill.

Another aspect of globalisation is beign raised in a forthcoming seminar (Aug 31, 2010) in Queensland University of Technology,  by Dr Anne Galloway, Victoria University of Wellington- to quote (my emphasis):

Counting Sheep: New Zealand Merino Wool in an Internet of Things

Abstract: “Pervasive computing brings together wireless, networked and context-aware technologies, including Global Positioning System (GPS), environmental sensors and Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID), to embed computational capacities in the objects and environments that surround us. The ‘Internet of Things’ is a related vision for future computing that proposes a shift from a network of interconnected computers to a network of interconnected objects. By virtue of their status as highly regulated and globally traded commodities, livestock animals and animal products have long been tracked and are primed to be amongst the first non-humans in such a network. Specifically, RFID-enabled livestock traceability programmes are increasingly being mandated by governments and agricultural industries worldwide to better support management of disease outbreaks and maintain access to high-value export markets. In these technologically determinist traceability scenarios, animals are largely envisioned as manageable and saleable information and farmers are more often positioned as technicians and data collectors than as animal caregivers.
Dr Galloway’s project investigates the role that cultural studies and design can play in presenting both producers and consumers with alternate visions for the future of human-animal relations. Through a juxtaposition of technological livestock management programmes and non-technological wool industry products and services, this presentation will critically question the social and cultural implications of emergent technologies and existing traceability efforts. Particular attention will be given to articulating research practices and stakeholder relations that can significantly engage relevant issues and avoid the pitfalls of both dystopian and utopian futurism.

Link: <>

mountain sheep and man

Mountain Sheep and Man in the Northern Wilds by Valerius Geist. 1975. Blackburn Press, New Jersey.

An ethological account of wild mountain sheep, in the Rocky Mountains. Valerius Geist is not afraid to link his scientific insights to his own developing maturity, nor to make parallels between how sheep and humans behave, for example in combat. He was taken aback to find that mountain goats would kill each other if they could, and reasons that mountain sheep are protected from damaging each other by their physiology. He observed how rams established hierarchy, and again was taken aback to elicit homosexual behaviour between subordinate and dominant males. I can’t judge his scientific work – for example on cold climates as an evolutionary prompt for humankind holds water – but enjoyed his writing style and his insistence on linking how animals are to how we are, and what we do. In the final chapters he describes encounters with tamed mountain sheep – acknowledging his initial naivety believing that he had successfully disguised himself as a goat. “I could have changed my “goat suit” for that of a circus clown with equal effect.’ p228). The sheep knew what he was all along but would be tamed for the salt that they craved in early spring.

“Thus when I arrived in Banff National Park after my Stone’s sheep study,  groups of enthusiastic amateurs had long known somehting that professional zoologists were not quite conscious of: namely, that wild, unhunted animals can get along with man in a fashion reminiscent of the Biblical paradise.”

“Have you ever sat on a mountainside and observed a ram graze below you, watched the ram finish feeding, then look up and come to you, paw a bed that sedns the dust and pebbles striking your legs, and then lie down beside you? There you sit, the cunning hunter and the cunning prey, while the wind plays genlty with your hair, and is heavy eyes blink, ready for a little nap. The clouds move past overhead adn their shadows play in the valley, the grasses rustle in the breeze, and the eagle soad past along the slope below both of you. The creature resting beside you is as free and wild as the mountains that nourish it. It can choose to leave yo, but it does not. For the moment, it prefers your company.”

He gained insights as a result: “some of my concerns were rather mundane, such as checking if chronological age, as determined from dates of tagging, did coincide with age rings on the horns. It did. I could demonstrate to my satisfaction that the sheep were exceedingly loyal to their seasonal home ranges and reappeated at the same seasons each year in the very same places. I could show .. that rams moved between the female groups. Thus the female sheep in a group were largely related by maternal descent. The scientific discoveries pale, however, beside the recollection of the individuals I came to know for a few years of their short lifves. Some were shy individuals who waited a logn time before they decided to come to me. … Others, in particular the females, became exceedingly tame, and stuck their noses into everything – my pockets, my rucksack, my camera lenses, and even my cameras if I had to change film… (p221)”

In concluding paragraphs, when he leaves the mountains, he asks “Think of the carbon, nitrogen and water cycles. Is there not poetry, no art, no philosophy in them? have they no dimensions beyond the scientific ones? Do they not say something about the stuff that forms me, which the I gave shape to. They say that the me has been eternal and will be so, whichever way we define eternal.  … Me cycles and recycles; I comes and I goes. Me is my link to eternity; I to the present. I is my link to mysteries past and mysteries future. The land is in me and of me….

what is a keb?

A keb is a sheep whose lamb died. She might foster another lamb.

It is included on a website of vocabulary of Northumbrian farming terms

Other terms to get to know for sheep may include: lamb, ewe, ewe lamb, gimmer, shearling ewe, tup/ram, two shearling ewe, broken mouther ewe, yeld ewes, hoggie, wether lamb, tup lamb, tup hog, dinmont tup, shearing ram.

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