Category Archives: reading

The protective coast

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About 6 months ago a friend popped an article through my letterbox and it has been percolating around in my mind ever since. From an issue of Horizons, the University of Cambridge’s research magazine, the piece focuses on the East of England and considers climate change and flooding. It questions whether manmade barriers are the best coastal defence and with predicted rises in sea level of up to 1.5m by 2100, in the future these hard defences would only have to be built bigger and higher and become more conspicuous.

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The East coast is a low lying ‘soft’ coast. The energy of tides and waves brings silt and clay that accumulates near the shore. As the water shallows, the particles are trapped by salt tolerant plants and salt marsh begins to form.  Salt marshes are a valuable environmental resource as they can absorb and bury carbon from the atmosphere and offer habitats to unique plants and animals

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Although salt marsh changes daily with each tide, and is particularly vulnerable to coastal erosion, tidal surges and flooding, the article, written by Sarah Collins, suggests that it could actually provide a more sustainable option to hard, concrete defences and act as a protective barrier, buffering wave actions, reducing their height and therefore their potential for damage. It has been shown that a narrow strip of salt marsh 40m wide reduces wave height by 20% and strip 80m wide can reduce waves to zero – the saltmarsh is able quite literally to swallow the waves.

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Here in Wells, low-lying reclaimed farmland is protected by man-made sea defences – high sea walls that were built to protect the land in the aftermath of the flooding of the 1953 tidal surge. These walls do protect the land, but they also create a barrier, stopping the shore from moving inland and squeezing the saltmarsh between the sea and our coastal defences.

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To act efficiently as natural flood defences the sea and salt marsh needs to be able to move landwise naturally and freely and with the projected rise in sea levels it is unlikely that the coastline will stay as it is at the moment.

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The issue of the changing coastline has occupied my mind for some time now and I have been considering how I could make a piece of work that considers these issues. The drawings here are some of my first ideas and explore ideas around the destructive tide, inundation and shifting boundaries. Next time I’ll show you my next steps in this project.

Reading

The Knitting and Stitching shows have finished. It was a wonderful experience and so good to speak to so many enthusiastic people and to get such positive feedback. Thank you to everyone who came, looked, asked questions and were fantastically encouraging. I was exhausted at the end but have spent the past week catching up on domestic things and having a bit of a sit down!

For me this has meant catching up on some reading. I divide my reading matter into ‘upstairs’ books (a secret love of detective fiction) that are for reading in bed and ‘downstairs’ books (books I can get my teeth into and learn something new). I read from a wide range of  topics: anthropology, history, natural history and science, and both poetry and prose, to name just a few.

At the moment I have a pile of books waiting to be read

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and two journals that I have recently bought.

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Elementum describes itself as a journal of nature and story that includes writing from Cornwall showcasing art, photography & features inspired by our connection to the ocean & landscape. This is the first volume and it explores the theme of Calling. It is beautifully produced on nice paper and has wonderful photographs and artwork. I have ordered the second volume that will arrive soon. The second journal, Reliquae, is printed by the Corbel Stone Press and is also a compendium of poetry and prose about landscape, place and philosophy.

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There’s nothing I like better in the winter than to draw the curtains when it gets dark, make a cup of tea and sit down and read …. this lot will keep me going for a while. (I always have a pencil for marking interesting passages and this one above is particularly good!)

I’m taking a break from all social media over the Christmas period. It will be a time to relax, recharge and catch up. I’ll be back in the New Year to let you know about an idea that has been percolating in my mind for a while.

Finally, you may like to know that I have put four Marshscape Collages into my shop.

 

Topophilia

I always have the radio on as I’m working especially if I have a mundane, repetitive task to do. This afternoon as I was making samples for a forthcoming workshop, I caught an episode of Ramblings with Claire Balding on Radio 4 which was particularly interesting. It has left me thinking and I thought it was worth mentioning it to you.

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The present series of Ramblings discovers how walking can be a way of bonding; with friends or other people etc. Today’s episode was with travel writer Philip Marsden and considered how walking could be a way of bonding with place. Philip Marsden has just written a book, Rising Ground, in which he explores why we react so strongly to certain landscapes and what makes them so special.

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His new book includes thoughts about the area of Cornwall where he now lives. He talks about falling in love with the place – with all the feelings, sensitivities and yearnings that go with that state. It is, he says, an intense and physical response and one that is fundamental to whom we are – we define ourselves through the experiences and stories that we encounter in that place. It is an idea I relate to. The more you know a place the more you learn to love it. You become sensitive to its little quirks and changes; you can become upset by careless planning verdicts or if an eyesore is allowed to ruin a view. You’re elated when you encounter an animal or bird in an unusual place (like the first time I saw a seal up Sluice Creek in Wells far from their normal stomping ground …. Do seals stomp?).

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So why do we react in such a way with certain places? Is it because of the associations we have with places we knew as children and the value we put on those places? Or is it the shape of the land? Marsden talks about geographical characteristics that have historically attracted people to a particular spot– he calls them collective places. These locations have an extraordinary presence that has always been special and consequently stories and myths have built up around them.

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However what I love isn’t necessarily going to be what you love – your feelings won’t be the same as mine. Each one of us senses a place differently. Our mind and our eyes are in constant interaction – how we see, or indeed use all our senses, is conditioned by our brains and so our feelings for a place are personal. They are determined by prior knowledge and experience, subjective perception and  selection.

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There is much to think about and if you were wondering about the title of this post: Topophilia is a love of or emotional connection with place or physical environment. The photos are from a ramble of my own taken at Wells last weekend.

Secret water

I have been re-reading the Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons books over the past few weeks. They are stories that I have loved since I was a child and I have really enjoyed revisiting them. I read them in quick succession – one after the other.

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My favourite book has always been Secret Water. It is a wonderful exploring adventure but on this re-reading, it is the setting that attracted me. The book is set in Hamford Water, a marshy environment in Essex. Ransome’s descriptions of the place remind me so much of the saltmarshes on the North Norfolk coast and it is these places that I have in my imagination and visit as I read.

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‘The saltings below the dyke grew narrower, and were now no more than a fringe to the wide expanse of mud that stretched across from the island to the mainland instead of the bright, shimmering sea that they had seen from the deck of the Goblin when they had sailed into the creek. A ribbon of water was spreading in the middle of the mud. Tide was coming up. Soon the mud would be a sea once more.’

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‘They went floundering along the saltings …  the island that had been divided from the big one by a wide channel was an island no longer. The channel had narrowed and broken up, into little streams trickling down both sides of a mudbank.’

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‘Almost at the same moment, everybody saw a break in the line of sand away to the south, and a thread of water going in there, and one or two tall masts showing above sand dunes. And, as they came nearer to that round buoy with the cross they saw a much wider channel was opening before them with smooth shining water stretching to the west and low banks on either side.

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the land seemed hardly above the level of the sea, just a long low line above the water, with higher ground far away behind it. But that low line of coast seemed to have no gaps in it. It looked as if it stretched the whole way round across the head of the bay.’

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These photos were taken at Burnham Overy Staithe …. wonderful.