|Section of Google-Earth track of first joint field trip by Antony Lyons and Caitlin DeSilvey in Cornwall in 2014|
part 1 - juxtapositions and speculations
Two years into a four-year creative research involvement with the boundary-pushing academic project, Heritage Futures, I’m taking stock of what’s slowly emerging within my field of view; attending to the germinating seeds of some site-inspired video-sonic creative responses - or activations - in three 'landscapes in limbo'.
In the first part of these reflections, the focus is on the three edge-land locations that form the study sites for the Transformations theme of Heritage Futures: Orford Ness, Suffolk (‘post- military/coastal change’); Cornwall China Clay area (‘post-mining’); and Côa Valley, Portugal (‘post-agricultural/rewilding’). Whilst these form the primary geographical juxtapositions, other situations and influences have become enfolded into my scope, and the scope of the wider research project.
After a series of visits to connect with, document and contemplate the three primary sites over the past two years, I'm at the stage of assessing what affinities and creative resonances have shown themselves to this puzzle-ing student and imagineer, who has landed in these far flung places wearing the hazy cloak of the geo-poet, assembling the poetic from the gleanings and fossickings under stones, through the mist, and out of a myriad of minds, desires, dreamings.
I’m interested in the ways in which these settings are being viewed and activated as intentional, experimental models, with potential for replication elsewhere. Together with the human, there are the non-human ‘actors’ - water dynamics, fire, animals, vegetation, erosion processes (this also involves vegetation), and countless more. These are limbo-landscapes, not static, but freed (partly and temporarily?) from many of the strictures of human industry, commerce, war-making. For the non-human actors, or agents, there is a timeless ‘being-ness’ in the modus operandi; moving, growing, creeping, metamorphosing…
Constellations of Rewilding
“Everyone is talking about rewilding at the moment. The debate around it is shaking up the conservation sector and public interest in it is huge, with a growing movement of people advocating the restoration of our degraded ecosystems.” 
In this sector of the Heritage Futures programme, ’rewilding’ has, from the start, been one of the the primary lenses through which all the explorations - academic or eco-creative - have been viewed. Alongside this complex and nuanced term, there has emerged, for me, a bundle of related terms - recovery, rehabilitation, ecologically restorative processes, regenerative land-use, and more.
In all this terrain, there is an emphasis on time and process. The emergent potentials are, of course, not divorced from the past, nor from letting-go, nor the pressing present necessity of formulating cultural/social healing. Recently, Caitlin DeSilvey, a co-investigator in Heritage Futures, took part in a BBC radio debate which addressed these issues, and shared reflections on 'letting go' and
"relationships and unfolding processes instead of permanence and fixity..."
Caitlin DeSilvey (BBC R4, Thinking Allowed, 26 Jun 2017 LINK )
One of my own core concerns is with emergence, flow and ‘energy’ - vital biophysical forces and human mental forces, inspirations and passions. I’m interested in how these interact and synergistically co-create. The complexity and contested nature of all these situations emerges in views such as this:
"If you let nature take its course you will be covered in foliage and dirt, realistically; that's not a very attractive situation to be in...and that's a very human way of seeing, it's not very realistic"
Tiffany Jenkins, sociologist & cultural commentator (BBC R4, Thinking Allowed, 26 Jun 2017)
Personally, I look towards, and embrace, some more enduring, timeless voices:
“What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.”
G. M. Hopkins - Inversnaid, 1881
Other encountered voices (in particular in the China Clay lands of Cornwall) speak of the - essentially unwanted - ‘overburden’. The fields, soil, homes and the rhyzomic richness of the cultural landscape were all perceived as a ‘burden’ or obstacle, in getting at the clay resources; in ‘winning’ the clay:
In the radio discussion to which I’m partly responding here, there were some interesting dialogues about (anthropologically viewed) relationships, conversations, experimentation, in contrast to a “zero-sum” game of winner+loser. This very much gels with my approach (with a creative ethnographic attention) of seeking and revealing relationalities and highlighting possible hidden connections. Creative experimentation is about probing and triangulation; then using intuition as a guide, going forward.
“Futures are designed & built of constellations - things, persons, people, practices - in specific moments”
Heritage Futures and Future Heritages – Inaugural Lecture by Professor Rodney Harrison, June 27 (online recording)
This is very pertinent to the topic of rewilding in these places. In all three sites, people (professionals mainly) have expressed the view - or belief - that rewilding will happen anyway, without any human intervention, or that it is underway already. In this mode of thinking, the interventions are - for instance in the Portuguese setting - intended to provide protected refuge zones, or safe havens, for selected threatened species, thus giving assistance to natural processes. For the ecological stewards of the Côa Valley area, there is a sense of pressing urgency. Some key (loved, admired and vital) species may disappear before the re-establishment of robust biodiverse richness trophic cascades  in this landscape.
There is some distinction between the subtle affinities, resonances and dissonances that I sense (or intuit) in - or in-between - these three locations. When asked recently to make a small selection from my photographs to represent each site, some interesting themes emerged. A kind of distillation has occurred - not just of a profusion of images, but of my thinking about some core relationships to site and place. The exercise has turned out to be a useful creative-research tool. This image selection process has revealed to me a previously occluded pattern, or mesh of connective tissue.
Cornwall China Clay area
The photo-set from Cornwall clusters around re-vegetation growth - recovery, creep, slow, inexorable returning and reclaiming. Many of the the old buildings are transforming to damp, dripping mossy caverns. The raw wounds of the stripped granite landscape are gradually being re-carpeted.
Here, we are encountering the living skin - ‘Soil and Soul’ , vegetation, animals, people, and a vital materiality of human and non-human forces.
In this Cornish mining area, what is presenting to me is the fecund force of the self-regeneration of ecology, of vegetative growth, of a kind of scab-formation on the raw, bleeding wounds. On the UK Ordnance Survey maps, the active working zones of the clay extraction were, and still are, depicted as blank ‘white spaces’, their features being too ephemeral to fix in map form. The creation of these white spaces involved a peeling back - or scraping away - of this skin, the overburden. A violent wrenching away of plants, roots, soil, regolith. And villages, graves, community and culture.
'Rewilding' or not, the creeping moss, vines, 'weeds' are on the move. The healing of the deep gouging scars is underway, and the scale is much bigger, more powerful than any of our human efforts to plan, engineer, imagineer or ‘regenerate’. In the future, there will be new eco-towns, leisure activities in the flooded pits, maybe vineyards and solar farms on the tips, monkey-puzzle plantations, Eden-style destination projects, but the slow green creep will gradually cover and heal all these white spaces. At times this seems like a Triffid-like force, persistent and determined. This is true of many post-industrial landscapes, but especially so in this moist, Atlantic-rain-swept semi-tropical land. I am reminded also of some descriptions in Ballard’s work of 'speculative fiction', The Drowned World (1962).
"The sun was still hidden behind the vegetation on the eastern side of the lagoon, but the mounting heat was bringing the huge vicious insects out of their lairs all over the moss-covered surface of the hotel...In the early morning light a strange mournful beauty hung over the lagoon; the sombre green-black fronds of the gymnosperms, intruders from the Triassic past, and the half-submerged white-faced buildings of the 20th century..."
The answer - or the future - is surely in the life-force of fungi, lichen, moss..?
(...and even rhododendron?)
Resistance is futile?
The deep-time, time-lapse rhythm is one of ebb and flow of vegetation. Often the destructive force has been the advancing ice and tundra conditions. Paradise lost; paradise regained. Vegetative entropy.
"How long does it take to make the woods?
As long as it takes to make the world.
It is always finished, it is always being made, the act
of its making forever greater than the act of its destruction."
Wendell Berry, from A Timbered Choir 
"In our fairytales, beanstalks rise monstrously” 
In a real, but also poetic sense, this can be seen as 'chlorophyll returning’.
(here too is a conceptual connection to the topic of ‘solar-energy futures’ in this land).
A relevant filmic reference here is the story presented in the Japanese animation film, Princess Mononoke . Here, the forest spirit is assailed by many destructive pressures, including the workers of the forges of 'Iron Town', and imperial greed. However, the message at the end is one of irrepressible growth - the green blanket of recovery draping the ravaged hills and enveloping the ruins of the humans.
"I want all my friends to come up like weeds, and I want to be a weed myself, spontaneous & unstoppable.” Roger Deakin 
Richard Mabey writes of "outlaw plants”
"weeds vividly demonstrate that natural life - and the course of evolution itself - refuse to be constrained by our cultural concepts…"
"they are the boundary breakers, the stateless minority, who remind us that life is not that tidy.”
The contemporary global social challenges of managing waves of migration and refugees is bound up with attitudes to invasive plant and animal species. Across these domains, there is a shared terminology, seen in concepts, and beliefs, such as ‘alien’, 'non-native', ‘foreign’, ‘purity’, ‘colonisation’, ’struggle for resources’ and 'indigeneity' etc. This is a topic I will return to in the next instalment.
|Orford Ness, July 2016|
As a segue into the next case-study site, there is the case of one particular weed species. During and after the London WWII ‘blitz’, rosebay willowherb (aka ‘bombweed', or ‘fireweed’; Chamaenerion angustifolium) flourished amid the city’s rubble, thriving on the disturbed ground. This plant is also very widespread on Orford Ness, Suffolk - the location of decades of aerial bombing training and weapons testing. Vegetation is clearly a significant agent on the shifting shingle spit of Orford Ness, but a developing creative narrative also embraces the formal and abstract character of some residual and historic structures.
Here also, the vegetation is active, encroaching, even breaking apart the granular fabric of the enormous concrete ‘pagodas’ (pictured above), but this vegetative impulse has always existed in a precarious balance with the mobile, shifting shingle - long before any human influence. A violent storm blows up, and large areas - volumes in fact - of the loose unconsolidated land get churned up and re-sculpted. The defunct lighthouse, iconic and locally treasured, lies closer and closer to the retreating shoreline every day. Over the centuries, three predecessor lighthouses have been lost to the sea, and this last one will succumb to a similar fate very soon. At this location, the essence is one of a very dynamic, fluid land-sea interface. This is the documented past, and the trajectory of the future - a moulding and remoulding by the relentless forces of the sea. The power of the sea, of storm and tidal rhythms, encounters the slower fluxes of stone, shingle, flint. It’s a dance.
And no-one lives on the ‘Ness’.
In a way, this fact gives it an anomalous edgeland character, out of tune with most other UK landscapes; a place that brings to mind the wording of the USA’s Wilderness Act of 1964, which defines wilderness as area “untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
The Ness is then a curiosity, an exception. Unlike the similar shingle landforms at Dungeness (site of the famous Derek Jarman Garden) there exists no residential community, simply a sole ranger on duty at night. Yes, there are National Trust visitors, occasional fishermen (supposedly), Nicholas Gold - the new owner of approximately half the shingle spit, and his acquaintances. At times, there are specialist residential workshops for those who are fascinated with such a sparse, elemental, crumbling place. But it is ‘home’ only to the plants and animals - the latter only truly occupying the ‘Ness’ once the human visitors and workers have departed at the close of day.
To many, the lure of Orford Ness is clearly strongly felt. Perhaps this even has some association with that which has been noted in relation to those North American wilderness areas - repositories “of values that people once invested in the monarchy or the church[:] moral purity and social stability.”
As sound-recordist, Chris Watson related to me:
(in the 'Bomb Ballistics' building, in July, 2016)
"Orford Ness is a place in transition...it always has been...[humans] are here over a very transitory time, compared to the action of the North Sea on this part of the Suffolk Coast, and the coastal erosion, and the currents that sweep this coast...people relish coming to the edge of somewhere, the threshold of landscape and seascape...a place out of our control...quite alien and strange..."
Maybe it's the starkness of the landscape - or its fluidity?; or perhaps it’s that the ex-military buildings still have social and political resonance, and ‘vibrant’ energy? These temple pagoda forms are remnant structures with onomatopoeic or sinister names like 'Bomb Ballistics' and 'Black Beacon'. Globally, we are still tethering on the edge of an atomic (war) abyss; this is one of the sites where some of the core technology was developed and tested.
Orford Ness - colour and formality
For me, the photo-selection that emerged, or settled out, was somewhat surprising. The raw starkness of the landscape has spoken to me in a language of 'pure' abstract forms, colour symbolism and signals. A pared-down simplicity. The photo-set suggests a focus on geometric architecture plus the attention to colour in an abstract way, especially in the ‘sector lights’ of the lighthouse. Maybe in this instance, I am drawn - romantically - to the poetic idea of a light going out, and in a blaze of colour, firework-like? Colour and form; structure and geometry. In a way, this is the antithesis of the messy, organic theme in Cornwall. A doomed lighthouse has a magnetic attraction, of course, but I am intrigued in particular by these red and green glassed 'sector' windows:
“Since then , a red light - visible for 14 nautical miles - has shone north to mark the Sizewell Bank….the green light shines over Hollesley bay, for 14 nautical miles and the red shines over whiting hook and whiting bank visible for 15 nautical miles.” 
Structures, form and colour? These are all clearly human interventions. Partly they signify control over organic fluxes. The return and re-establishment of organic flux is evidenced in the stalagtites I encountered in an abandoned building, but also there are other resonances and these relate to the atomic past, the testing and development of weaponry; heat, molten glass, is one of the byproducts, or results. The geometrical building forms and red-green lights, are oppositional, not just to organic revegetation but also to the storms, the sea, the tides and wind. Oppositional to the flux and endless dynamic change. In this way they hark back, at least poetically, to the pyramids of Egypt and Central America. They are not about the dance with life and the energy of the universe, but are statements of otherness.
Orford Ness was one of the hotspots for coastal erosion identified in the 2015 National Trust’s Shifting Shores report , in which there is acceptance that certain land areas will soon be engulfed by the sea, a process of managed decline. There are ongoing efforts for the local community to be involved in adaptation responses and strategies that might reflect local as well as national interests. In 2013, Trinity House offered the lighthouse for sale, leading to its purchase by Nicholas Gold, and the establishment of a charity (Orfordness Lighthouse Trust) to manage it. Gold and the Trust are now neighbours, rubbing shoulders. In a submission to the National Trust AGM (2014), Gold explained that the encroaching sea put the lighthouse at risk of collapse. The Orfordness Lighthouse is an iconic feature of the East Anglia coastline which he felt should be protected from ruination.
Côa Valley, Portugal
Finally, emerging from the Portuguese photo-selection, the theme is clearly ‘people and animals’…and also fire (which here features intimately with people and animals, most directly through the activities of shepherds).
And this isn’t a surprise. I have felt strongly connected to the place from my first visit (and previously on an artist-residency at nearby Binaural-Nodar). Over a series of visits, I have been shadowing some chosen individuals. There is a deepening of relationship, and a dialogic companionship. This state is necessary for the type (or timbre) of recording of voices and visuals that I envisage. Thus far, the relationships formed in this landscape outweigh anything within the other two locations. Of course there are people with visions and plans for futures at all three sites - ranging across strategic/organisational, community groups to impassioned individuals. At Orford Ness, there is for instance lighthouse-owner, Nicholas Gold; the 'official' visions of the National Trust; and community activism in relation to the lighthouse and shoreline. In Cornwall, there are long-running strategic planning visions; the strong influence of the 'owners' (of much of the post-mining land) Imerys; plus individual perspectives too. But in Portugal, I'm finding the intensity and motivation of the individual and group visions of ecological support (for protecting species and providing linked ‘stepping stone’ refuges and boosting food-chains) drives forward a strategy - a recovery plan for threatened animal species (and it is hoped, by extension, an eco-futures socio-economic recovery).
This is in counter-balance to a pervading sense of pessimism - amongst the older population in this landscape and villages. This group are in the majority as the young have left. They don’t, on the whole, envisage a positive future. Their familiar way-of-life is in terminal decline. They see a human/social retreat from the land, and no future locally for their families, no real human vital future. Most are at arms length from the eco-minded visioning - the eco-tourism, the environmental education, the plans for protected areas, the wildlife futures. Through their eyes one sees further threats to the long-established way of life - e.g. to the hunting traditions, the practice of burning the ground-cover to benefit the grazing of sheep- and what they see as the support (by the ecologists) for old enemies - the wolf, and the wild boar. It has not been a strong part of the farming tradition to have empathy or sympathy for wildlife (such is the western way...). The farming livestock future is declining. There is some remnant hunting tradition, but this too is in conflict with the strategies of the conservationists.
But people and animals link also through the past - the past of many timescales
|Pigeon House (disused), Côa Valley|
The shepherds - the few remaining (like Leonel, pictured above) - will not be passing on the livelihood to their offspring; who say there is no future here for shepherds. Yet who are part of this land like no-one else. They inhabit its subtle changes.
In the encounters with these situations, my stance is geopoetic, and my interest is in the dynamic links between people and place (landscape, ecology, buildings, objects), viewed through the lenses of landscape recovery and rewilding. The creative and collaborative research processes have involved undertaking imaginative journeys together with researchers, local individuals, community representatives, environmental stewards, museum staff and many more. Eventually, assemblage works (video-sonic film-poems & immersive sculptural spaces) will be presented in the pigeonholes and elsewhere. Woven into the mix will be personal stories and future-visions, rooted in the place, but with a universal resonance. The aim is a metaphorical weaving of hopes, visions, tensions and possibilities in these landscapes of decay, renewal and rewilding. I’m seeking to access the both knowledge and subtle undercurrents; resonances and dissonances; antagonisms and compromises. As in biological morphogenesis , there are opposing signals; some activating and some deactivating growth and change. Evolving dynamic new forms are in the making. New heritages.
[PART 2 of this blog-post to follow shortly]
 Aldo Leopold is generally credited with first describing the mechanism of a trophic cascade, based on his observations of overgrazing of mountain slopes by deer after human extermination of wolves. Leopold, A. (1949) "Thinking like a mountain" in "Sand county almanac”. Also see here: Google Books link to Feral:Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life, by George Monbiot, 2014
 Title of a 2001 book by Alastair MacIntosh: Soil and Soul; People versus Corporate Power
 Referring to Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (2010), by Jane Bennett
 Wendell Berry, from A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems, 1971
 Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber, and Life with the Tree-Planting Tribe (2011), Charlotte Gill
 Princess Mononoke (1997), Ghibli Studios
 Roger Deakin, Notes from Walnut Tree Farm, 2008
 Weeds - the Story of Outlaw Plants (2010), Richard Maybe
 American Wilderness: A New History (2007), Michael L. Lewis
 http://www.orfordnesslighthouse.co.uk/history http://www.worldwidelighthouses.com/Lighthouses/English-Lighthouses/Trinity-House-Owned/Orfordness
 Morpho-genesis is the process by which an organism, tissue or organ develops its shape. Morphogenesis is driven by various cellular and developmental processes including cell proliferation, differentiation, apoptosis, cell migration and cell adhesion.
ALL IMAGES: Antony Lyons
(except stills from Princess Mononoke)
(except stills from Princess Mononoke)