Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Round Oak Piece

Making the most of this week before my next Semester starts at art school, I decided to stay home today and walk my local patch. More snow fell last night so there is a good three inches still laying. Grateful for my long-johns and gore-tex boots I trudge off through the scrunchy snow for a woodland walk.

The path begins a few hundred metres from my front door, at Holden's Firs Bronze Age barrow cemetery. It is incredible to think that there were people living and being buried on this site during the time of the biblical patriarchs. What was this landscape like back then? Not a managed conifer plantation but probably oak forest with areas cleared for agriculture.

Much of the land in this area is now owned by the Englefield Estate,which has been in the ownership of the same family since 1603. Mostly down to managed woodland, with gravel extraction and timber being the main products, along with shooting and riding. The heir of the Estate is also the local Tory MP - it was ever thus! However, the Estate is well-managed for wildlife conservation and public access. A network of maintained footpaths criss-crosses the woodland allowing local people to enjoy the woods.

(Some optimistic Gorse is in flower beneath the snow.)

I am heading for Round Oak Piece, about a mile away; one of my local birding spots. In the summer this is one of the best places in Berkshire to see and experience the nocturnal appearances of Nightjar and Woodcock at close-quarters and I am to be found as dusk falls, being bitten to bits by midges and watching these wonderful birds on the wing. The scene is very different today, under thick snow. The tracks of a couple on intrepid dog-walkers and several deer are impressed in the snow ahead of me. Probably our native Roe Deer.

I am a member of contemporary art group arjeea21. We have an exhibition coming up next month, in Bracknell, where I will be showing two or three pieces of work. I have to think about my biographical details to send to Robert, the curator, for inclusion in the publicity. I'm thinking about this as I walk.

(Time to do a quick sketch - un-gloving my fingers; today's tally of bird species scribbled across the top as usual.)

(Two Goldcrests are feeding in the tops of the pine trees, dropping down occasionally to rummage in the bracken in their search for food. The UK's smallest bird, neat, greenish and capped with bright yellow, they are always a welcome sight. It is a wonder they survive these cold winters but they seem to do okay.)

My artist's statement should give an indication of the type of work I'm doing. That's quite tricky as I seem to diversify with every new project... I settle on a form of words:

"Peter Driver’s practice employs drawing, painting, printmaking, and other media to explore everyday objects, poetic and societal themes and embodied experience of local landscapes. Formal concerns include compositional strategies, uses of text and language within visual artworks, and human interaction with landscape.
Peter is studying BA Fine Art at Winchester School of Art.  He lives and works in Berkshire and exhibits regularly with arjeea21."

That just about does it.

(My first Treecreeper of the year drops down to the base of its next tree-trunk. Working it's way up the trunk with agile feet, it's white belly contrasting against the bark, with its elegant curved bill it seeks whatever insects or grubs are lurking in the crevices.)

(The Oval Pond is iced-over. Quite a large pond, it drains through a sluice into a small stream through the woods. It is a useful water-source for wildlife and regularly attracts Little Grebe, Mandarin and Mallard ducks as well as the resident Moorhens. There is not a sign of any of them today but the trees above the stream are full of the peeps and seeps of Coal Tit. The star bird of today's walk; Coal Tits are like a sepia-toned miniature Great Tit with a neat black cap and broad white strip from crown to nape, their warm buff tones appear more colourful than usual today against the snow-laden branches.)

I am pleased to note that there is ice-free water at the marshy end of the pond, as well as in the stream below the sluice so the wildlife have access to drinking water.

Heading for home I reflect on how this use of the land by one rich Estate enables a range of leisure uses for the local population. There is a sense of benign patronage in this relationship. I am not sure how to engage with what feels in some ways like a throw-back to the feudal system. I am grateful for the opportunity to access this landscape. There are over 500 hectares of scheduled ancient woodland within the estate and a sense of responsible stewardship pervades all the work that goes on here. As a council estate kid, only two generations away from the Victorian workhouse, I carry a sense of my class but it does not define me. I wonder if the weight of 'stewardship' is a heavy burden for the responsible rich.

(Only 24 species seen today. That is to be expected on a walk without a significant water-course or wetland habitat).

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