Sunday, 22 September 2013

Greenham Common and Eton Wick

On Greenham Common, the concrete runways of the old American airbase have long since been broken up and the land has returned to an extensive swathe of heathland habitat. 
Greenham Common
The heroines of the Women's Peace Camp who refused to be silent at the basing of Cruise Missiles at Greenham Common would, I hope, be pleased to see what has become of their former temporary home.
A short drive from home, a visit was prompted by a text-message report of a Red-backed Shrike, a migrant that isn't often found this far inland - (they fairly regularly crop-up on the East Coast). A small group of Newbury birders were already gathered at the spot so it was easy to locate the bird, which continued to fly-catch from the tops of fence posts and bushes, flying up, snatching large, winged insects out of the air and returning to its perch to gulp them down. The Shrike had a supporting cast of WhinchatStonechatWoodlark, and Wheatear. This was the kind of day that makes birding a joy and a pleasure. Walking back towards the car park at the old control tower, with one of the other birders, we spotted six Golden Plover, about ten metres away, perfectly camouflaged against the gravelly ground. 
Eton Wick

Another text-message informed me that further East in the County, a Ruff had turned up at Eton Wick, where a flooded field has been attracting flocks of geese and a few interesting waders for some time. Located bizarrely within sight of Windsor Castle and Slough Sewage Works, I found the contrasting neighbourhood amusing. 

Eton Wick

The reeds and hedgerow beside the stream contained Cetti's Warbler and Chiffchaff. 

Walking on past the flood, the path came out beside the Jubilee River - a hydraulic flood-relief channel for the Thames. 
Jubilee River

Now about 20 years old, the River and the attractive habitat created at Dorney Wetlands have become havens for wildlife.

Crossing the footbridge to Dorney Wetlands, I skirted Slough sewage works (a historic hot-spot for waders and the odd rare passerine), with Windsor Castle over the river to the south east. 
Dorney Wetlands

Windsor Castle

Another bridge brought me back to the Jubilee river cycle path and better views of the Ruff down on Eton Wick.


I found about 30 Snipe and one Ringed Plover were also feeding in the muddy scrape which has held the Ruff's attention for several days now. 

Snipe and Ringed Plover

A large flock of Lapwing also settled on the scrape but were soon off again, flushed by the shadow of a Red Kite crossing the water. 
Lapwing flock over Eton Wick

All in all, it was a perfect afternoon's birding. Still feeling reflective - but not so discontent, I made my way home through the rush-hour traffic on the M4.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Joining the Mottisfont Residency Team

Anna Heinrich and Leon Palmer (see their website HERE)are conducting a three-month artists' residency at Mottisfont, a National Trust property with a long tradition of making spaces for contemporary art.  They have drawn around them a group of artists and students to foster a range of creative responses to the site.
The Mottisfont Plane tree

Rather late in the process, I have joined the party, and my daughter Alice (a recent graduate in Cultural Studies) has decided to come along for the ride.

We arrived at the artists' studio in Mottisfont on 5 September, having never been to this part of Hampshire before.I could tell from the co-creative session we joined that the earlier workshops had already generated a great deal of activity and diverse interpretations of Mottisfont.
Drawing of the co-creative workshop, made without looking at the paper
When we finally got out onto the site, to explore the house and grounds, my first impression of Mottisfont was of a place insulated from the cares of the world by a genteel cloak of wealth and privilege; a retreat and refuge from the harsh realities of life. If it was that kind of sanctuary in the past, when it was the home of a succession of wealthy families and their celebrity guests, it still seems to retain some of that character today.

The visiting public were predominantly retired, white, middle class couples with the occasional grandchild. I imagined they were daydreaming, as they perambulated in the sunshine, about the luxurious lifestyles of the former owners, admiring the walled gardens, riverside walks and 'great tracts of land'.

Window within the Cellarium
around which the current house has been built
Now it is owned by the National Trust so I have to wrestle with the paradox of the estate's privileged past and it's ostensibly public-serving present. 'Forever, for everyone' (provided they can pay to get in).

Scheming with an ice-cream
However much I tried, I couldn't get excited about the place on this first visit. The artists, on the other hand - now there was something to get excited about; with their creative ideas buzzing around in a subversive maelstrom of inventiveness.

Alice in the Cellarium
I wondered at the task Anna and Leon had taken on, of orchestrating this rich mix of responses into a cohesive presentation within one small and idiosyncratic exhibition space. I wanted to see how this played out and to engage with it, be involved and learn from the experience. I'm in.

The Cellarium houses a soundscape installation,
with overlapping loops of sound composed by Hywel Davies

Who is this? Pan?