A woollen line

a woollen line  :   some background

I cannot remember when I first became aware of peat as a material that stores energy; I know from gardeners that it has wonderful water retaining properties, also that, in some areas, it is cut and burnt for fuel.

What I did not know is that where peat occurs in areas of upland Britain it is carrying out both these functions on a massive scale, storing carbon and water naturally, so that where it is exposed and being eroded this quiet but essential function is being catastrophically lost.

I have long understood that peat is slow to form and fast to use.

During the hot summer of 1976, in the heart of the Brecon Beacons National Park, fires destroyed an area of blanket bog opposite the ‘Dragon’s Back’. The loss of bog vegetation left a raw, black, wound on this unique landscape .As an artist who has worked with wool in the past  it occurred to me that wool might offer a healing comfort for the damaged landscape.

Wool is a material that has remarkable properties that enabled it to provide the first ever non-woven textile. Potentially it has much to recommend it as a geo- textile, not least that it is a local resource unlike jute, a material imported from across the world and currently the textile most frequently used for control of landscape erosion. Presently wool has little economic value for upland farmers however its use as a conservation textile might help change this situation.

As an artist the whiteness of wool and the blackness of peat caught my imagination. What if one could be used to help the other and return the mountain to green?

So in the summer of 2009 I discussed the idea with the British Wool Marketing Board who agreed to help me with a pilot study by giving me a bale of 350kilos of grey wool.  I then set about getting all the different permissions needed from the landowner, the farms grazing the hill and the Countryside Council for Wales. Then working with volunteers through the winter I made this wool into felt incorporating heather seeds collected from the Sugar Loaf. I also made simple wooden pegs , which, with the help of 30 volunteers who carried both felts and pegs up on to the mountain, was used to install a ‘woollen line’ on 27th March 2010 on Pen Trumau.

For comparison I laid some of the felts on another, fenced area of damaged peat to see how the felt behaves in an area where sheep and human activity is restricted.

In the years since I first conceived the Woollenline a great deal has happened as the blog shows. Woollenline has become a drawing both joining people, material and possibility. It has taken a serious situation and playfully engaged people to make their mark, slowly drawing them into a ‘Woollenline’ community. It is both an observation of what exists on a fire damaged peat bog and a guide for other lines to follow. It links people through effort, creates threads of research and uncovers opportunity. Woollenline continues to generate responses to the landscape, developing connections between conflicting interests and exploring personal and community responsibility in relation to landscape. In the next few months I am hoping to create an exhibition in Crickhowell to document the Woollenline which will hopefully bring new helpers to join its development in the spring 2013.


12 Responses to A woollen line

  1. Pingback: 2010 in review | A woollen line

  2. Sue Henchley says:

    Hey Pip it looks great! Let me know when you next go up there.
    Love, Sue

  3. Hi Pip,
    Have tweeted a link to your blog – Looks great!

  4. Pingback: Art, ecology and caring for our mountains | Talybont-on-Usk

  5. marion rae says:

    What a fantastic progect, well done and good luck for the future.

  6. Hi Pip,

    Yesterday was wonderful, glad I finally got to come along and see what your all doing. I think the whole experience from beginning at the bottom then walking up to work on the top was great, really got the feeling we we’re tending to a giant living body – if that makes any sense. Really good to meet the others also and was really happy to see so many people getting involved.

    Best Wishes

  7. Penny Lindner says:

    Has the woollen line actually produced results? I do hope so.

    • caerhendre says:

      HI Penny,

      The answer to your question comes in many forms!
      The wool has remained in place since 2010, a result given the extreme weather and topography of the site. Algae are growing on it and some higher plants are beginning to grow SLOWLY.
      We had a 50% plus survival of cottongrass plugs from a planting of 600 in November 2011.
      More than 700 people have participated, some of whom ( including me) knew nothing about the issue of carbon and water holding capapcity losses from exposed peat, not to mention wildlife loss.
      Wool is being used that would be buried as a waste or nuisance.
      Ponies are being trained to work on the hill offering a possible gentler means of doing work in sensitive landscapes.
      Local businesses, farmers and catering have benefited.
      People are talking to one another.
      People are suggesting ideas and I am trying to follow them.

      In terms of science I am looking for help to give you and others an answer that meets the current zeitgeist for proof.

  8. christine Reader says:

    I only recently came across your beautiful project, I love it & look forward to finding it for myself in future. As well as hearing news of progress. 🙂

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