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.