Discussing Dayton: thoughts on a scientific paper

The paper I have chosen discusses benchmarks – references to natural undisturbed states. Although cited in 437 papers since published in 1997, the benchmark concept is originally by another marine biologist fisheries scientist Daniel Pauly, but was redefined and applied by Dayton.

The author argues that meaningful benchmarks are non-existent and that we cant measure change from a natural state, because we lack in understanding what natural is or was in first place.
I like this paper for two reasons: Firstly, it describes to fundamental issues understanding what drives changes and variation in communities, here on the example of Californian kelp forests. The piece teases apart physical (for example temperature, extreme weather events) and biological (predation, competition) processes, as well as anthropogenic impacts which affect ecological communities.
Secondly, the paper also but also has a sobering example for the knock on effects of exploitation, and the role of biodiversity mitigating the impacts, ideas which I am going to explore in more detail here. Sea urchins, which graze on kelp, can eliminate kelp forests, resulting in a habitat shift to deforested barren habitats. This is an alternative state that is stable and can persist for a very long time (a term coined, alternative stable state)

This doesn’t occur naturally because sea urchin numbers are kept low by their predators, notably sea otters, spiny lobsters and sheephead fish. These are referred to as keystone species – for their relatively large impact on other member of the community. Because otters are absent in many kelp forest habitats today and other species overfished, urchin numbers are uncontrolled. As numbers of urchins increase, so does their impact on kelp forests, often leaving desolate, barren areas behind.
The interesting point is that kelps still functioned in Southern California; even decades after sea otters became locally extinct due to the fur trade. This is in contrast to habitats in Alaska, where once sea otter populations became extinct, whole kelp forests were lost. In contrast to Alaska, California had much greater biodiversity with other species overtaking the role of the sea otters in controlling sea urchin populations. In the 1950’ other species, including spiny lobsters and sheephead fish were also exploited heavily in California, eventually resulting in a loss of kelp beds.
This example is meaningful to me for two reasons. Firstly, ecosystems can persist despite disturbances, because other species can take over the functional roles of extinct species. In this example other species are feeding on sea urchins, filling in the gap left by the local extinction of the otters. It emphasises the importance of species richness in buffering negative impacts on ecosystems.
The second, similarly important point is, that there is a limit to this buffering function. If human impacts continue to stress the system (here by exploiting the predators of sea urchins), eventually the system may switch to an alternative state. I guess the message is that biodiversity can stabilise degrading ecosystems from losing function, but only to some extend. Once a threshold is passed the ecosystems change.

As a biologist my day consists of reading papers about the state of the environment and the future of the planet and our role as humans in it. I find myself absolutely detached from these messages when reading. I know figures; predicted changes in pH and temperature, overexploitation rates of fish stocks, habitat fragmentation, species introductions, but I have lost the emotional relationship to the data.
Maybe that is a good thing, because realising the severity of the situation wouldn’t allow me to spend my time working on learning more about these ecosystems, to contribute to a better understanding, even if only in a small way. But I am not sure if this detachment it is right. It is really not a case that I don’t care, I do. But to emotionally understand I need time and sit down and think about it. Doing this can be overwhelming.
Do my co-workers feel the same way? Clearly to work in conservation they must care about the state of the world as I do, but I do wonder if they feel detached as well.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Elephant Graveyard becomes Mysore Forum Mall

This gallery contains 16 photos.

Mysore – August 2011 The Van Ingen and Van Ingen company, Artists in Taxidermy, was run on this site since the early 1900s. When I was last here in 2007 I could still pick through the dusty abandoned workshop. In … Continue reading

Gallery | 8 Comments

South Indian Farmers’ Movement

From our India correspondent – who says any ideas for making connections, forging links, are most welcome.  A counter-summit is planned. Please circulate.

Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) / Karnataka State Farmers Association

November 25th, 2011                                                                                                                      Bangalore, Karnataka

PRESS RELEASE   *** for immediate release***

Agri-Livelihood Summit: A response to the Global Agri-business and Food processing Summit – 1&2nd of December 2011

Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha(KRRS) strongly opposes the Global Agri-business and Food processing summit’s agenda to aggressively transform Karnataka’s small farmer-based agriculture into a capital-intensive, high-tech, large scale, corporate-led food production. We denounce the Government of Karnataka’s partnership with multinational companies and agricultural universities in promoting an investment-heavy, chemically-mediated agriculture which locks small farmers into unhealthy dependencies and puts them at the mercy of the fluctuating global market. Chief Minister is proud to announce a decline in farmers’ suicides, but may the number be 79 compare to 242 last year, every suicide is symptomatic of the current agrarian crisis. The state government’s further liberalization and corporatization policies, in the name of economic growth, will only exacerbate these same problems.

We condemn the slapping of Chief Minister(1), but we also condemn Karnataka Government’s selling out our livelihoods and lands. While the state government declared that only dry and barren lands will be “acquired” for the remaining 30,000 necessary acres (out of 40,000 acres) to be used by the investors, everyone knows that most of Karnataka’s farms are defined as “dry lands”. Incidences of grabbing fertile lands, renamed ‘barren’ lands by the state government have been recorded, for instance in Bellary’s farmer struggle opposing Posco, the mining giant.

The Agri-livelihood summit is organized by the farmers for the farmers as a constructive response to the destructive Global Agri-investment and Food processing summit (2). The latter is an attempt to further dispossess the farmers from their means of production by denying their knowledge and capacity to feed the people. The Government of Karnataka doesn’t consider the farmers as stakeholders of his Agribusiness policy, but simply as puppets waiting for ministers, experts, scientists and investors to guide them in the path of ‘development’. KRRS’s response is clear: Our land, our culture, our crops, our seeds and our future are not for sale. Karnataka is home to one of India’s biggest movements of “natural farming” (3); an accessible, profitable and agro ecological practice that guarantees self-reliance and dignity for the farmer. But the Government of Karnataka prefers to sacrifice its farmers’ livelihoods for a share of quick profit.

The Agri-livelihood summit will also take place on 1st and 2nd of December 2011. The program includes series of workshops, key speakers and practical skill shares. Hundreds of farmers from all over Karnataka will be attending.

Everybody is welcome to attend and participate.

For more information, contact: S Kannaiyan 09444989543, Chukki Nanjundaswamy 9845066156

sukannaiyan69@gmail.com  , siccfm@gmail.com

Notes to Editor:
(1) http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2011-11-25/news/30441218_1_sharad-pawar-agriculture-minister-corruption
(2) On the Global Agri-investors summit: http://bounteouskarnataka.com/
(3) Delegates travelled from ten different Asian countries to learn from Natural Farming practitioners in Karnataka in November 2011. http://lvcsouthasia.blogspot.com

Posted in India's 'growing' economy | Leave a comment

UN climate talks opened in Durban today – did you hear that on the news?

After Copenhagen, where hopes were dashed and Bolivia alone stuck to the truth of the situation, there is very little in the news about the UN climate change conference in Durban –  opening today.

One email from Greenpeace did come through, relevant to Alberta Bitumen Extraction, aka Tar Sands – see below.


Campaigners blockade DfT in direct action over oil lobbying
Posted: 27 Nov 2011 11:38 PM PST

28 November, 2011

50 activists chained outside ministry on opening day of UN climate talks
Direct action follows fresh oil lobbying revelations
As the UN climate talks opened this morning more than fifty environmental activists took direct action to blockade both major entrances to the UK’s Department of Transport (DfT) in London whilst other campaigners demonstrated with banners outside British embassies in Paris, Berlin and Stockholm.

Campaigners are targeting the British government after documents released showed how officials from its transport department are working to sabotage a key European proposal that would block tar sands oil, the dirtiest oil in the world, from ending up in petrol pumps across Europe. (1) The environmentalists say the UK is doing Big Oil’s dirty work following lobbying by oil majors including BP and Shell.

At around 7.30 am, teams of Greenpeace activists used large plywood boards, locks and chains to seal off the doorways of the DfT to stop officials from getting into their offices. The boards are painted with a gigantic ‘lobbying handshake’ and marked with the brands of oil companies BP, Shell and Exxon. Other activists have unfurled a huge banner reading ‘HM Department for Tar Sands’ whilst many others have chained themselves together and to the doorways so as to make any eviction attempt more difficult.

Today’s direct action comes less than a week before officials from all over Europe will meet in Brussels for a possible decision about whether they will approve a European plan called the ‘Fuel Quality Directive.’ This would effectively prevent the most polluting fuels in the world from entering European forecourts, and bring down the carbon footprint of Europe’s transport fuels by 6% between 2010 and 2020. (2) If passed the directive would deal a major blow to plans to expand Canada’s tar sands oil extraction programme, which is why the oil industry – and the UK on their behalf – has mounted an aggressive lobbying effort to kill the plan. A majority of European countries must back the plan for it to become law, and right now the vote could go either way because of a UK-led diplomatic offensive to scupper it. (3)

Greenpeace energy campaigner, Paul Morrozzo, explained:

“It’s deeply hypocritical that whilst our Ministers will jet off this week to the international climate talks in South Africa to talk about the need to cut carbon emissions, away from the cameras here at home they’re doing everything they can to scupper a key European plan that would do just that. Officials in this building are using wrecking ball tactics to try and sabotage important European moves to make our economy cleaner and less reliant on the most polluting and destructively extracted types of oil like tar sands.”

Morrozzo added:

“Extracting oil from tar sands emits on average between three and five times more carbon dioxide than conventional oil drilling. David Cameron and Nick Clegg should intervene to ensure oil lobbyists and their allies in the Department for Transport don’t manage to derail this key European move away from one of the dirtiest energy sources known to man.”

Earlier this month President Obama caused a set back to the tar sands expansion when he ordered a review into the controversial XL Pipeline that would carry Canadian tar sands into the United States. (4) Greenpeace believes that if Europe approves the Fuel Quality Directive, by cutting off one of the biggest oil demand markets, it could halt the expansion of tar sands extraction altogether.

For more information:

Joss Garman 07815 004 578

Greenpeace UK Press Office
020 7865 8255

For photography and video:

Greenpeace UK Picture Desk
+ 44 207 865 8118


(1) http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/nov/27/canada-oil-sands-uk-backing and http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/95a7c872-fd7f-11e0-b6d9-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1e3fKQZ5v
(2) http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/oct/04/oil-sands-imports-eu-ban and http://www.euractiv.com/climate-environment/britain-accused-stalling-eu-tar-sands-regulation-news-508576
(3) http://www.vancouversun.com/business/Minister+hopeful+directive+penalizing+oilsands+will+blocked/5670345/story.html
(4) http://www.google.com/hostednews/ukpress/article/ALeqM5gn-MUkyzUqnUPUT0YGiVxvi4PFJA?docId=N0595871321016604109A

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Strip Appeal : a chance to reinvent the Strip Mall in Alberta

A reminder from Merle Patchett to say it’s exactly one week till the Strip Appeal: Reinventing the Strip Mall deadline: Wednesday 30th of NOV!

November 30, 2011

Initiated by the City-Region Studies Centre, University of Alberta, Strip Appeal is an ideas design competition intended to stimulate creative design proposals for the adaptive reuse of small-scale strip-malls (or mini-malls).

We ask: how might the small-scale strip be reinvented and redeveloped to local advantage? With creative thinking and design experimentation, we believe there are many ways to transform these ever-present yet ailing built forms to promote walkability, sustainability and community as suburban experience.

Competition Brief and Submission Instructions available at strip-appeal.com

Competition Updates:
The shortlisted submissions are to go on display in the University of Alberta’s Enterprise Square Galleries on Dec 12th 2011.
The prize winners will be announced on Monday the 19th of December (which will be decided by our Jury on Friday the 16th of December).
The closing event of this exhibition is to include a lecture and workshop by Ellen Dunham-Jones the author of Retrofitting Suburbia on the 26th of January 2012.
The shortlisted submissions will also be showcased in following bookwork: Reinventing the Strip Mall: A Collection of Anticipatory Architectures (to be published by the University of Alberta Press).
This bookwork and the shortlisted submissions will then form a travelling exhibit. This will kick-off with a display at the Association of American Geographers (AAG) annual international conference in New York in Feb 2012.
I am also excited to announce the Strip Appeal exhibition at Enterprise Square will be using WAVE – a multi-media and interactive display centre (which also conveniently looks like a strip mall). While all the shortlisted submissions will be mounted and displayed individually, WAVE will allow us to display all the submissions and enable visitors to compare different submissions. We are also hoping to incorporate a voting function (for the public vote) that will be linked to the Strip Appeal website.

Best regards,


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Changeable Places talk at Glasgow Sculpture Studios

A presentation by Kate Foster giving examples of art and geography engaging with climate change (happened on June 23, 2011)

Kate Foster and Hayden Lorimer, Merle Patchett, Perdita Phillips

You can download a word document summarising this talk and images, with weblinks as relevant, by clicking on this link: KFGSStalk

Merle Patchett and Hayden Lorimer’s pre-recorded contributions are available as video on Merle’s blog, where you can also find her introduction to the talk.



Posted in Info, Resources | 2 Comments

Data Landscapes Symposium – Get Excited and Change Things!

Social-Political-Financial Ecologies + Earth Systems = Data Landscapes

How can artists engage with issues of environmental change, through understanding scientific method and information on climate change? This was addressed by a symposium convened by Arts Catalyst, in London on May 23. It was a considered programme, concluding a series of discussion and practice-based workshops – AHRC funded activities initiated by Tom Corby (University of Westminster) and scientists from British Antarctic Survey. Thanks to presentation of artwork of Lisa Autogena and Joshua Portway, the star-lit event sought blue-skies. However, the mood was not star-struck – in combination the talks suggested diverse possibilities in an urgent time.

The programme is set out on http://www.artscatalyst.org/experiencelearning/detail/data_landscapes_symposium/

David Walton from British Antarctic Survey provided an accessible tour de force on climate science, and how it can be misunderstood. Philip Brohan from the Hadley Centre on Climate Change on a project, ‘Old Weather’, utilising citizen interest in Royal Naval data. Ed Gillespie from futerra amplified reasons why we should not ‘keep calm and carry on’, but Get Excited and Change Things! Anne Sophie Witzke gave an overview of a contemporary art exhibition in the National Gallery of Denmark during Copenhagen Climate talks. Natasha Freedman gave an impression of Cape Farewell project – which is now moving to the Western Isles of Scotland. Lisa Autogena and Joshua Portway presented technical accomplishments – Black Shoals (a stock market planetarium project) and current work, Most Blue Skies, previewed that evening.

Documentation of the full event is available online – and recommended: http://data-ecologies.ning.com/page/data-landscapes

Discussion points included insistence that although climate denial can easily be refuted, it is a serious problem. However, making climate data accessible requires knowledge and judgement. As well as expressing reservations about playing an instrumental role, concern was expressed that artists’ presentation of data landscapes may make unsavoury process look attractive. Perhaps there are many ways to skin a cat?

As a member of the audience clearly articulated, a central question is: how do we as citizens participate in what is going on – how can we contribute to building social capacity to deal with environmental change? In various ways, people noted that institutional bounds can be dysfunctional. Climate change and culture are entangled. But this symposium was very encouraging – the atmosphere was about meeting together to move forward, to generate a vision of how things can be, if we collectively can get it right.

Tom Corby’s own brief summary of the AHRC project sets out questions, observations, conclusions about artists engaging with data landscapes can be downloaded from http://data-ecologies.ning.com/page/data-landscapes

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Dutch landscape as changeable places

A post by Eddy van Mourik, in response to changeable places

Initially, looking at the changeable places site takes me back to Dutch Landscapes. The urban sprawl around Rotterdam in particular. I grew up on the edge of Rotterdam and as an avid cyclist I used to enjoy the Dutch countryside almost every day. Ten years later I found myself utterly and completely lost in giant housing estates wandering around, feeling quite lost for quite a while. The shock hit home properly when I turned a corner and suddenly recognised where I was, not more than a mile from where I grew up. In an area I used to cycle through every day.
In general, I think the Dutch perspective on Landscape is an interesting one. It was originally a large flat expanse of brackish marsh that by its very nature was featureless and therefore malleable, in essence it is one of those few places where Le Corbusiers fantasies about the made landscape of modernity were actually applied on a large scale.  The underlying land was completely erased in the process. Personally, by nature I am more like Le Corbusiers pack donkey, at the mercy of the shape of the landscape, finding the way of least resistance. And I think this is why I somehow feel lost in my own native landscape and much more at home in for instance the British one.
I once created a series of works about finding the source of the river Rotte, Rotterdams namesake and the river I grew up next to. As I found out the source was actually a windmill pumping up water from the surrounding polder. This windmill, however does not predate the naming of the city of Rotterdam. The question is what came before. And it is this kind of conundrum that one encounters constantly when looking at the history of the Dutch landscape.

I like the mention of looking forward. I tend to question conservation. Instinctually it makes sense to think we need to protect what we have. But if we need a new paradigm to save ourselves on this world it is not one of protecting what we have but understanding the source and consequences of our actions and understanding the world as a process. We simply do not live in a static world and so many environmental conservation practises (e.g. felling of non-native species etc.) are not actually sustainable and seem to be diametrically opposed to what ecological thinking has to offer. It would, I think, not be so bad if there were more permaculturists and landscape ecologists involved in the making of policy concerning our landscape.

And following this train of thought I am also thinking of how changeable places relate to the opposite: static places. So many British landscapes are conserved to look the way Constable painted them. They are caught in a perpetual past. In a sense they are an image of a landscape.

Furthermore in terms of changeable places I am very interested to look at places where the actual land use does not comply with planning laws, e.g. what the state has decided that land is meant to be used for. Having lived in Devon for a while I have become more and more aware of people using land for habitation that is neither owned by them nor designated to be used as such. I am interested to look at how these semi nomadic dwellers perceive their environment, their sense of place and expanding that to their place in society. I am thinking this is deserving of its own blog post though, so more soon.
Eddy van Mourik

Artist website  www.eddyvanmourik.nl

Posted in Dutch Landscapes | 1 Comment

Sights and Sounds of Bitumen Extraction in Alberta Canada

On a recent trip to Wood Buffalo, Alberta I made some sound recordings of the Oil Sands Industrial Site.

The Athabasca Oil Sands Project aka The Tar Sands is a controversial energy project that surface mines the largest reservoir of bitumen (extremely heavy crude oil) in existence, located in north-eastern Alberta, Canada.

By mapping the acoustic ecologies of the bitumen extraction in Athebasca I aim to develop on the work of the ground-breaking 1970’s project Soundscapes of Canada whose objective was to capture disappearing sounds in response to over noise pollution. R. Murray Schafer (pioneer in the field of acoustic ecology) and his peers at the Simon Fraser University undertook an extended field recording tour of Canada. Material collected during that tour forms the basis of a series of radio compositions, each of which treats the Canadian sound environment uniquely.

This sound recording project seeks broaden the scope of the Soundscapes of Canada project by recording the acoustic ecology of an industrial noise zone – the Athebasca Oil Sands Project – a soundscape entirely unique to Canada, as it is the largest capital project anywhere on the earth.

I present my first unedited recordings here in correspondence with photographs taken by Andriko Lozowy (a doctoral researcher based at the University of Alberta whose PhD examines and instigates visual responses to the Oil Sands industrial Site and it’s boom town Ft. McMurray):

Alberta Highway 63. Photo: Andriko Lozowy

Highway 63

Until 1970, Highway 63 didn’t even appear on a map. Since then the 240-kilometre-long, two-lane road has become the critical artery in and out of Canada’s fastest-growing city: Fort McMurray. Drivers in the know call it Hell’s Highway or the Highway of Death.

Highway 63 is probably one of the most dangerous roads I’ve ever travelled on. On any given day, thousands of logging trucks, SUVs, semi-trailers, buses and tanker trucks form a frantic parade to and from Ft McMurray and the Oil Sands bitumen mine sites. Often a dozen different convoys of extra-wide loads carrying tires, turbines and cokers the size of houses completely dominate the highway. In fact, Highway 63 probably ferries the highest tonnage per kilometre of any road in Canada. Due to public and political pressure, the government has begun a project to expand the road into a four-lane, divided highway.

"Crane Lake Nature Trail" Located approximately 30km north of Fort McMurray. Photo: Andriko Lozowy

Crane Lake

Crane Lake Reclamation Area: Suncor (one of the major oil sands mining companies) reclaimed the Crane Lake area (from a mining site) as a wetland habitat and the area is said to attract “more than 150 species of birds, including the impressive Sand Hill Crane” (Oils Sands Discovery Centre Fact Sheet).

On the day that I visited I didn’t see or hear any birds. As you can see in the distance of the photo above, this wetland habitat area reclaimed for birds is only 25km south of a Syncrude Tailings pond.

View of a tailings pond and Syncrude Oil Sand Mine in the distance. Photo: Andriko Lozowy


Oil Sands production is highly water-intensive: up to 4 barrels of water is consumed for every barrel of oil produced. What is left is ‘tailings’: dirty water, clay, silt and sand. Tailings can also contain copper, zinc, iron, residual bitumen, mercury, arsenic, naphthenic acids and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).

As soon as you cross the bridge North of Ft McMurray on the way to the bitumen mines, the first thing that hits you, before any visual sense of the mining operations, is the the aroma of hydrocarbons. Some have compared the smell of mined bitumen to that of heated sea coal. This is why the Oil Sands were for so long known colloquially “tar sands” due to tar’s similar appearance, odor, and colour – companies attempted to revert to the geological classification of oil sands, however, in a bid to move away from the ‘dirty oil’ smear suggested by tar sands.

View of Syncrude tailings pond by side of road. Photo: Andriko Lozowy

Tailings Cannon

Tailings containment ponds at Syncrude (lakes as big as 30 square kilometers in area) have been expanding since the company began mining bitumen in 1976. After a case in April 2008 when 1600 migratory birds died after landing in a tailings pond, oil sands mine operators were required by law to have plans and resources in place that prevent migratory birds from landing in tailings lakes.

Some mines have radar detection systems that automatically discharge warning shots from propane cannons to ward off flocks of birds as they approach. Others depend upon less effective deterrent measures that require human intervention in placing scarecrows and discharging cannons.

Syncrude worker camp. Photo: Andriko Lozowy

Worker Camps

The Oil boom left Ft McMurray struggling to house the influx of workers coming to the area,  creating a “shadow population” of 10,442 living in work camps. On our visit, ground was being flattened to make space for new cabins that are ‘shipped’ up to the sites (fully-formed!) along Highway 63.

Fort McKay Industrial Park. Photo: Andriko Lozowy

For more info read National Geographic’s article The Canadian Oil Boom

See also the image gallery for this article.

And the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers response to the article.

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The Ray: transition zone

Mersea. Sunday morning. rising tide. two twitchers in the rough field looking for the Lapland Bunting (40) reported here. I spend a half hour looking for my dropped glasses.

I found the glasses on the sea wall, just where you can see Ray Island over the channel. I walk here often on family visits. This place means a lot – I worry, talking about it. But I think the Ray will disappear whatever I do. Take the plunge.

(Your dad loved mud, my mother has often said. Me too – claiming it as a creel of roots*)

My mother looks at a book I give her, and picks up on this sentence: “Ostensibly serene and untroubled, the Essex marshlands are also possessed of a distinctive melancholy, especially so in the winter months, which can either be character-forming or near-fatal.”**

Mersea is a tidal island connected to commuter-land by the Strood, a road covered by midday tides. Cars accelerate at the no-speed-limit sign: I wonder how many drivers glance at the Ray just to the south.

Out of sight, on the other side of the estuary, is Bradwell (1) Magnox power station, currently being decommissioned. Bradwell (2) is proposed here: what (Blackwater Against Nuclear Energy asks***)  if nuclear evacuation was required? will the Strood be heightened above tidal reach? how much will that cost?

I want to leave the speeding cars on the Strood,  and get to the Ray. This is an island where mud became rooted, to rise above sealevel as self-made land. In winter, it is a brown line of thorn; at a distance it is dull against saturated wheat-green.

Close-up, the mudslicks and air of the Ray is busy with migrant waders: their calls are the calls of parting.**** Also homecoming.

The Ray is unprotected by sea wall – unusally for this part of the world. Incredibly, its extensive ‘natural transition zone’ is allowed to be itself.  It is a route to something more-than-human. It quietly has its devotees.

Mud – saltmarsh – coarse grass – scrub: meshing slowly and lengthening as a southern profile. Above, looking north: below looking south.

The warden points out it is increasingly eroded on the higher north east side: this is how the Ray could disappear, he thinks.

It is also where picnickers come, Islanders and yachties.

The Little Soay flock have a managerial brief: to assist workparties clear the blackthorn. The rams are just out of rut, shedding wool. Plucking wool was the St Kildan way – not cruel to sheep in the slightest, we agree. A lucky flock, I think.

Dave points out a seventeenth century drain, for what was then arable land he thinks. And there are many small mounds, inexplicably arising only on premodern ground, I learn.

I return later and lie in the grass, watching reed and corn buntings dislodge each other from the top of an outlying hawthorn.

I must go, cannot afford to be caught by the tide. While I can still see my way.


Many thanks to David and Georgina Nicholls, wardens of Ray Island on behalf the Essex Wildllife Trust, who guided me round the Ray.


Visits are possible only by boat unless with the warden’s permission; tidal and weather conditions can be hazardous.


* From the poem Polder, by Seumas Heaney in Field Work, Faber and Faber, 1979

** Ken Worpole, East of Eden  in Towards Re-enchantment; Place and Its Meanings, edited by Gareth Evans and Di Robson, Artevents, 2010. (p63)

*** Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group: http://www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/ground/bradwell.php

**** JA Baker, edited by M Cocker and John Fanshawe: The Peregrine, The Hill of Summer and Diaries, 2010, Collins (p243)

Status of this post: This is an early draft introducing early work in progress. My aim is to make connections around the Ray to respect its history and current existence. Accepting that its long term conservation is unlikely, given rising sea levels combined with isostatic shifts on the Essex coast – I wonder about future visits, where a re-engineered Strood may afford views over mud, that was the Ray.

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