David’s new wildlife carving taking shape.

The new carving at Fort Victoria Country Park is taking shape. The new tree is in position – moved by a team of volunteers and David Wallace can be seen most days carving a section of tree.

When the tree was in its final position, David walked around the showing me what carving might go where – where I could only see bark, he would see a lobster, a frog, castle, mermaid and more. Where his imagination stops his carving ability takes off. He really is a talented artist and he will spend the rest of the summer carving away – already there are some secret carved features that take an age to find!

Most of his time he focuses on the carving lobster, but every so often for light relief he moves on to another part of the tree and another animal or feature starts to take shape.

Sadly, David’s sculpture from last year was stolen from the country park. The focus of last years carving was the animals and plants that could be found in the Solent, he had carved 65 of them. It was a very strong conservation message. However, someone or people unknown came in at night and took a chainsaw to the carving – this year, we have added some security measures so theft is less likely.

As with last year, visitors to the country park just love talking to David about the sculpture and the plants and animals to be found in the wood. David is a good naturalist so conversations often move on to what can be seen in the Solent – In essence David and his work is a living visitor centre and a great credit to Fort Victoria Country Park.

Wood carver David Wallace

Photographs: Pete Johnstone. Fort Victoria Country Park, Freshwater, Isle of Wight.

Learning the Secrets of the Solent

It was a pleasure to meet up with Emily Stroud  (picture right, above)recently from the Secrets of the Solent Project as we visited a number of coastal sites around West Wight.

Secrets of the Solent is a Heritage Lottery funded project, run by the Hants and Isle of Wight Trust aimed at raising the profile, understanding of the marine environment in the Solent. The project area is large covering the north coast of the Isle of Wight and a long stretch of mainland coast and estuaries including Portsmouth and Southampton.

Emily explained that the Solent is a wildlife gem, with hidden seagrass meadows and chalk reefs below the surface. However, in spite of it being a well populated area with heavy industry in places, it is also rich in wildlife and is an inspiring landscape. The project is funded for just 4 years and there is plenty to do in terms of getting volunteers involved and helping to collect wildlife data to help better protect marine life and habitats.

Isle of Wight coastline

Exploring the Secrets of the Solent, Fort Victoria Country Park

Over the life of the initiative the team will engage with communities through art and citizen science, groups, local businesses connected with the Solent to better appreciate what we have but also to encourage personal action to protect the natural heritage.

Without question the team’s task is ambitious but to my mind the project could not come at a better time than now. As we leave the EU, we must ensure that the EU nature designations are replaced with new protection measures that are robust – to do that we all need to appreciate learn what our natural environment has to offer – no more so than the marine environment as it is so hidden from pubic view. If Secrets of the Solent can help communicate and help us better understand the Solent environment then it is a job well done.

 

For more information visit Secrets of the Solent

Photos: Pete Johnstone

Isle of Wight AONB Forum and a change in the landscape to come.

I was pleased to be able to join a large crowd at the Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight to learn about what the AONB team and partners had undertaken over the last year and what the future held. Good to learn about the Dark Skies initiative for the south west of the Island and that that, fingers crossed, the whole of Isle of Wight might become a Biosphere Reserve – we will know in June later this year.

However, what really shocked me during the day was on the afternoon walk to look at a river restoration project funded by the East Wight Landscape Partnership Scheme. Just by chance as we walked past a field corner planted with a mix of natives trees were a number of Ash trees. Here was shown an example of Ash Die Back Disease with the characteristic lightening and lesions on the bark and the fact that the trees  become very brittle when they succumb to the disease.

Yes, I knew about Ash Die Back and that it had reached the Isle of Wight, but what really hit home yesterday was the extent that it will affect our landscape.  A landscape with out Ash is hard to visualise. Just think of the prominent field and hedgerow trees and how Ash is often a large component of our woods. It is a landscape we will no doubt have to get used to over the decades to come but it was a sad moment in what was otherwise an enthusiastic day conversing about landscapes.

White tailed Eagle reintroduction to the Isle of Wight?

White tailed Eagle reintroduction to the Isle of Wight?

A personal reflection.

I was pleased to be able to get to one of the consultation meetings over the proposed reintroduction of the White-tailed Eagle onto the Isle of Wight in 2019. The project is certainly ambitious and one that might be expected of wild remote coasts rather than a lowland Island off the busy English south coast.

Fourth largest Eagle in the world.

The White-tailed Eagle or Sea Eagle as they are often called is undoubtedly an impressive bird. The adult has a 2.5 metre wingspan with a white head and tail. Their current range covers northern and eastern Europe and was largely lost as a breeding species in England by the end of the 18th c. It was in the mid-1970s that Sea Eagles were successfully introduced into Scotland on the Isle of Rum. And as it happens, I was working on Rum at the time and among my other duties, I helped build the cages to keep the young in before they were fledged and released into the wild.

Courtship display

Some years later whilst still on Rum, I had the fortune to watch their courtship display when high up in the sky, the birds locked talons in mid-air and cartwheeled down earthwards before releasing themselves only to fly up skywards again.  This courtship display was quite a few decades ago now, but I still clearly remember it – it was spectacular!

The potential reintroduction of the Sea Eagle to the Isle of Wight is being proposed by the Forestry Commission and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation. Both organisations have a good reputation for wildlife management and for species introductions and more can be found about the plans, along with an online questionnaire at www.roydennis.org/isleofwight .

Display panel

One of the consultation display panels on reintroducing the White tailed Eagle to the Isle of Wight.

Top species predator

So, do we really want a top species predator to be introduced to the Isle of Wight and the Solent? Is the UK conservation movement (or even the Island conservation movement) at one in wanting this reintroduction? Well, I would say probably not – there are reservations, some would argue that we need to ensure existing species and habitats are in good order first before reintroducing species that were here hundreds of years ago.

Others will argue that we need a full time Forestry Commission Wildlife Ranger on the Island instead or that scarce environment funds should go towards maintaining our AONB, country parks and nature reserves.

Yet, notwithstanding the careful preparation work to be completed before any permission is given for reintroduction, this initiative might just be that special thing that highlights the Island’s natural beauty, encourages visitor spend in the local economy, links in with the new Coast Path to be established around the island and balances the current proposal to establish the Island as a Biosphere Reserve.  And if the Sea Eagles are allowed to fly? Then perhaps I might once again see the remarkable courtship display above my head – this time on the Isle of Wight.

Bread making on Mental Health Day

Mental Health Day 7th October 2018

The Isle of Wight Festival of Mind, organised by AspireRyde, was held as part of Mental Health Day and there was a range of activities on offer to help people relax and enjoy life a little more.

I took part in the bread making course run by Vectis Housing. It was an excellent course and was enjoyed by all of us who took part. The end result was tasty too!

Just out of the oven!

The Festival of Mind was held at their community buildings, formerly Holy Trinity Church. Within the grounds of the old church was community growing project called Growing Great Things aimed at improving the health and wellbeing and reducing isolation of local people. I met up with Alice the organiser who told me the project was really well attended  with activities happening three days a week. Numbers of people attending were high with the limiting factor being time and money.

Tomatoes from the Growing Great Things project

Growing Great Things is just one of several green centered activities to be found on the Island aimed at connecting people with the outdoors and the natural environment.  It seems to me that perhaps more could be done to promote these excellent activities to both the wider public and to the health and care profession so that they can be better accessed by more people and better funded.

 

 

 

Photos by Pete Johnstone

More photos of Mental health day can be seen here

Pete’s pictures now up in the New Rembrandt Gallery, Newport

A new venue for my pictures in the centre of the Isle of Wight! Throughout October they can be found at the New Rembrandt Gallery in Newport.

All the scenes are of West Wight and the images have been printed on Aluminium Dibond, a process which ensures excellent picture quality and durability. The matte finish reduces the glare that can often be seen when pictures are mounted behind glass. The prints are 21x28cm priced at £55 each.

The images, all taken over the past year are of the coast and mostly shot in winter, when I reckon the light on the Isle of Wight can be at its best.

New Rembrandt Gallery, 15 Scarrots Lane, Newport PO30 1JD

 

 

Yar Estuary walk and AONB boundary review

A walk along the Yar estuary

I can join the Freshwater to Yarmouth walk just down my road. It is currently my favourite walk as it seems to capture the best landscapes of lowland England. I head out one glorious September morning.

The prominent landscape feature of the walk Is the Western Yar estuary and I cross the river at the Freshwater causeway with a warning sign alerting driver to be aware of the possibility that swans might be in the road. Are Swans that small that they could be overlooked?

Then the walk is along the old railway line that once served Yarmouth town. The railway line which closed in 1953, is long since dismantled but you can still spot the old metal fence posts that once ran along side the line. The woodland growing up here is quite diverse and on previous walks I have once spotted a dormouse and on numerous occasions red squirrels. Today, I spot a Buzzard lurking in the wood and it flies from one tree to another before flying off across the river.

Past Backets copse the view of the estuary opens up and takes centre stage. Today, I see curlew, lapwing and an egret but later in the year, the estuary is full of wading birds and I have seen Avocet, Spoonbill and my favourite goose, the Dark Bellied Brent Geese where at times, they can be seen in their hundreds. And a  perfect sight it is too.

Wildlife designations

The Yar Estuary is internationally recognised for its special wildlife and the designations include a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a  RAMSAR and a Special Protection Area.   Each one of these designations is from a different body and should give the area, particularly the wildlife and waterscape protection against any potential damaging development. The fourth designation afforded to the river and surrounding hinterland including Yarmouth town is the Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There is a national government AONB boundary review currently taking place and I sincerely hope that more of the Island will be given AONB status as the current boundary makes little sense to me.

As I head towards Yarmouth I take a diversion to Mill Copse. This lovely woodland manged by the Wight Nature Fund has a rich variety of trees to be found in it. My favourites must be the coppiced Field Maple to be found on the far side along the footpath. Goodness knows when they were last coppiced, but they do look magnificently ancient.

Yarmouth Town

Back on the old railway line, past the old water mill into Yarmouth. Plenty to see and do in Yarmouth, best pub is arguably the Kings Head but I go and look at the newly restored pier – built in 1876 it is said to the oldest  wooden pier in the country and has just been beautifully restored, thanks to the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £778,000. I want to see the lobster boats, but all I see is their gear squeezed between some posh yachts.

I cross the Yar over the bridge, bypassing Norton Spit with its sand dunes habitat – the only sand dune habitat that I know of on the Island. Up through Saltern Wood with its No Trespassing signs, I see evidence of badgers and onto the highest point of the walk and views of the chalk downland hills and of Tennyson Monument. But I will leave that walk for another day.

 

Photos and text Pete Johnstone

The Solent, a tree, a country park and something special

It is not often you come across something special, but today was that day when walking along the shore at Fort Victoria Country Park I came across David Wallace and his horizontal tree carving.  Horizontal as the sea is ever encroaching on the land and the holm oaks are forever slip sliding into the sea.

David has taken to carving the fallen trees and this one is of the animal life of the Solent, both past and present. David stopped work for a moment and we counted how many species he had done. 24, no it was 25 in all as he had forgotten to count the seal at the base of the tree.

The Solent and the tree

View across the Solent from where David is carving the fallen tree.

I came back later in the day as David had kindly allowed me to take photos of him and his work. Whilst there I watched him engage with passers by enthralled by his work – he really is knowledgeable about the marine environment and people keep asking questions – often he spends more time talking to people than carving – but then it is all voluntary, so there are no targets to keep.

It’s the ‘aquarium’ for the ranger explained David – much easier to illustrate what lives in the sea than from any book or a picture. David has been carving since 8 years old, mostly public works of art with the occasional private commission. The Solent carving has taken two months and he says he will keep going until it is finished or indeed until it gets washed away by the sea.

Tree carving

Admiring the tree carving on the shoreline

A passer-by asked me what my favourite carving was, I immediately said the limpet, but on second thoughts it’s probably the sand slater or maybe even the stingray…

Location: Fort Victoria Country Park, Isle of Wight.

Addendum: This year we celebrate the Countryside Act’s 50th Anniversary.  One of the outcomes of the Act was the creation of Country Parks – and a key component of Country Parks was enjoyment of the countryside and I reckon David Wallace’s work is a fine example of Country Parks in action today.

UPDATE: On the night of October 17th someone came to the Country Park sawed the carving from its trunk and stole the lovely carving and took it away. Now all that remains of David’s work of all Summer long is a tree stump. If you ever get offered or see anything resembling David’s tree carving from the pics above please inform the Police.

It was great to see my portrait of cabinet maker Gary Mowle being featured at the Freshwater Coffee House on the Isle of Wight today. Gary was one of my portraits in my recent West Wight People and Place exhibition held at the Dimbola Museum and Galleries earlier this year. 

The exhibition illustrated local people and their connection to heritage and local community. Gary was one of 16 other portraits of West Wight people. 

Gary Mowle, an image from West Wight People and Place

Stefan Powell the owner (pictured right above) of the Freshwater Coffee House has featured the photograph of Gary as the first in a line of portraits, in the coming months, to illustrate the diversity of people living in this corner of the Island.

 

Isle of Wight hedge laying competition

This was the first hedgelaying competition I have been to on the Island. It was an enjoyable day, well attended with wonderful sunny weather.

The standard was high and it was good to see younger entrants as well as the more experienced hedge layers.

Also a good rich source of images for me including of course portraits.

Plenty of sponsors – Landscape Therapy; Wight AONB; Pinkeye Graphics Ltd

All entrants had given their photo permissions.

Coombe Farm, Isle of Wight

Photos: Pete Johnstone