Stuart Mugridge | Water Cycle Artist in Residence May – August 2023 |The Upper Blackwater of Dee Catchment, Galloway
The Water Cycle Residency evolved as an opportunity to capture the present-day landscape dynamics of the Upper Blackwater of Dee catchment where our water quality research project and spot sampling was taking place.
The Upper Blackwater of Dee catchment is a sublime landscape with a curious mix of beauty and negative aesthetics leading to feelings of both trepidation and awe. This landscape is remote and challenging and the environment is harsh. In places the landscape is open and exposed, which can make weather conditions feel extreme. Large areas are clear-felled, and timber is stacked. Drainage ditches are frequent and take peat-stained surface water off the land and into the burns. From the end of May through to September this landscape is home to midges.
Forestry track and forester’s caravan. Photo: Stuart Mugridge
Stuart began his residence in May. From the outset he explored the landscape and engaged in research, recounting his experiences and learnings in a series of enlightening blogs:
Work in progress. Photo: Stuart Mugridge
Performed, with accompaniments at The Bog Banquet
Final preps for the Bog Banquet, Stuart with textile artist Morag McPherson
Photo, Duncan Ireland
Stuart introducing “BLOCK” at the bog Banquet. Photo: Duncan Ireland
Limited edition artwork of the catchment gifted, by Stuart, to the diners. Photo: Duncan Ireland
My final trip to Dumfries & Galloway for the project was to help with the delivery of a Bog Banquet … the formal end of my project was also the end of CCC’s Peatland Connections (PC) project (as its funder Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership was also coming to an end); the work I produced during my residency formed part of this celebratory banquet. Curated by Kerry, the banquet was a lovely, imaginative, atmospheric celebration of PC and brought together around forty individuals who were directly involved in the project delivery or supported it in some way … I was delighted to be part of it. There were themed dishes, theme-appropriate table decorations, atmospheric lighting, short presentations on aspects of CCC work and interventions from current artist-in-residence Morag MacPherson.
Along with my soundwork played during the meal I also contributed a limited edition version of the soundwork notation for participants to take away with them and a set of ‘place names’ (with accompanying explanatory booklet) for the table. The place names weren’t those of the guests, there was no seating plan, instead they were place names from my project site; an enigmatic blend of lost-to-obscurity, toponymic literalness, accidental poetry and historic fact.
Bog Banquet place names ready to go
During the project (including commutes) I cycled over 470kms (290miles), walked a more modest 70kms (40miles) or so, took some lifts, caught a few buses and travelled on a lot of trains. Things would have been more convenient to do by car but, a) it wasn’t feasible for me, and b) it wasn’t in the spirit of the project as far as I was concerned … besides, even with a car there would have been several miles of walking/cycling to reach the project site on each visit. The remoteness of the site and the effort needed to get there was a big part of the appeal that the project had for me. Maybe there is an act of honouring these landscapes through exertion; in the case of the project this exertion was both physical and creative. One small regret is that I didn’t spend the night in the glen, I had hoped to camp out for at least one night but I think the pace of the project got the better of me on this count!
My art practice has always focussed on landscape or sense of place, and hobbies of running, walking and cycling are all about enjoying being in the landscape. I have long been aware of the manifold threats to the environment, support a variety of environmental charities, and have a fascination for ecological concerns at both field and theoretical levels. Over twenty years ago, as I shifted my career from solely focussed in the production of artist’s books to residency/commission work, I worked on a project with Kent High Weald Project (KHWP) in the south of England. With the CCC residency it was great to get back to working with an organisation in the conservation, restoration, ecological research sector and I hope to find/create similar projects in the future (although I fear that they won’t be quite so gnarly!).
In a broad sense the site conformed to my expectations, which can be problematic as expectations are always keen to become preconceptions, influencing a response away from the specific. Generalities that are present in much of upland Britain were there, and in many ways this was a project about generalities (water, peat, forestry) … about factors that can be found in Wales, on Dartmoor, in Northumberland, etc.. And I knew all this (and more) from the project call-out and brief, so there was never any possibility of approaching the site with a completely open mind (an impossibility anyway as far as I’m concerned). But, in amongst generalities are always specificities, little nuggets of fascination around which the generalities can be made to orbit. The presence, methods and feedback from the ecological research of CCC became the lever with which to prise open the generalities of the site, along with a sprinkling of desk-based historical research. Links to most of the sources I used can be found below.
Spending concentrated time in the glen and with the research in mind it was very apparent that, despite the geographical remoteness, this is a peopled place. In some cases this peopling adds positive colour, in others it is in the signature of upheval. Although I’m familiar with the presence and processes of commercial forestry across upland Britain, I found the scale of operations here ratcheted up the brutality of the process … this of course was visually obvious, but became more important for the hidden impacts on peat and water quality rather than picturesque (although this latter is an area I would like to explore more (and had touched on in that KHWP work all those years ago)). The scale of the infrastructure also became more and more present to me, with a whole industry to facilitate the growth and removal of commercial tree crops, I found it impossible to overlook the insertions of feats of engineering into the terrain. I also became increasingly sensitive to how these commercial plantations gain a life of their own as they self-seed across vast areas of sensitive land, land that is otherwise protected or excluded from direct commercialisation. Land that is vital to human existence through biodiversity and carbon storage but, more crucially, land that should just be allowed to be(come) for no capitalistic quantifiable/measurable reason. It’s a complex issue to confront (much too complex to address here), there is much forward-thinking work being done within the forestry industry but this is frequently not manifesting at ground level (so far).
On a more positive note, I felt very lucky, privileged even, to be able to spend time getting to know the watercourses, bogs and hills of the site. To spend time by the running waters of these streams and letting my thoughts merge with their sounds and movements was most inspiring. Also, my brief forays onto Silver Flowe (patterned blanket bog system) were a delight and awe-inspiring in equal measure. From kneeling down exploring the rich flora and fauna of the bog’s surface, to carefully moving across the quaking surface, the place is a marvel … and is also a sign-post to what sites that CCC work on will become given time.
My final contribution for the residency took several forms, the core of which was a soundwork called FLOW : SAMPLE. The work consists of five pieces: FLOW, and the ‘samples’ of BLOCK, QUALITY, SOLID and SUPERFICIAL. When played in full FLOW is a sort of background piece, a continuum, that the other pieces can be played over. With more time I would have liked a live vocal aspect to the delivery of the work, but despite this not being possible I’m very pleased with the work of the project. The sounds can be found on my Bandcamp page here. Caution! If listening via headphones beware of some very loud sections. Enjoy!
Links and selected bibliography:
Dictionaries of the Scots Language
Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society
Dumfries & Galloway Online
Galloway Fisheries Trust
Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership
Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere
National Library of Scotland
People and Places in Kirkcudbrightshire
Place Names of the Galloway Glens
HYPERLINK "https://gallowayglens.org"Ramsar Sites Information Service [Silver Flowe]
Scotland River Temperature Monitoring Network
S.R. Crockett Archive
Wikipedia: Galloway Hills
Agnew, Andrew. The hereditary sheriffs of Galloway ; their “forebears” and friends, their courts and customs of their times, with notes of the early history, ecclesiastical legends, the baronage and place-names of the province. Edinburgh: D. Douglas, 1893.
“BGS Lexicon of Named Rock Units — Result Details. [Loch Doon Pluton]” British Geological Survey. Accessed 20th April 2023. https://webapps.bgs.ac.uk/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?pub=DOON
“BGS Lexicon of Named Rock Units — Result Details. [Shinnel Formation]” British Geological Survey. Accessed 20th April 2023. https://webapps.bgs.ac.uk/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?pub=SHIN
Crockett, S.R. The Lilac Bonnet. PDF via S.R. Crockett Archive
Dick, Rev. CH. Highways and Byways in Galloway and Carrick. London: Macmillan & Co., 1919.
Donahue, Thomas, F. Renou-Wilson, C. Pschenyckyj, and M. Kelly-Quinn. “A Review of the Impact on Aquatic Communities of Inputs from Peatlands Drained for Peat Extraction.” Biology and Environment: Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 122B, No 3 (2022): 145-160. PDF
Edwards, Kevin J., Michael Ansell and Bridget A. Carter. “New Mesolithic Sites in Galloway, and their Importance as Indicators of Inland Penetration.” Transactions of Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, 3, 58 (1983): 9-15.
Ferguson, A., Caroline Bradley, Robin Ade, Colin Roberts, Jackie Graham, and Paulo Prodöhl. “The Fall and Rise of Galloway and Carrick Trout.” Salmo Trutta, (2013): 10-13.
Galloway Fisheries Trust. Restoration of salmon in the upper River Dee (Kirkcudbrightshire). Newton Stuart: Galloway Fisheries Trust, 2020.
Black Water of Dee fisheries and habitat study. Newton Stuart: Galloway Fisheries Trust, 2017.
Helliwell, Rachel, et al. Modelling the long-term response of stream water chemistry to atmospheric pollution and forestry practices in Galloway, SW Scotland (Dundee: James Hutton Institute, 2014). PDF
Jackson, Faye L., Robert J. Fryer, David M. Hannah, Colin P. Millar, Iain A. Malcolm. “A spatio-temporal statistical model of maximum daily river temperatures to inform the management of Scotland’s Atlantic salmon rivers under climate change.” Science of the Total Environment, 612 (2018): 1543–1558.
Kelly-Quinn, Mary, et al. Forestry and Surface Water Acidification. Dublin: University College Dublin, 2008. PDF
Kerr, B.W. “Quaternary Studies in Galloway – A Review.” Transactions of Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, 3, 58 (1983): 1-8.
Learmonth, William. Kirkcudbrightshire and Wigtownshire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1920.
Marine Scotland. Scotland river temperature monitoring network (SRTMN). (2021)
McCormick, Andrew. Galloway: The Spell of its Hills and Glens. To which is added the Geology of the Merrick Region. Glasgow: John Smith & Sons, 1937.
McKerlie, Peter Handyside. Galloway in Ancient and Modern Times. Edinburgh: W Blackwood & Sons, 1891. PDF.
History of the Lands and Their Owners in Galloway. Edinburgh: William Paterson, 1874. PDF.
Nisbet, TR, & CD Evans. Forestry and Surface Water Acidification. Farnham: Forest Research, 2014. PDF
O’Driscoll, Connie, Elvira de Eyto, Michael Rodgers, Mark O’Connor, Zaki-ul-Zaman Asam, and Liwen Xiao. “Diatom assemblages and their associated environmental factors in upland peat forest rivers.” Ecological Indicators, 18 (2012): 443-451.
Ordnance Survey. Sheet 77, Dalmellington and New Galloway: Galloway Forest Park. 1:50,000. Southampton: Ordnance Survey, 2016.
Prodöhl, Paulo A., Andrew Ferguson, Caroline R. Bradley, Robin Ade, Colin Roberts, E.J. Keay, Artur R. Costa, Rosaleen Hynes. “Impacts of acidification on brown trout Salmo trutta populations and the contribution of stocking to population recovery and genetic diversity.” Journal of Fish Biology. (2019): 1–24.
Scottish Natural Heritage. Dumfries and Galloway Landscape Assessment. Glasgow: Land Use Consultants, 1998.
Stables, S. Backhill o’ Bush Land Management Plan 2016-26. Edinburgh: Forest Enterprise Scotland, 2017.
Symson, Andrew. A Large Description of Galloway. Edinburgh: W&C Tait, 1823. PDF