Report on Biodiversity and Leader conference, Vienna April 2014

As already reported  three of the Working the Tweed team were able to attend the Biodiversity and Leader conference earlier this month. This report was compiled by Kate Foster, Claire Pençak and Jules Horne.

Leader is an EU fund designed to help rural actors consider the long-term potential of their local region (more about Leader here).

Leader funds are administered by Local Action Groups (LAGs), who choose priorities and select projects proposed by community groups.

The reason behind this conference was that Biodiversity is a relatively low priority, and at risk of being overlooked when the targets are set in the 2014-2020 round.

Overview

The conference arose from real commitment to working together across the EU, supporting local initiatives, facilitating exchange and drawing inspiration for existing projects. The conference was the culmination of ‘Biodiversity and LEADER’ – a project led by Austrian organisation Umweltdachverband in cooperation with OAR Regionalberatung GmbH.

Several approaches to the implementation of biodiversity projects into LEADER were presented and discussed. Experts provided insights into the current status of the LEADER approach with respect to the new financing period 2014 – 2020 and informed the audience about important biodiversity topics of relevance to LAGs and local development strategies.

110 delegates attended the conference to listen to talks and to gather ideas for their own projects in three parallel poster sessions where 13 projects from 9 different countries were presented. Working the Tweed was the only UK representative and the only artist led project.

The conference was specifically directed at Austrian context where most delegates came from, but hearing about other projects gave points of comparison.

Power point presentations from the morning sessions , posters from the afternoon sessions and photographs of the event are available online – CLICK HERE.

The proceedings of the conference will be posted shortly on the same site.
All the projects presented at the conference will be featured in an illustrated printed publication which will be available by the end of May 2014.

Some specific points

A small portion of Leader funding goes to environment projects – and only a portion of this supports biodiversity. The reality of the competition between intensive agriculture and biodiversity was recognised. Relentless pressure from developments was understood to be usually given priority over conservation, with too little regard for environmental costs and limits.

It was clear that overall we should expect less EU money for rural funding – but surprising to know that significant amount of budgets never leave Brussels, in part because of the difficulty of obtaining match funding. It was universally agreed that funds are difficult to access and to administer, but hopefully improvements will be made in the new round. Changes were recommended to make it easier for smaller projects to access funds, and also to make LAGs representative of wider population. The way LAGs operate varies in each region.

The presentation by Magnus Wessel from Bund (Friends of the Earth) Germany was particularly  helpful. He reminded us the role biodiversity plays in our lives, and that matters are urgent. He cautioned us to concentrate on what was possible and to expect to deal with conflict (appropriate for the conference location – the Diplomatic Academy). Magnus pointed out the uneasy fit between LEADER competition and sustainability, and between conservation projects and the need to illustrate innovation. He drew out the need to make an emotional connection, suggesting the need for strategies for connecting with a wide public and not just specialists (particularly with young people who may go on to sustain projects).

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Image: slide from Magnus Wessel presentation “Local benefits of nature conservation“ vs. “Biodiversity is not for sale“ ?

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Image: slide from Magnus Wessel presentation “Local benefits of nature conservation“ vs. “Biodiversity is not for sale“ ?

 

 Presentation of individual projects

Parallel poster sessions allowed discussion of details that make a project distinctive, albeit within a short ten minute slot.

Highlights brought out included bringing people together, and an emphasis on ‘biocultural’ landscapes. This word represents a shift towards celebrating landscapes that are culturally valued- such as cherry trees, apple orchards, meadows, and of course river-ways.

Challenges identified revolved around maintaining the project over long term, and dependence on voluntary input. It was a shared experience that Leader applications and accounting were laborious – but this was a chance to congratulate those who had persisted in order to make an impact, and had found an activity that was achievable  within the programme.

The posters give overviews and online are a useful resource.

Two projects used ‘Animal Ambassadors’. “WOLF” brings together farmers and ecologists in north-west Spain where wolves are reintroducing themselves. It seems wolves are becoming ‘fashionable’ through their efforts, and a motor for tourism and the economy. Another project from Flanders named high quality beer after Little Owls, giving them a cultural presence in an area where they are in decline. A Slovenian project raised the profile and enjoyment of traditional fruit orchards. We realised the extent of ingenuity and commitment, in finding ways for people to experience and engage with biodiversity. Harnessing local pride and connection makes things feel more relevant.

This process did provide ideas and encouragement. As an artist led project, Working the Tweed was seen to offer a different strategy by forming collaborative partnerships between artists and those concerned with sustainable rural development. We reminded people that we were not involved as artists to make individual artworks, but to facilitate a broader understanding of specialist knowledge that can now be integrated into creative approaches. There was interest in the idea of adopting a catchment approach, and also in the idea of a River Festival to celebrate the return of migrating salmon.

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Claire Pençak presenting Working the Tweed © Working the Tweed 2014

Catchment Conversations

Catchment Conversations Photo Kate Foster

Catchment Conversations Photo Kate Foster

In early February 2014, Catchment Conversations took place – the concluding event of the Working the Tweed programme. It was a gathering of people with different interests and connections to the Tweed Catchment. We shared views about the Tweed Rivers and discussed how we would like to imagine the future of the Catchment. The event took place in the inspiring studio at Hundalee Mill, the workplace for furniture maker Thomas Hawson on the Jed Water and we were well nourished during the day with  homemade soup , bread and cakes by Jenny Ozwell. Discussion revolved around what was working well on the river and what needed to be improved. We asked people to bring a photograph or image to illustrate both pf these and also an object that represented something about their particular connection to the Tweed rivers by way of an introduction. From the morning discussions, three topics were explored further in the afternoon : • Action towards creating a healthier ecosystem • Actions towards improving renewables in the Catchment • Action towards a better human appreciation of the river Catchment Conversations were framed at the start and end of the day by short presentations by the Working the Tweed artists. We explored what role art projects might play in catchment management and what the lead artists had experienced, working in different artforms. A full summary is available as a pdf by clicking HERE

Presentation at International Biodiversity and LEADER Conference in Vienna, April 3rd.

Two of the four artists from Working the Tweed – Claire Pençak and Kate Foster – are attending the International Biodiversity and LEADER Conference. We will present the project to delegates from across the EU at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna on April 3rd.

This is a great opportunity to raise awareness of the innovative and diverse work that takes place on the rivers of the Tweed Catchment within an international context and to hear about and learn from other European projects exploring issues around biodiversity. We are delighted to have been selected and to be able to showcase the project activities more widely.

Our project is one of several approaches to the implementation of biodiversity projects into LEADER that will be presented and discussed, alongside other projects from Slovenia, Spain Germany France, Belgium, Poland, Austria and Ireland. The conference aims to provide expert insight into the current status of the LEADER approach at different levels with respect to the new financing period 2014-2020, and also information about important biodiversity topics of relevance to Local Action Groups and local development strategies. The organisers state that this will be an opportunity for an international exchange of ideas and experiences as well as for the promotion of best-practice examples from all over Europe. The aim of this conference is to encourage networking and the implementation of biodiversity-related LEADER projects.

Further information (in German) can be seen here and you can download this conference programme (in English) as a pdf:

Programme_Biodiversity_LEADER_conference_Vienna

Conference proceedings will be collated shortly after the meeting (we will post that link in due course).  We will be summarising the project activities and some of the activities on the Tweed, using the poster below.

WTTactivitiesS3

Summary collated by Kate Foster with images courtesy of Working the Tweed artists, SBEC, Scottish Borders Council and David Kilpatrick.

Involvement in the conference has been made possible by support from Scottish Borders LEADER and Creative Scotland. So thank you to both organisations.

Abstract

Working the Tweed is delivered by arts organisation Tabula Rasa in partnership with environmental organisations Tweed Forum and Southern Uplands Partnership. The project to date has directly engaged with 1,350 people.
The lead artists are exploring the contemporary river culture of the Tweed Catchment through human and other influences, bringing to the surface some of the less-known worlds, maps, voices and languages of the Tweed. The project creates awareness of the river ways and helps us re-imagine our relationship to the rivers, considering our environmental responsibility as one of the species inhabiting it.

The themes of the Tweed Catchment Management Plan – e.g. Habitats and Species, River Works and Tourism – provided foci for a series of Riverside Meetings and public events, concluding with Catchment Conversations. We held Knowing Your River events at agricultural shows, had a project exhibition, celebrated the tunes of the river through Tweed Sessions and listening projects, inspired reflections on the ecological indicator species via drawing and performance, and documented our partners’ work through interviews and sound mapping.

Social media and a website create a wider community for the project nationally and internationally. The project has been summarised as a DVD, with reflection about collaborative practice and how arts practitioners can contribute to shaping the future of the catchment. We are seeking to continue the work through individual creative projects and community involvement.

The Tweed Sessions

teviotbrig_cropped

The Tweed Sessions were conceived as a series of events which would connect musicians with each other, musicians with tunes and songs, and tunes and songs with other songs and tunes. The overarching context was provided by the River Tweed or more specifically, important physical locations and produced spaces with symbolic significance such as the source and mouth of the river and Borders sites with historical or cultural significance.

In addition it was decided to make use of, investigate, and develop if possible the culture and conventions of the traditional music session, its habitus if you like, celebrating in particular the culture of young people in relation to traditional music and how connections are established with more experienced players or players from different musical idioms. These were to be in effect sound gatherings – sharings or ceilidhs in the traditional sense of a participative social meeting where anyone and everyone is invited to do a turn should they wish to. To frame these gatherings within an art context was a less explicit aim given that the cultural weight of the sessions would lie on the side of musical expression and performative group dynamics, but the aim was nonetheless important to a way of thinking about art, art objects, artistic processes and about what might constitute a local and regional definition of socially engaged art.

Early expectations were reasonable and none too ambitious: to ensure that the locations would serve as suitable venues, comfortable and amenable to good music- making; to attempt to celebrate the Borders repertoire in particular and within that project to explore what a Borders repertoire might consist of in terms of both musical material and styles of playing. The core of the sessions was to be young people from The Small Hall Band, a regional group of young people led by adults and experienced players which over the course of its performances and outreach activities has entertained all sections of the Borders community, on both sides the Tweed, and which has regularly produced professional musicians, many of which are currently making an impact internationally with their work. For a sparsely populated region with travel and communication difficulties we are well served in this respect.

The Innerleithen session was played out at the Union Club within the context of the Innerleithen Music Festival. The Paxton event took place outdoors in the sunny courtyard of Paxton House. Another session at Berwick was held in a Bohemian-style café above a music shop, at Tweedsmuir in a remote village hall and at Fairnilee in an old mill next to the river, used nowadays as a fishing bothy. All were close enough to the river to be conceptually meaningful and each had its own specific importance within the working life of the Borders. For example Paxton House is a building of architectural and historical interest open to the public, Tweedsmuir a fine representative example of the Borders village hall, an essential cornerstone of many rural communities. Fairnilee is a historically significant working mill and a place of rest and repose for Tweed anglers. The Gordon Arms keeps alive regular music sessions in a relatively remote but historically significant corner of the Borders. Each venue affords the players its own unique acoustic properties and spatial architecture. As an educational or formative exercise, this is invaluable for young players as they learn to negotiate the idiosyncracies of given spaces, making best use of physical features to produce a successful listening environment. The ability to make a place sing is eventually a hallmark of good professionals.

What emerged in terms of the social connections will ultimately be determined over time and is probably unmeasurable. People met, played music and enjoyed the experience. Now more people know each other than before and more musicians are aware of fellow musicians, again on both sides the Tweed. Without going into the small details of every session, in terms of repertoire the picture is more difficult to frame, though more interesting as a result. In researching the notion or fact of a Borders repertoire and gathering representative tunes I assumed initially that Borders musicians would meet and easily play Borders tunes all day long. But outside of the celebrated Border Ballad repertoire the notion of a specifically Scottish or Northumbrian Borders repertoire of tunes is arguably a thin one. There are of course several well known tunes associated with people and places, a common situation with respect to giving titles to older pieces.

There are if you like two levels of autonomy here: one where a session is capable of playing (all night long) only tunes from the locale or wider region. This might be seen as a hypothetical construct, but I’ve attended sessions in Aberdeenshire, Shetland, Donegal, County Clare and Brittany where players have successfully challenged themselves to play only local tunes over long periods. The second level of autonomy is where the players (obviously) have a common bundle of tunes, but it’s their own bundle, specific to the Borders for example, and a different bundle from the tunes played at a regular Inverness or Fife session. So what we can conclude for certain is that there does exist, in common with every region I’ve ever visited in Scotland and Ireland, a repertoire of favoured tunes. Many of these are of Borders origin, others are contemporary tunes brought in from the cities and from overseas, having found their way into the sessions because a handful of young people devoted time to learning them. There are also a growing number of new tunes and occasionally songs of recent origin, written by very young players and by seasoned non-professional players, or ‘enlightened amateurs’ if you prefer. Without this group of devotees, sessions would run the risk of dying out completely as more and more professional musicans shun sessions in favour of paid performances.

Although many tunes have passed through and circulated around the region, leaving their mark on local players, only a few are of local or regional provenance. The majority originate from the core session repertoires of Ireland and other Scottish regions, notably Shetland and the West Coast. Speaking of Shetland, there exists, on the face of it somewhat unusually, a strong link between Scotland’s Deep South and Far North, a relationship which has been strengthened in recent times by the Small Hall Band’s 2013 summer tour to Shetland and by regular ‘Shetland tune’ sessions in Yetholm. Although I’m not an expert in this field, I can see the similarities between Shetland and the Borders in terms of their relative isolation within a strong historical and cultural identity, though the similarities end there because of the fact of the Shetland’s island geography has enabled it to generate a distinctive home-grown repertoire throughout the mid- to late-20th century, strengthened considerably as notable players have emerged and become ambassadors for the islands’ music. Finally, though this would need further research and field recording analysis, elements of the clarity, accuracy and metrical rigour of Shetland fiddling have found their way into  the playing of several young Borders fiddlers. This is very much as it should be.

Having said all that, certain Borders tunes and songs did emerge as popular across many of the sessions: The Fair Flower of Northumberland (at Innerleithen in particular) and the tunes Teviot Bridge, Roxburgh Castle, Lindisfarne, Kale Water and The New Road to Bowden.

Scottish Borders Council has been prescient in funding traditional music officers and teachers in both song and instrumental tuition. These tutors are of the very highest calibre and have been responsible for keeping the tradition alive. The funding of peripatetic tutors became the catalyst which set Shetland up as a major location for their own and visiting young people to learn traditional music. The Borders is very much a place of flow and passage, more so than Shetland, and as such it has different mechanisms for absorbing outside influences as far as the instrumental repertoire goes. The quality of cultural flow has been influenced, positively in my opinion, by the proximity of Universities, in particular that of Newcastle, which teaches traditional music to degree level. Young people are studying, learning, then returning to the Borders to teach and regenerate the culture of traditional musical as new generations of yonger players emerge. This is a living tradition, visible at many of the Tweed sessions as tunes were passed around, learned, relearned, combined, modified, confused and rearranged, again as one would expect from any healthy traditional musical culture.

Finally, some reflections on knowing and moving along the river, thoughts which would sit comfortably in a more poetic discourse about the river. I’ve found myself regularly moving from an attitude of detachment to one of engagement with the river. I’ve spoken with others, river professionals and artists, about this very ordinary but nonetheless delicious dialectic and have discovered that such an oscillation of attitudes towards the river is common to all who fish around under the surface, both literally and figuratively. From analysing and rationalising we find it refreshingly simple to wander off into less rational thinking about how the river functions as an imaginary as opposed to a materially produced space or process. I’ve heard talk of the river as a vehicle or organic entity which carries the sounds of the tunes from source to mouth and I’ve overheard notions of fish and other animals carrying vital and creative energy from mouth to source and back upriver. As we sat in Fairnilee bothy, warm and glowing from the music, all the time listening beyond to the river raging a few feet from where we sat, some of these ideas were elegantly expressed by one of the company whose ‘turn’ was a short spoken contribution about how workers at the mill might well have sat and played fiddle for relaxation during their break, no doubt ‘playing off’ against the sound of the river and the ambient environmental soundscape. This thought turned to how the sessions have taken the music upstream and and down again, how the river has been the means of musical transportation, how the sessions and the river have merged in encouraging us to listen to the river in new ways, that same river, always visible as we walk or drive around the Borders. Reflections like these encapsulate the ethos and perhaps even the aesthetic of the sessions, above and beyond considering music as simply tunes and songs, ultimately empowering and lending added value to the whole exercise.

Music is the art of sound and traditional music in particular, recursively re-embedded into the environment from which it arose, in this case the land and its rivers, offers us not only a material content – the tunes and their instrumentation – but also a profound semiotic content in offering to player and listener alike what it is that these tunes and songs represent in relation to the land and the rivers, and in what the land and its rivers mean to the people.

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The Berwick Session – photo by David Kilpatrick

audio examples of the Innerleithen session can be had here

– of Kirsty law lilting a Border Ballad by the riverside 1 2 3

– of Rachel Hales playing Border tunes on fiddle and viola by the riverside 1 2 3 4

Cogsmill Burn – Slitrig – Teviot – Tweed: World Listening Day Reflections

I set off on the bicycle to find the junction of Cogsmill Burn and the Slitrig Water, which later joins the Teviot at the point where the heron fishes in Hawick.

Cogsmill Burn is my closest water way and runs a couple of fields away from the back of the house.

It passes Cogsmill Hall – the pink hall which will soon be pink no longer – and under a bridge – and somewhere between that point and before the pig farm it runs into the Slitrig.

From the road, the junction is concealed. Instinct suggested it was somewhere behind the big gated entrance to Stobs Estate.

The sound of flowing water is audible and a broken down wall offered a glimpse of it, so leaving the bike, it was a scramble down the bank to a shady river – which one, though? I thought the Slitrig, as it seemed unlikely the Cogsmill Burn would have widened quite so much in such a short distance, so upstream seemed the most likely direction to find the meeting place. The riverbanks were lush. I noted hawthorn, beech, ash , rhododendron, hogweed, campion, wild garlic, raspberry and dock.

Slitrig Water Photo Claire Pencak

It was difficult to move through, and the easiest way to make any distance was by taking to the river. I imagined this might have been how the first people moved up the tributary.

After a good ten minutes or so of slow river walking, there it was, the meeting place of the Cogsmill Burn and the faster flowing, more chattering Slitrig Water.

meeting cogsmill and slitrig

Listening is a continuous, subtle adjusting and shifting of your weight as your feet negotiate stony riverbeds.

River Listening

It is a state of opening up and out through all the senses.  A present tense state of being in complete attention. We might talk about listening with the soles of your feet, the sternum, the back of your neck.

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It occurred to me that it wasn’t the water that I was listening to but the flow, the passing of the water that sounded the stones and branches and plants that it moved over, under and by.

I thought I was hearing voices on a distant radio somewhere but this turned out to be the conversation of a specific combination of river, stone and branch in one specific place very close by.

flowing conversation in the Slitrig

The ‘over there’ and ‘out of sight’ of passing cars travelled to me as sound even though the road was up the bank and the other side of the wall.  I could hear the cars through the wall even though I couldn’t see the cars through the wall.

Dipping a long, slim branch into a faster part of the water and allowing it to be taken by the river whilst still holding the other end, it was easy to sense the rate and energy of the flow which seemed to want to take it with you. This was easier to experience through the medium of the branch than by placing my hand into the river. The energy of the flow could be more sensitively felt when channelled through the branch into the hand and arm and finally the spine, and I thought I could perhaps begin to understand what it must be like to know the river with a rod and line and knew that this was river listening too.

Later in the day I passed the junction of the Slitrig with the Teviot on its way to join the Tweed at Kelso.

slitrig meets teviot

 

The heron was riverside listening too.

Heron on Slitrig

 

Artists’ Paxton Netting and River Trip – 10th Aug

Calling Borders artists! Would you like to join a Riverside Meeting at Paxton, followed by a Tweed boat trip on the new Paxton-Berwick shuttle service?

This is the first in our series of six meetings between artists and river specialists, and it’s aimed at uncovering the hidden world of river work and making links between the arts, environmental and science communities, as well as cross art-form.

Get picked up by shared minibus from various parts of the Borders, then we head to Paxton for a riverside gathering to hear from Dr Ronald Campbell, fish biologist at the Tweed Foundation, Melanie Findlay, ecologist specialising in otters, and Martha Andrews, the curator at Paxton House. It’s a rare chance to see river netting and hear about the changing fish patterns in the Tweed catchment. Then we head downriver on the ‘On a Promise’ with skipper David Thomson to the mouth of the Tweed at Berwick, accompanied by Mel with her insights into the local wildlife. The boat can only carry 12, so please book your place soon! Deadline Fri 2nd Aug (later than on application form).

Download Riverside Meeting Paxton details here.

Download application form here.

Many thanks to Tweed Foundation and Paxton House for their support with this event.

Working the Tweed at the Border Union Show

Working the Tweed at Border Union Show.

Working the Tweed had a lovely weekend at the Border Union Show thanks to Tweed Foundation, Tweed Forum and the Border Union Agricultural Society, who let us share their marquee.

    ClaireatBUS3 small

We were placed next to a large map of the Tweed which belongs to Border Union Agricultural Society, and made an interesting contrast in scale to the Tweed Catchment maps drawn by Working the Tweed artist Kate Foster.

Kate’s maps caught people’s attention and imagination because they reveal the complexity and density of the Tweed catchment, which is the most dendritic in Europe. As one person noted, it looks just like a lung.

Knowing your River Border  Union Show CP

The maps are one element of Knowing your River, a family activity which encourages us to consider where we are each placed within the catchment and how the Border region is connected through the many burns and tributaries which eventually all meet and flow into the Tweed.

After a slight pause for thought, many people were able to find whereabouts they were located on the map, which shows the fantastic amount of river knowledge that people have in the Borders.

I liked this local river knowledge encapsulated in a verse:

The foot of the Breamish and the head of the Till
Meet together at Bewick Mill.

People used the catchment ink drawing to make a tracings which showed their river journey to Kelso if they had travelled there using the water ways. By adding other details of favourite haunts, activities and memories, these transformed into personal maps of stretches of the rivers. These will all feature in the Working the Tweed exhibition at Harestanes Countryside Visitors Centre, October 9th – 31st.

Jules Horne also collected ‘biological records’ about our visitors, along with what their local river means to them and what they might change if they could.

Making the most of having so many river specialist in the same space, we were introduced  to the art of tying  fish flies by Tweed Foundation, were entertained with lively conversations and stories by River Bailiffs Eric Hastings and Kenny Graham (below with Tracy Hall from Tweed Forum), and witnessed the difference that Natural Flood Management techniques can make to slowing down water as it moves through an area through the Tweed Forum’s comparative catchment models.

baiilffstraceysmall

Next weekend we will be at Kailzie Wildlife Festival, Kailzie Gardens.  http://www.kailziewildlife.org/