Cartographic Interventions. A Commission by Future Places Centre, Lancaster University

Collagraph print — Morecambe Bay

This is a story about my artistic journey into Morecambe Bay. This Bay in the North West of England is a fascinating landscape of wide open sea and skies, mudflats, sandbanks and salt marsh which is ever changing, throughout time, during the days, months and years. My project is in response to a brief by the Futures Places Centre, Lancaster University which has commissioned 5 artists to create “Cartographic Interventions” that use maps of any form to help public understanding of data relating to Morecambe Bay and surrounding areas, particularly the connection between place and long term health and well being outcomes.

Water patterns in the Bay have long been an interest to me. Fascinating channels wend their way out to sea, created by the rivers that empty into the estuary and the power of the tides moving banks, shifting sand and forming channels. These beautiful flowing shapes reflecting the sky are constantly changing.

Looking over to Arnside Knott from Grange over Sands (image copyright James Lester)

There are large areas of salt marsh which build up and disappear in the constantly changing Bay. I am drawn to the channels and gullies in the marsh; their shapes and the way these natural curving flowing patterns intersect and punctuate the flat of the grassy salt marsh, creating mini deltas in some places

Grange over Sands salt marsh
Image copyright James Lester

This is the general area for my research with specific site visits to Greenodd and Grange over Sands areas. I am interested in two main rivers which enter the Bay, the Kent and the Leven. Their patterns of flow are beautiful and can be seen from land but, from above, are at their best.

Creeks and gullies. Exploring shapes and forms. The water reflects the light of the sky and when I visited Grange over Sands on a bright cloudy day, at high tide, the gullies were full and created strong shapes, connecting to the sky making abstract forms.

Research, Research, Research

Recordings of states of tide. Tidal Data and Tidal Curves

Tides dominate the Bay with their cyclical nature and links to the moon phases. They change the landscape physically.

EasyTide predictions

Tidal curves are wonderful visual interpretations of the stages of the ebb and flood of the tide and there is a certain rhythm about them with their cyclical nature, relationship to the moon and impact on life. There are two high tides and two low tides every 24 hours (and 50 minutes). The biggest height difference between low and high tide is when the tides are Springs and the least when the tides are Neaps, these patterns following the phases of the moon. For the most drama, I have timed my site visits for Spring tides where I can.

I wanted to see how things appeared at different times on the tidal cycle with the aim to relate the patterns and tide data to how this looked visually in real life. I was looking to incorporate tidal curves as a way of describing the tide and they lend themselves to artist imagery easily.

Monoprints using tidal curves to represent life cycles and actual materials collected on site

Above -Greenodd visit at high tide and then about 1 hour later as the tide ebbed. The gullies empty quickly. I watched as they poured out towards the main channels revealing muddy banks and their true depths. The change is dramatic.

Above -A visit to Grange over Sands at high and low tide. It is fascinating to see what is revealed and see how things change. These points in time can be related directly to the data on tidal curves in terms of heights of tides and times.

This is the obvious visual change in the landscape which can be seen daily, but other changes take more time to be revealed.

I liked the idea of recording levels and this change using inks and line. Made a few drawings then collaged them.

I was looking for links to tidal movments and change in the Bay. There is a significant connection with Spartina Anglica ( Cord Grass), the movement of the main river channels and developing salt marsh. I collected the remnants of dead salt marsh grasses with their old seed heads attached. Possibly these are the Cord grass which took over large areas of salt marsh in the a

I like to create prints with actual materials. I gathered seaweed, which was attached to barbed wire when I visited Greenodd on a very windy day. A good time to go when things will be washed up. I also found Flounder egg cases which I thought would make for interesting textures. (Flounder are known locally as Fluke).

Change

I discovered a lot about the changing channels and the effects of change. I was lucky enough to meet Dr Ada Pringle who has studied the changing landscape of the bay for many years, producing Papers on her findings. Regarded as the expert in her field by many, her investigations provide an insight into the constantly changing landscape of the Bay.

Her areas of study are around Silverdale and Grange over Sands as she maps the changes of the salt marshes there. There are patterns of erosion and accretion relating to tidal conditions and main channel movement of the river Kent. There is a cyclical element here. Records show how Sliverdale was a popular bathing resort in the 1840s which declined in the later 19th Century as the foreshore became muddier and salt marsh developed. This coincided with the move of the Kent channel westwards. The river continued through the years moving eastwards and westwards with corresponding salt marsh erosion at Silverdale and Grange over Sands. Many people talk of the days on the beach at Grange over Sands and there are photos of boats moored up alongside the pier there. By the mid 1970s the area of salt marsh at Silverdale had reached a peak, but this was followed by erosion as the river Kent channel moved eastwards towards Silverdale. This was also the time when the salt marsh began to develop on the Grange side.

More recently (2006-2007) the channel has moved from the Silverdale shore to the middle of the estuary leading to erosion of the salt marsh on the Grange side. Just this last year (2020) Ada Pringle reports how the channel changed dramatically from running along the Grange/ Kents Bank salt marsh right across to Park Point on the East and swung south eastwards to Silverdale before turning west opposite the cove. By analysing wind, wave, tidal and river flow data Ada observes that this seems to have ocurred during a south westerly storm in May 2020. The main channel moved west to the mid estuary and is currently in this position.

What will happen in the future? The cycle of processes will repeat.

I was looking for ways to recreate the movement of the river Kent channels and explored this through monoprint which lends itself to layering.

Monoprints -layers show changing channels

I had identified the the Bay as an area shaped by the water as something I wanted to investigate. I originally thought of Admiralty charts to research the depths and details of the Bay but current Admiralty charts do not show detail of the northern area, in which I am interested. Ordnance Survey provide some channel information though it is difficult to know how up to date they are. I am looking for further charts which might help and will plot the course of movement of the Kent channel with the information I have along a timeline.

Map published in 1781

Some old maps show the channels in the Bay and in particular show the river Kent channels

Collagraph Map — Embossed print
Collagraph plate to create maps of the Bay

I wanted to create images showing the Bay with the tide out and when the tide was in. It is interesting to see how the shapes of the water change and it is change which is a focus of my investigations. I made a collagraph plate out of card and first took a blind print (embossed) image before inking the plate, firstly to show the banks when the tide is out then covering with blue ink to show the tide in. I like this way of physically making my own tides and changing a view.

I experimented further with made up maps as representations of the part of my Morecambe Bay area.

‘Quick’ collagraph prints

Change and Consequences

There are signs of erosion along the Grange/Kents Bank salt marsh, which is receding
Photo taken 14 years ago (2006?) — the “beach” at Grange over Sands (see photo for credits)
I took this photo in March 2021 It’s possibly not quite the same angle as above, but it provides some insight into the receding salt marsh. Using the height of the metal posts to measure the depth of the salt marsh as a ratio.

Change is ongoing in the Kent estuary, with its cyclical patterns.

When the main Kent channel moves away from the shore, accretion starts to take place with salt marsh development in the lee of the river channel. This is what happened in the 1970s as the channel moved over to the Silverdale side and the salt marsh started to develop on the Grange side

As the scouring nature of the channel ceased, accretion started to take place and plants began to establish on a salt marsh. Much has been discussed about the advantages and disadvantages of Spartina Anglica (Cord Grass). Accidentally introduced back in the 1870s, it has been used in the fight to prevent coastal erosion, as it is tolerant to periodic salt water flooding and provides some stability to sediments. It is vigorous and establishes in lower levels on the shore unlike other salt marsh plants. It is regarded as invasive, and has been viewed as detrimental for its impact on the biodiversity and processes of mudflats and salt marsh. As the salt marsh developed at Grange over Sands, the natural feeding grounds of wading birds were pushed out further to the mud flats and sand banks and as such birds are not seen close to shore as previously.

There was concern in Grange over Sands about the ‘Green’ beach and the continuing spread of Spartina, specifically the detrimental impact on visual amenity of the area. Grange Town Council requested that some action be taken to control Spartina. A report by Trevor R Harwood and Richard Scott for South Lakeland District Council (1998-1999) explored the problem, following their trials and studies and reached the conclusion that attempts to control Spartina were a waste of resources. They suggested that if left alone the salt marsh would flourish when other species of plants settled in, such as native puccinellia, sea aster and sea lavender. In addition, as the marsh developed, freshwater transition species could establish. The increase in diversity of the flowering plants would enhance the wildlife value of the shore. The plants would attract bees, butterflies, insects and songbirds and so enhance the visual amenity. It would provide protection for the promenade and provide a high tide roost area for wading birds. Invertebrate populations would find places elswhere to inhabit. Roosting areas that had been lost as the channel moved, will reform elsewhere in the Bay

Grange Town Council reached the conclusion that it would be inpractical and uneconomic to try to eradicate Spartina. The Westmorland Gazette in August 2000, said locals thought that the area was scarred by Spartina and spoiled the image of the town. The Council didn’t plan to eradicate Spartina but sought to manage the marsh and make more of its amenity value.

The report by the council said that “By working with nature it is intended that an additional amenity will be provided for residents and visitors alike.” (Westmorland Gazette August 2020). The decision was to consider the development of an amenity area between the Station and the Baths.

In 2010 Natural England assessed that the salt marsh had been declining around Grange over Sands as the Kent channel has been moving more towards Grange over Sands.

I wonder if people will miss the salt marsh at Grange over Sands when it disappears? There is a beauty about it and I am paticularly drawn to its colours as it changes thorugh the seasons.

Sketches at Grange over Sands — Watercolour

Seasons too are cyclical ! Acid bright yellows of late summer and rust golds of early Spring.

The Kent Estuary is of national and international conservation importance and forms part of the Morecambe Bay SSSI, SAC, SPA and Ramsar site

The area provides habitats for numerous wildlife; birds, lug worms, ragworts, bivalves such as tellin and cockles. As there is a cycle of erosion and accretion, there follows a cycle of change in the habitats of wildlife. As Spartina establishes, the numbers of invertebrates has been shown to decline. Spartina’s root system and rhizome density make it difficult to burrow and their affect on siltation processes has consequences for food supplies for the invertebrates. Wading birds will follow their food supply out onto the mudflats and sand banks.

I am thankful for the help of local people and for further information from Grange and District Natural History Society in providing an insight into the wildlife of the area. Their book about the natural history of the area was an invaluable source of information.

I am interested in the notion that actions (natural and man-made) have consequences and that erosion and accretion in the Kent estuary is an ongoing cycle influened by and influencing other cycles. Patterns are linked. Events have relationships. It is complex and other factors are involved such as climate change and man’s interventions, such as building the railway, the viaduct and land reclamation.

My focus is on the phases of the moon, the tides, the changing chanels and salt marshes and effects on habitats of wildlife and amenity for humans.

combining influences using symbols— moon, erosion, plant life

Linking cycles — Artists interpretations and analysis of data

to be continued………

Developing Ideas

Transferring Data to Images to create a Narrative

Creating stencils for printmaking

I have begun to focus on the River Kent channel and find its flowing shapes really quite beautiful. I like the idea of documenting the changing channels using layers and printmaking lends itself to creating this. I managed to reference maps from the 1950s onwards which clearly show the change in channel patterns. I found some dating back to the 1800s but decided to keep the focus to more recent times that were more in living memory, something to which some people could relate.

I experimented with monoprinting using stencils based on the maps of the channels. These river channel stencils were cut from paper, and created some interesting shapes before inking — see above.

Mono printing using ‘ghost’ print techniques

Ghost prints create a subtle edge around the stencil shape, and the technique allows for layering. I used channels from different time periods and the image above shows the more recent channel running against the Silverdale coast, an important factor in the disappearing salt marsh landscape there

Moon and Tide Cycles

Other Data I want to incorporate into the finished piece involves the influential cycles of the moon and the tides. The Bay has a high tidal range and the ebb and flood of the regular tides play a big part in the shaping and moving of channels and banks.

The moon is so influential and I want to include images of the moon cycles and corresponding tidal curves. The collagraph plate I created relates to dates of my research at the end of February/ beginning of March 2021. Tidal Curves are a visual record of times and heights of tides, providing an instant and easily accesible way to read tides. Used by mariners, they lend themselves well to artistic interpretations.

I like the analogy of these regular daily cyclical occurrences which generally happen unnoticed by most, but impact on life around the Bay. Using a blind print to create an embossed look allows the pattern to show but not in an obvious way. The shorter peaks are when there is a Neap tide and the longer spikes are at Spring tide where there is a much greater range of sea depth levels and movment of volume of water.

Collagraph ‘Blind’ print/ Embossed Print.

Cycles of the Saltmarsh

Collagraph plates lend themselves to abstraction. I had noticed in my earlier experiments with the embossed prints that printing with the hessian sacking, if pulled and loosened, gave an illusion of fragmentation. It created the texture I wanted to portray the coast, particularly the erosion of the salt marsh at Silverdale and in Grange.

The timing of my research, February to April, influenced the colours I used in my prints. The salt marsh had died back and had its winter colours of tans and golds, really quite beautiful, especially when the sun shone on them

Collagraph plate creating texture and a ‘map’ of salt marsh changes

Experiments with collagraph plates made from card.

Referencing Erosion and Accretion

The alternating shapes of Grange over Sands and Silverdale salt marshes

Collagraph plates further developed using press printed shapes of the distinctive salt marsh areas of Silverdale and Grange over Sands

The consequences — life in the Bay and the natural world

There is much to explore about the fascinating development of townships and villages around the Kent estuary and there is a clear direct link to the changing coastal landscapes around Grange and Silverdale and the way of life of inhabitants. The many old photos of Grange over Sands show how different things were when it had a beach, with jetties and boats on the shore and out at sea, as it developed as a resort. Records in the 1830s show that Silverdale had similarly enjoyed a role as a ‘resort’ for sea bathing and some records mention how bathing huts were wheeled down to the beach.

It is a big subject area and I want to keep the focus narrow, so I have decided to concentrate on the affects of change on the natural world. This can be also used as a metaphor for the imapct of change in the broader sense of life in the Bay in this aea.

Spartina starts to ‘invade’ at Grange over Sands, which had previously enjoyed a beach.
Using collected vegetation from the salt marsh as a record of life forms

Spartina Anglica (Cord Grass) had a siginifcant role in the development of the salt marsh at Grange over Sands in the mid 1970s, as the Kent channel moved away towards the Silverdale side. Using found materials directly in prints is a meaningful way to record this. I did eventually obtain some newly sprouting Spartina specimens as we moved into Spring.

Embossed shapes in the panel before mono printing with colour

Tellin and cockles are represented in the section of the art work which relates to the channel. The shapes of the bivalves are printed using embossing techniques and are captured amongst the swirling water representing their movement to their preferred habitats when salt marsh develops

Birds

I did not see birds en masse as I had hoped but I did have access to lots of information from the Grange and District Natural History Society, whose members log wildlife activity regularly and I was able to see their records of bird sightings. Birds are an important part of the story, particularly wading birds whose feeding habitats change with developing salt marsh. I created images of Redshank and Oyster Catchers, wading and feeding as well as flying as a reference to moving away to new feeding grounds.

I experimented with drypoint prints and combining them with salt marsh images.

Birds on the move and wading in their feeding habitats.

Final Piece Development

Originally I was to create just one panel to tell the story but after creating the two prototypes, I decided that two panels would work better and allow for more images of change, using one panel relating to Grange and one for Silverdale.

It was difficult managing on a smaller printing press and using a rage of different printing techniques. The pressure had to be released to move the paper along and care had to be taken not to let ink from previous printed areas spoil clean areas.

First step was printing using collagraph plates and embossed techniques with cut out shapes. One of the collagraphs was a colour image and this plate was inked up for printing. Paper needed to be damp for these sections then left to dry before using mono pritning techniques.

First Stage — Collagraph and Embossing onto damped paper

The second stage was the monoprinting, firstly with the channel stencils. I had to carefully line them in date order with the corresponding maps to keep them in sequence. Of course, not forgetting about reversing the sencils and deciding which side to ink when it came ot press pritning with them.

Keeping order — Making sure the channels were printed in sequence of time and matching the dates to the maps. It created a nice collection of first prints using the stencils before taking a ghost print in the finished panel.

Press printing the shapes of Silverdale and Grange over Sands salt marshes

Silverdale with its salt Marsh on the right — Panel 1

Lastly I used stencils to show the birds and was able to combine some of them with images of salt marsh

Stencils used for bird imagery

Final Pieces

four hangings including the two prototypes

Panel 1 Salt marsh at Silverdale and beach at Gange over Sands. River Kent main channel runs alongside Grange coast. (Channels 1950s and 1960s). Wading birds feeding on the banks near to Grange

Panel 2 Salt marsh at Grange over Sands, beach at Silverdale. River Kent main channel runs along side the Silverdale side. (channels 1960s and 1980s).Wading birds have moved further away from Grange to new feeding grounds out in the mud flats and sand banks

State of Flux

Here is the story of change and consequence. The Kent Channel continues to move and is currently in the midde of the estuary. The salt marsh at Grange is being eroded and has reduced considerably over recent years. The story continues….

I am an Artist based in the South Lakes and enjoy working with a range of media including print making. karenlester.com