Free Event: "Viewpoints; How Water Shaped Bath." Part of a River Avon Project; Mon 13 March 2017,18:30 – 20:30, Bath
By Bristol Natural History Consortium
The second in a series of 'Viewpoints' events - bringing water research to life along the River Avon.
Our 'Viewpoints' free events are a series of short discussions showcasing amazing water research and local projects.
Join us at the Guildhall as we discuss emerging reserach about the health of the River Avon and waterways around Bath. We’ve convened a panel of researchers and water-related stakeholders to talk us through problems and solutions our waterways face. Speakers include Jun Zang from the University of Bath, Luis Felipe Velasquez from EarthWatch and Harriet Alvis from Bristol Avon Rivers Trust, with a range of organistions and residents joining the discussion in the audience.
After the discussion, there will be the chance to share your thoughts with our speakers and guests over a free glass of wine or soft drink.
Mon 13 March 2017
18:30 – 20:30 GMT
Book free ticket here
See other Viewpoint River Avon events and info here
Water City Bristol - Hidden Tides strand co-curates a series of films about water with Bath film Festival 2016
A series of short films about tides, estuaries and the coastline.
"Estuaries and shorelines hold a deep fascination for us – washed by the tides, they are constantly changing places of climate and light extremes, working to overlapping sets of rhythms and tempos, often alluring and sometimes dangerous".
Guest presenter Professor Owain Jones of the Environmental Humanities Research Centre at Bath Spa University, and prime mover behind the Towards Hydrocitizenship project, has long been enthralled by tides and tidal cultures.
Tonight he introduces and discusses a collection of fascinating short films that explore our relationship with the ebb and flow of arguably the most powerful and transforming natural force on the planet.
Times: 18.30 DOORS, (Pre drinks in the downstairs bar, Chris Baker of Bath Film Festival will be there from 6pm)
Films (In the upstairs bar)
• 19.00 Intro by Dr. Owain Jones (5m)
• PROXI AND PERI 1 10m.19s (Rough Glory Films)
• PILLARS OF LIGHT 16m.28s
• 5 UNDERCURRENTS 3m.57s
20.10 INTERVAL 15m - Possible additional guest speaker.
• TRANSGRESSION 15m.20s (Nova Arts)
• TSUNAMI 7m.14s
• PROXI AND PERI 4 - HAY DESCANSO PARA LOS ESTUPIDOS (Rough Glory Films)
21.05 Q+A / Informal networking and conversation.
The films in blue text we made by Bristol based film-makers /artists and who have links and partnerships with Water City Bristol / Hydrocitizenship Project
The Hidden Tides Team co-created a tidal festival on Lamplighters Marsh, Shirehampton, working with the local community group, the Lamplighters pub and My Future My Choice. The event was staged between a high and low tide and involved poetry, music, guided walk, the shutting of the Tide Gate by the Environment Agency, print making (Small Works Press)
An event co-produced with Friends of Avon New Cut (FrANC).
See a slide show of pictures here
See Flickr Slide Show below
Water City Bristol Loves Tides!
In conjunction with community groups Friends of the Avon New Cut, and Friends of Lamplighters Marsh, we are involved in two events coming up in October, on the 2nd and the 15th.
The October 2nd event will take place from 1-5pm at and around Temple School (click here for travel directions)
This event is in celebration of 10 years of the community group Friends of the Avon New Cut, and will be a great celebration of the tidal river Avon as it flows through the new cut.
Activities on the day will include live music, tea and cake, short talks by FrANC and Water City Bristol, screening of a fun short film about "Proxi and Peri", the tides made flesh (otherwise known as the mudmen), a walk along the New Cut and craft activities for adults and children, including the amazing print bike run by Nick Hand of the Letterpress Collective.
There may also be an opportunity to view a boat sculpture made by the local community from Redcliffe flats, which will be on display in the Redcliffe Children's Centre.
All welcome! Show up for the whole event or drop in on the day. A full programme of details will be released shortly.
On October 15th we'll be having a second event, this time at the Lamplighter's Pub in Shirehampton (directions here). This event, being held in conjunction with the Friends of Lamplighters Marsh will also involve live music by a great local band, the print bike and more!
Activities will start at 3pm and go until after the high tide at 7:30pm.
All welcome! Come join us in celebrating the people and places, tides and rivers, and this watery city...
To some, the Water City Bristol project with its four apparently disparate projects around ‘daylighting’ culverted, hidden or forgotten rivers; hidden ecologies; tidal reaches; and care for infrastructure, may seem oddly random, even given the overall sense of an ecological orientation. In my view this is not the case, particularly if we start to think about it in the expanded context I want to suggest here.
In her recent blog on this site, Lindsey McEwen writes about our “working with local people in South Bristol to explore creative engagements with culverted and ‘hidden or forgotten rivers’ in Bristol”. This process of ‘daylighting’ is highly resonant for somebody like myself with an interest in the joined-up thinking/doing that academics call ‘connectivity’ and Felix Guattari called ‘ecosophy’; and in social psychology. Resonant because it is suggestive of the psychoanalytical processes by which repressed unconscious material is once again brought to the surface, to the attention of the collective mind or culture.
This analogy fits well with Lindsey’s equating the exposure of “long-buried” rivers with a process akin to their ‘being exposed to fresh air after decades of burial’. So my sense of context for what WCB is trying to do can be understood in this sense; as a lifting of repression. What needs to be brought into the light of day, in our case, is the long discarded or repressed animist mode of thinking that once allowed humans to see ourselves as simply one kind of living organism within the mesh of vibrant matter that has been called Gaia, an ecosophical understanding that side-steps the usual sharp distinctions between human and non-human modes of being in the world. Instead it thinks in terms of the all-togetherness of three interwoven yet distinct fields - the constellation of identities that makes up a self, the social, and the environment.
In her blog Lindsey also points out that:
The activities of collective walking - to trace a particular route or honour a place - and storytelling (understood as the sharing of significant narratives) come close to being our culture’s best equivalents to ritual participation in the active social maintenance of place found in most cultures other than our own. Traditionally, walking as pilgrimage and storytelling grounded in the local landscape were two ways in which a sense of the numinous quality of place, its physical and cultural sense of depth (even of spirituality in a pagan sense), were maintained.
Consequently I would argue that, under the growing pressure of socio-ecological upheaval, we are now increasingly seeing a re-emergence of an ‘open’ or ‘non-aligned form of spirituality in that animist or pagan sense. Also that, at least in certain respects, this brings us closer to a fuller sense of place found in animist cultures.
I’m by no means the only person to notice this shift or re-emergence. While in my view it’s necessary to set aside the all-too-often often rather puerile reductivism of ‘New Age’ thinking, there is plenty of more nuanced evidence even within the academic sphere.
The art commentator and anarchist thinker Rebecca Solnit writes in As Eve Said To The Serpent: On Landscape, Gender and Art (2001) about alternatives to the still dominant assumptions about the relationship between linear temporality, creation and place that flows from the traditions of the three monotheistic Religions of the Book (Christianity, Islam and Judaism). Solnit notes that certain artists adopt an alternative approach to time that echoes that in “Native American creation stories”, evoking ”a worldview in which creation of the world is often continual and sometimes comic improvisation, without initial perfection or a subsequent fall” (Solnit 2001:12). That, it seems to me, is close enough to what is going on – psycho-socially speaking - with the walks and the storytelling that Lindsey refers to.
Mainstream academic thinking, which is still conditioned by assumptions that Enlightenment thinking inherited from the monotheism of the three great Religions of the Book is not comfortable with any talk of either non-aligned spirituality or of neo-animism, both of which it regards as relics of a pre-modern era. None-the-less, the perspectives on the world that these invite are now being taken seriously at the creative edges of academic work, for example by respected thinkers such as Bruno Latour and Isabelle Stengers. Furthermore, the consequences of taking those perspectives seriously are being put into practice in everyday contexts by a variety of creative individuals and groups.
A good example of this practical work is a recent doctoral project undertaken by Ciara Healy, a PhD student at UWE, Bristol who teaches at Reading University. Earlier this year Ciara organized a multi-faceted project to draw attention to these perspectives as part of a doctoral project. This led to the Thin Place exhibition, together with an accompanying symposium and a series of education events, involving the Oriel Myrddin in Carmarthen. Without going into great detail about Ciara's project here (a description can be found at: http://orielmyrddingallery.co.uk/event/thin-place/) - it seems to me that in drawing attention to these perspectives and in various other respects the aims, range and scope of her project model the kind of inclusive, ‘ecosophical’ approach that, personally speaking, I hope Water City Bristol is aiming to demonstrate in practice.
There is always a concern that re-introducing such perspectives is somehow a sign of a ‘mystical’ or ‘anti-scientific’ bias. Yet the Thin Place exhibition catalogue included commissioned texts by astrophysicist Haley Gomez, as well as the astrologer Mark Jones, Franciscan Brother Joseph MacMahon, and the poet Cherry Smyth; while the symposium speakers included a transformational therapist, a cultural ethnographer, artists, a lecturer in art and philosophy, an archaeologist specialized in prehistoric ritual sites in Wales, and myself as an artist/researcher/teacher interested in matters of place. It’s also indicative that the educational aspect of the project included, among other events, a critical writing competition and story-telling event for primary school children.
There may be no very easily discerned links between daylighting culverted, hidden or forgotten rivers, exploring hidden ecologies and tidal reaches, and care for the urban infrastructure, at least if these topics are seen from the usual instrumental and disciplinary perspectives. However, once we choose to see them in an expanded, ecosophical light, as resonant with open metaphorical as well as literal meanings and concerns, they each start to resonate with each other via tropes that relate to our psycho-social need to address issues of loss, change, flux, and care. Issues that are ultimately bound up with that sense of meaning and purpose that has traditionally been thought of as the domain of religion, of spirituality. To address, that is, the concerns traditionally referred to as those that preoccupy the ‘thought of the heart’, concerns that form bridges between our constellated selves, society and the environment.
Iain Biggs is part of NOVA, the creative collective advising and co-creating Water City Bristol. He can also be found blogging on his personal website at:
By Lindsey McEwen
‘In some cities, more than 70 percent of streams have been paved over. In many cases, city residents don’t even know that there are buried waterways under their feet’ (National Geographic, 2013)
The Water City Bristol (WCB) project is working with local people in South Bristol to explore creative engagements with culverted and ‘hidden or forgotten rivers’ in Bristol. ‘Daylighting’ forms one of WCB’s four interweaving strands (along with hidden ecologies, tidal reaches, and care for infrastructure). We have been exploring the background to daylighting debates and talking with local people in Bristol about their relationships with rivers. Here I share a few thoughts and reflections (as a geographer within interests in rivers, water and local ‘communities’).
A search of the web indicates that the impetus for daylighting of such lost or hidden culverted rivers has increasing international resonance in sustainable urban design and planning - in settings from Seattle to Seoul. Also of interest to WCB are creative explorations of the relationships (historic, new, evolving) between local people and ‘communities’ with these hidden water courses. For example, their activism has potential to link local people to global movements. The same National Geographic (2013) proclaims ‘Daylighting takes off as cities expose long-buried rivers’ with Saw Mill River, Yonkers, New York ‘being exposed to fresh air after decades of burial’.
The language of case studies on the web can be emotive - ‘buried rivers’, ‘hidden gems’, ‘unloved city rivers’... See From Parking lot to Paradise - a 3 minute time accelerated time lapse film of the daylighting processes on the Saw Mill River. Such high profile oft-cited case studies have local people active in campaigning for the release of their local river, with daylighting perceived as ‘breathing life not just into urban streams but also their communities’. See Americanrivers.org ‘Rivers Connect Us’.
The WCB team are tracking down a copy of the film ‘Lost Rivers’ (72 mins; Director Caroline Debacle; Icarus films, 2013), which ‘examines hidden waterways in cities around the world and introduces us to people dedicated exploring and exposing them’. This sounds an important film to watch.
There is also growing international research interest in daylighting (see daylighting.org.uk), and in creative practices around ‘hidden rivers’ co-generated with local people (e.g. walks tracing above ground the river’s underground route, and storytelling as in Toronto’s Rivers Rising project). The UK Guardian Witness is currently requesting stories and photographs for ‘unloved rivers’ – with the Bristol Frome and Exeter Exe on its pages. In South Bristol, culverted rivers also exist on a smaller scale including the Malago and Colliter’s Brook – both generating renewed interest and community mobilisation to petition for daylighting. While the focus can be on physical deculverting, sometimes ‘lost rivers’ are not actually culverted. They can be above ground but constrained, hidden or neglected (a dumping ground for rubbish).
What risks in the mix?
What is clear is that among local people, there are a number of different perceived risks within the debate – to daylight or not to daylight. While the positives for daylighting may seem obvious, risks presented against daylighting include health and safety of water courses and fear of local flooding. For example, the flood histories of the south Bristol rivers are distant in the memory of many local people. New residents may have no knowledge or experience of such excesses. The floods of July 1968 inundated Bedminster streets near the Malago and Colliter’s Brook (see Brizzle Born and Bred’s photograph albums Weather Archives and The Great Flood of 1968 on Flikr). The intensifying steep slopes of Bristol make it high risk from surface water flooding, and engineering effort has been placed historically to contain and constrain these rivers. One project that provides alternative approaches to this is the Engineering and Physical Sciences (EPSRC) Blue-Green cities project. This is researching the idea that water planning can involve parts of cities might be ‘green’ and ‘blue’ (or inundated) at different times. That particular project has Newcastle in north-east UK as its case-study.
Visiting South Bristol's hidden water courses
What is unclear is how the processes and impacts of such daylighting in the UK and further afield is being co-researched and evaluated, and what the role of the arts and humanities might have working alongside geomorphologists, engineers, water managers etc. in these processes. So how do we make space for water in settings with smaller water courses, and how might local people connect to themselves, other people (local, globally) and their place through their connection with their hidden local water course? As well as reading about daylighting, we want to get a sense of the rivers from visiting rivers with local experts.
Last Monday afternoon, some of the Water City Bristol team met at Windmill Farm in Bedminster to walk some of the Malago and Colliter’s Brook. Both are tributaries to the Avon and were included in the South Bristol Riverscapes project run by Helen Adshead who has now joined our team. We found the Malago behind Windmill Farm neglected and hidden - entrenched in walls with a load of bricks, bikes and tyres.
The water looked clear below but low and managed. What would it look and sound like with more water, more noise, and cleared of its waste? The Malago has a long history of entombment along its lower stretches, with a series of flood relief channels growing ever bigger in response to successive floods in the 18th to 20th centuries. We walked down Clark Street where an old flood interceptor was visible with its weights and chains.
The straight section below was cossetted with metal struts.
Above the engineering, the river although above ground, was hidden, choked along its line with homogenous Buddleia that had been cut level with the walls.
We heard about a community-led Green Capital initiative to enhance this area for walking, and to make it the new front entrance to Windmill Farm. We heard also about the river walks that had connected different river care groups along the Malago during the Bristol Living Rivers project but which no longer take place.
We then went to visit the Colliter's Brook - again constrained and hidden by walls - beside Bristol City Football club.
We followed its line underground down through Greville Smythe Park down to the River Avon – putting ears to the small water management structures that punctuate the old river course but no sound of the water underneath on that day. Down at the River Avon, the tide was out and the pools and riffles were evident within the deep silt banks.
We looked at the outlet from the concrete frame of the efflux of the Colliter's Brook and imagined what it would have like on the 1885-90 Ordnance Survey map when the Colliter’s Brook was depicted as a sinuous wide channel running through a rural estate.
Thinking then about further afield in Central Bristol, we reflected on the current state of the River Frome - Bristol’s largest ‘underground river’. In contrast to the smaller rivers of Bedminster, the Frome is a culverted river on a very different scale, hidden from eye in Central Bristol but with its own flood history. The urban part of this ‘lost’ river continues to capture the imagination of both agencies and the public alike. The Multi-story Water project creatively explored local relationships with the Frome with residents in Eastville, while the film The Lost Rivers of Bristol (produced by Weston College students and including Melvin Wood, engineer with the Environment Agency) exchanges its valuable river heritage. More recently, the Environment Agency has been exploring the possibility of working with artists to mark the Frome’s course.
If YOU are interested in creatively exploring the ‘Lost rivers of Bristol’ and the idea of daylighting from the perspectives of communities and local people, please add your comments below or email Katherine Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Katherine Jones
Last night heralded the end of on one phase of the Bristol Loves Tides programme - a project that was co-designed with members of the Water City Bristol team, delivered by the organisation My Future - My Choice and involved a diverse and exciting range of activities designed at bringing a love of tides, and indeed a love of nature, into the lives of Bristolians young and old.
The evening began at the Planetarium where we were treated to a very large and curved showing of the first Proxi and Peri film, depicting their arrival into Bristol at the beginning of the Green Capital year. About 80 people were in attendance at this ticketed event, many of whom had been at the first event in March. The crowd included young and old, a variety of people who had an interest in some way, in Bristol's tidal nature and history.
The Planetarium show included, as might be expected, segments of 3D animated demonstrations of the planets of our solar system in relationship with each other. At the risk of sounding like a voiceover on a cheesy children's TV programme, we travelled through time and space, zooming in on a map of the South West of England with the Severn Estuary and the Avon leading into Bristol, viewing the solar eclipse of March 20th of this year from the perspective of Ashton Court, and later zooming all the way out to view the planets in Syzygy of the earth, sun and moon, both in March and a couple of days ago again. It was fascinating to see these views, and gave a real sense of our beautiful planet, its beautiful moon and the solar system we are in.
But Proxi and Peri wanted to take the opportunity of this Syzygy and the high tides to head back out to sea, hoping their mission to get Bristol to love the tides was completed. And so we joined them on a boat to head to where we could see them off.
The full moon looked huge (it's an apogee so at its closest to the earth and therefore appearing somewhat larger than usual - hence the 'super' moon title). Unfortunately from a moving boat my photos do not do it justice.
We were transported (in more ways than one?) to dock by the Nova Scotia where we assembled and were told to find other planets (earth, sun, moon - coloured tickets having been distributed earlier) and have a chat about what we would do personally to make the world a better, greener (bluer?) place. Having mainly lost my voice this was a bit of a challenge but I managed a few quiet conversations as we made a procession along the Cumberland Basin and to the site where we had last assembled at the March 22nd Syzygy and made the mud heart on the wall..
Singing, music, performance and a healthy dose of ribbing the academics (I heard you! ;-)) ensued, along with entreaties to the people of Bristol to care about their watery environments. Until finally it was time for Proxi and Peri to go, and away they rowed...
All that is left for us to do now is to reflect...
Proxi and Peri brought humour, light-heartedness, and fun, as well as thoughtfulness and reminders into the performances, which were engaging and interactive. They also, along with the film-makers, particularly Rough Glory films, created atmospheres, and engaged with, what we strange academic types might call the 'embodied' and 'materiality. Mud featured strongly in the interactions and performances with the public (though not in the schools, for perhaps pragmatic reasons!). People I spoke with remembered well putting their hands in mud and making the heart on the wall, as did I. These unusual sensory experiences, and the interactions in locations we perhaps would otherwise never go (as with the spot shown above, behind which is a curly mass of roads and flyovers, a concrete tangle of urbanity), have had the effect of weaving us into the spaces perhaps, ritualising our immersion into them, as a collective.
Have these performances and interactions changed our perceptions of space/place? I certainly feel differently about these spaces, a kind of intimacy has formed, as well as a sense of shared-ness. And our participation in rituals such as the making of the mud heart seem to have inscribed us in a quite personal way into the fabric of the city. Interestingly, the current graffiti that has emerged on the heart is of aliens, spaceships, and the sun, moon and planet earth... I don't know if this was intentional on the part of someone involved, or inspired somehow by our strange mural but in whichever way, it seems that 'creative conversations' continue in more ways than one, in more forms and materialities and with unknown others through traces and overlaps...
A big question for me throughout this project is always - how do we know that connections between places, between people, and people with themselves, their senses of identity and belonging, will have an effect on the way we behave? Do these things really affect us such as that as a society we move towards increased sustainability? It is virtually impossible to measure the impact of events and programmes like this - who knows what it will inspire? But it seems part of a continuum of ways in which we start to re-imagine our relationships with the world, and I am certainly inspired by the conversations emerging out of these interactions. Proxi and Peri may have left the city, but their legacy lives on.
By Katherine Jones
Two years ago an arts collective called Artists Project Earth (APE) came up with the idea of a whale sculpture in Bristol's Millennium Square. This year, thanks to Arts Council Funding and an arts organisation called Codsteaks, Millennium Square is proudly hosting not one but two incredible whales made of steel and locally sourced (Somerset) willow, beautifully woven into the fluid dynamic shapes. The whales are surrounded by a vibrant sea, constructed from 100,000 plastic bottles, collected from 10K running events in Bristol and Bath. One of the whales is breaching, it's shiny eye gleaming in the light, and every so often, to the surprise and excitement of onlookers, it spouts! The other is present only in the form of a tail, disappearing into the plastic sea.
Yesterday evening I attended an event held at @Bristol, behind where the whales are, which involved a series of films and talks about whales, the oceans, and the effects of human activities (mostly horrendous, but there were some happy stories too).
The evening began with a short film about the making of the whales. Codsteaks is a truly amazing Bristol arts organisation specialising in 3D design. It was great to get an insight into the making of the incredible whale sculptures and my fondness for them was increased by hearing about their construction, particularly the use of willow and the way in which this meant that the sculpture was not the kind of even, predictable, uniform thing that might be made in a mould or by casting. Instead it was the work of many hands weaving, sometimes in quite distinctive ways (so that the organiser would move people around so that patches were not too different from others). As a sculpture then, this was co-created by many people, a beautiful testimony to cooperation. Inspiring I thought.
A bit of a diversion, but this comes to mind now. Some time ago I watched a documentary about different types of primate, our closest animal relatives. The documentary focused on two in particular, chimpanzees, and bonobos. Chimpanzees have long been thought of as human's closest relatives. As a society they are aggressive, hierarchical, competitive, male-dominated and violent. Bonobos on the other hand, equally related to humans, form into matriarchal societies and display a great deal of cooperation and peacefulness. Rather than fighting with other groups of bonobos for instance, they get together and groom and then the two bands may travel together for a while. The naturalists talking about these species suggested that the way we perceive our relationship to the other animals affects how we see ourselves. If we see ourselves like the chimpanzees we think that violence and competition is our default or most natural behaviour. Seeing ourselves as more like the bonobos however, changes that narrative. Furthermore, one commentator suggested that the history of humans is far more a history of cooperation than it is one of conflict. Why is it that our history books are filled with accounts of conflict then? Perhaps because in fact this is out of the ordinary, fascinating in how badly things went wrong... However even accounts of war are filled with accounts of cooperation and people helping each other... But I digress. My musings on this are to do with my impression of the building of the whales, as a cooperative activity in which people put their egos aside and worked together. If we could extend such cooperation to our environmental problems we would be on the right track.
Following Codsteaks, we heard from Doug Allen, underwater cameraman. My favourite presentation of the evening involved incredible still and moving images, as well as sound recordings of incredible animals. I was transported into an underwater world - and world is the correct term, an almost altogether alien place for most of us, and full of wonders. We saw humpback whales come face-to-face with Doug, trying to get a better look; their immense bodies vertical in the water, to come eye-to-eye. A gathering of curious beluga whales whose collective calls sound like a flock of canaries! And a mass of narwhals fishing between moving ice in Iceland, and becoming momentarily trapped so that they all have to surface in a small space, their amazing tusks slicing the air in a kind of dance. The sight and sounds were nothing short of magical and I felt transported and moved to these wonderful places, wonderful creatures. I was struck too by Doug himself, the way he spoke of his interactions. The way he seemed to listen to them. When you get in the water with these creatures, he said, you have to get on their wavelength.
Doug was followed by another film-maker. This time producer Adam White pre-viewing an upcoming BBC programme about Monterey Bay, a success story in conservation terms. The footage here again was amazing, and from a story that began with the decimation of habitats and species, it ended with a hopeful return and a message that the oceans were resilient, and there was still time to undo some of the damage. Not all, mind. Ocean acidification and global warming are having serious impacts on coral ecosystems and beyond, but it was positive that in some cases, such as with the creation of a marine conservation zone (the first) in Monterey Bay, that ecosystems can sometimes recover. [I did wonder however what the impact of the recent oil spill off the Santa Barbara coast might mean for this ecosystem]. There will be several live broadcasts on BBC from Monterey Bay about this success story in late August.
After seeing all these beautiful and amazing creatures, we were then in for some harsh truths about our current human world and where it is going terribly wrong. Plastics.
Two presenters talked about plastics in the ocean. Jo Ruxton, who for three-years has been making a film about plastics in the ocean showed some clips from this. We saw a shearwater being cut open, it's guts absolutely full of little bits of plastic, clearly the cause of its death. A seal with its head trapped in plastic fishing net. And the results of a trawl through the 'great garbage patch' in the Pacific Ocean, showing how the bits of plastic were broken down into smaller and smaller pieces. Worst of all the plastic beads which are how plastic is transported before it is melted down and moulded into shapes, are exactly the size of fish eggs. When these find their way into the system, as they often do (we are shown someone holding handfuls of them mixed with beach debris), birds and small sea creatures eat them in large quantities. And we now know that plankton are ingesting tiny bits of plastic, and plankton are then eaten by fish, and fish, by humans. So we are literally eating our rubbish.
The film clips and Jo's talk gave a very balanced view I thought on the subject of plastics. She recognised the huge value they have to our lives, showing an image of a premature baby being kept alive thanks to lots of plastic tubes. The main issue she pointed to, was single-use plastics. And I whole-heartedly agree with this. I think it is truly ludicrous that we are producing in such massive quantities, using so much energy, and oil, items that will be used one time and then thrown away. There is something seriously wrong with this and we need to make a big change. One option would be to make the manufacturers and users (e.g. drinks companies) responsible for the plastic waste in the ocean. Jo suggested that one good step would be to at least have plastic waste in the oceans classified as hazardous waste. Amazingly, it is currently not. If it was, existing regulations would go some way to dealing with the problem.
To bring things closer to home (and I have deliberately put these out of sequence in my write-up), Natalie from City to Sea showed a couple of clips, filmed on her iPhone of plastic collected on the banks of the River Avon. A shocking amount of plastic. It starts here people. We all have a responsibility. We can all do something. Interestingly for our project, the first film she showed was from the high tide in March, when we were having our World Water Day event and she made reference to the fact that just upstream people were admiring the high tide, while from where she was standing she was watching masses of plastic debris floating out to sea. Perhaps our next participatory event should be a litter pick on our own river?
The evening ended with an overview of APE projects. Again, hugely inspirational. Through producing albums with musicians from around the world, the project is raising money to fund recover projects in areas hit by disasters, and multiple projects to help mitigate environmental damage. I highly recommend looking them up.
It was a moving evening. I won't lie, there were tears, but also a huge amount of wonder, and indeed hope. I left feeling I knew more, because I had felt more. There is some difference between knowing something intellectually, and feeling something. Feeling empathy, wonder, the joy of an encounter with another species, looking into the eye of a huge whale and hearing them singing and chattering, and the sadness of connecting a careless action with harm to another being...
Thanks to the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities Festival fund, Water City Bristol and Bristol Loves Tides were able to hold a half-day event on Saturday June 20th at the wonderful Benjamin Perry Boathouse in the Bristol Harbour.
The afternoon event was pitched at a growing ‘tidal supporters club’ based on those who attended the March 22nd Syzygy event at the Lockside, as well as any others who have expressed an interest in Bristol’s tidal nature. The event involved the screening of the first Proxi and Peri film, a live music performance by two of Bristol Loves Tides young presenters, and a very interesting panel discussion involving the audience about what it might mean to be a ‘hydrocitizen’ in Bristol.
Attendees were also encouraged to share their tidal or water stories of Bristol on a map with pins, and were awarded badges for doing so.
The crowd were then led out of the boathouse and to the dock where ‘The Oath’ to the tides was once again led by Proxi and Peri before they boarded the ferry and went to the Museum of Water at the Bristol Green Capital Lab near the Watershed. There they contributed a bottle of dock water on behalf of Bristol Loves Tides and Water City Bristol.
The interactive event, held in this wonderful yet unassuming building steeped in heritage (not just history – an important distinction as we learned!) was another great reminder of the importance of tides to this the city, but also water more broadly to all of us, our places, our pasts, presents and futures…