The Sustainable Art of Willow Weaving

Basket weaving it one of the oldest and widest spread crafts in the history of any human civilization, but it is very difficult to state exactly how old the craft is, because natural materials such as wood and grass decay naturally and constantly.  It is worth having a brief look at the history behind this very traditional art.

The oldest known baskets have been carbon dated to between 10,000 and 12,000 years old.  These were discovered in Faiyum in Upper Egypt.  During the Industrial Revolution in the UK, baskets were used in factories and also for packaging and for delivering goods.  Wicker furniture became very fashionable in Victorian society and this led to the development of various different uses for it, other than industrial use, such as aesthetically pleasing items – ornamental baskets and sculptures.

Basketry is made from a variety of fibrous, or pliable materials.  Basically any material that will bend and form a shape.  It is usually classified into four types:

– ‘Coiled’ basketry – using grasses and rushes

-‘Plaiting’ basketry – making braids using plams, yucca or New Zealand flax

– ‘Twining’ basketry – material from roots and tree bark.  This actually refers to a weaving process, or technique whereby two or more flexible materials cross each other as they weave through some stiffer upright spokes.

-‘Wicker’ and ‘Splint’ basketry – using reed, cane, willow, oak and ash

It is this latter process that has been adopted and developed by the Creative Green  tutor and environmental artist, Dave Gosling. Dave uses a variety of materials to create his sculptures, but when

Willow Sculpture of Man Standing by Dave Gosling

Willow Sculpture of Man Standing by Dave Gosling

teaching newcomers to the art, he uses willow.  Mainly because it is much easier to manipulate.  We have sourced the willow that we are using through Musgrove Willows.  For almost a hundred years the Musgrove Family have been growing willow on the Somerset Levels.  It is a renewable and sustainable crop, annually harvested from a stump in withy beds.  It is the ultimate green product, absorbing carbon from the atmosphere as it grows.

Dave has developed his work from a weaving background to one that weaves itself into the the natural landscape.  This is much in evidence in a lot of his work, including the more permanent pieces.  Dave insists that ‘impressive structures can be achieved in a day’ for even a beginner.  He has been commissioned by many Local Authorities to bring the natural environment into urban town centres by using his sculptures in either wire, or willow.

We are hoping that some amazing sculptures will take place at our Al Fresco Willow Sculpture Event at Clue Hill Farm on Friday 3rd July, under the expert guidance of Dave Gosling and Tony Davies.  The willow is currently soaking in our pond, for at least 10 days (the pond is fed by natural springs, so the water should be really pure) – this is what Dave has advised us to do.  So everything is ready and waiting for the sun to come out and then we can begin!

 

The Birdsong is Amazing at this Time of Year – The Cuckoo is Here!

On my dog walks around Clue Hill Farm last week I heard the cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) three days running.  A true sign for me that spring is really here.  I think that this must be a real privilege, as the call of the cuckoo is becoming a

wood violets

Wood Violets in the Sunshine at Clue Hill Farm

very rare sound in the U.K., because fewer and fewer of them return to breed here every year.  It seems that very little is known about their habitat and where they go, so it is therefore very difficult to concentrate on their conservation.  We just hope that the conservation work that we are doing will prove beneficial to providing the correct habitats for birds such as the cuckoo.

I may have heard one, but I certainly did not see one and I wonder how many people would recognise one if they did see them?  The cuckoo is a dove-sized bird and has blue/grey upper parts, head and chest, with dark barred white under parts.  They have a sleek body, long tail and pointed wings, which is not unlike kestrels or sparrowhawks.

The females lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, especially meadow pipits, dunnocks and reed warblers.  The unfortunate host birds then take on the duties of parents and feed the cuckoo chick, unaware that the baby bird is not their own.  A female cuckoo may visit as many as 50 nest in one year – which if they are such prolific breeders, begs the question as to why they are in such decline; but due to their recent decline, they have now been listed as a Red List species by the RSPB.

Planning for the Wildlife Safari in the Barn at Clue Hill Farm

Planning for the Wildlife Safari in the Barn at Clue Hill Farm

When I met with Stuart Mabbutt last Saturday, who is now our Resident Wildlife Sound Recordist* at Clue Hill Farm, within the space of 25 minutes of walking around the woods and surrounding hedgerows, he heard: robins, willow warbler, wren, great tit, blue tit, pheasant, blackcap, green woodpecker, dunnock and saw two buzzards searching for prey.  We did not hear the cuckoo though.

Stuart was preparing a site study for his Wildlife Safari on May 16th and was really pleased to see how the woods and pond were springing into life.  He had last visited us in late autumn and our careful and sustainable management of the area is proof of how we try to nurture the environment to encourage wildlife.

Meanwhile, I shall be looking to spot my first cuckoo.  They are masters of disguise.  Some of them are even able to match their eggs to those in their chosen nest, making it less likely for the real owners to notice the new addition. How clever is that?

* Our Resident Wildlife Sound Recordist will be using Clue Hill Farm to build his sound archive so that he can produce soundscapes.  This is an exciting new collaboration for us, so watch this space!