Field Work


The large field above High Cross House draws my attention on repeated walks. The vast open spread of it, and unusual cross field 'half hedgerow' planting, suggest an interesting overlap of two different temporal periods of agricultural experimentation; Leonard Elmhirst's drive to greater agricultural efficiency in the 1930's, which involved the ripping out of so many of the historical hedgerow field boundaries that typify the Devon field scape, and today's focus on regenerative agriculture led by Schumacher College, which may account for the reintroduction of the hedgerow-like planting.

I spend time in the field watching for birds, and thinking about a weave of field patterns and flight paths. Despite hearing plenty from the bird population elsewhere on site, there are surprisingly few flights to record on my drawing. A few seagulls, a couple of blackbirds and a lone pigeon are all I see in half an hour.

I can't help thinking about the ornithologist David Lack who observed the birds at Dartington in the 1930's, particularly the robins and the swift population of the old church tower (last known resident seen in the 1960's). Would he be shocked by the absences in the field today? We know there has been vast bird species loss in the last 50 years, but what about in the previous 500? We have no records to compare to, but the best guesses suggest that the 1970's populations were already drastically reduced from what they once were.

Lack went on to use his skills in the development of radar, and it was his interpretation of the forms uncovered by radar imaging that revealed the vastness and complexity of bird migration formations and behaviours.

I leave the field thinking about flight paths, migrations, murmurations, and lack.

My thinking in the field was informed by reading the guidebook 'A History of Dartington Hall in Twenty-Three Moments', published by Dartington Hall Trust Press in 2017.