Crackley Woods

In this magnificent ancient woodland, veteran oak trees, silver birch, beech and ash combine with a multitude of plant and funghi species to provide rich habitat for one another. The wood is a mass of interacting components that rely on each other to function. Trees roots connect with the mycelium of funghi to form a mycorrhizal network, or ‘wood wide web,’ through which trees exchange nutrients and information. These networks take hundreds of years to develop, making the biodiversity of ancient woodlands much richer than new plantations.

In 2020 the northern section of Crackley Woods was destroyed by HS2 ‘enabling works’ during the spring nesting season. Hundreds of veteran trees have been felled, the area cleared and the topsoil scraped into heaps. This soil will later be spread over nearby land in a process called ‘translocation.’ However there is no scientific evidence that this will enable any significant regeneration of biodiversity.

The southern part of the wood remains intact and is currently open for visitors. This is separated from the destruction by the Greenway, a popular bridlepath which ironically follows the route of a railway closed in the Beeching cuts of the 1960s. Here, spectacular sweet chestnut trees alongside the path make great climbing sites for children. Years ago this wood was coppiced and this practice has been reintroduced in parts by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust volunteers to improve habitat diversity for wildlife. In May visitors can enjoy a blanket of bluebells dotted with wood anemone, yellow pimpernel and common dog-violet. The soils here are acidic, sandy and clay which suits wood sage, foxglove, bracken and golden-saxifrage around the ponds. Fungi species include tawny grisette, dog stinkhorn, birch polypore, jelly ear and beefsteak fungus. Badgers, barn owls, sawflies and hoverflies also thrive here.

During my visits in December and January 2021 I was fascinated by the fruiting bodies of funghi which grow on fallen trees and branches, as well as the twisting forms of chestnut trees. These are the visible manifestations of the ‘wood wide web,’ or mycorrhizal networks, which enable the woods to thrive. The collages and drawings I have created will inform clay sculptures and carvings made from local red sandstone. Please see the blog for more work in progress and information about red sandstone, and visit this page later in 2021 for updates on the sculptures.

The Artworks

Birdsong in Crackley woods. Construction sounds in the distance.

The plump shape of this little sculpture was inpired by the bulging forms of the polypore fungi which protrude from their host trees in the autumn.

‘Bore,’ Terracotta,’ 12 x 12 x 6cm

Although part of the route of HS2 passes through tunnels, much of it gouges through the landscape in cuttings and on embankments which interrupt watercourses and damage the flow of groundwater. In southern parts of the route the tunnelling operations are using so much water they threaten London’s drinking water supplies.

Truncated Chestnut. Acrylic ink. Conte. Collage.

The dramatic, twisting sweet chestnut trees are not technically native – they were imported to the UK in Roman times. Their nuts provide food for birds and mammals.

Two versions of the same dramatic subject – a towering tree of orange fungus glowing bright against the snow in Crackley Woods. Check out the blog for photos! The ink drawing on the left (42 x 30cm) was made on location and the painting on the right (gouache, 59 x 42 cm) later in the studio.

‘Mobbed by bluetits,’

Right in the middle of an area of coppiced hazel I was mobbed by a gang of angry blue tits and great tits who ojecting to me sitting and sketching. I ignored them.

‘Rowan Tree Bark,’ Gouache 32 x 18cm

Some trees are just sexy.

‘Silver Birch Bark’ 30 x 21 cm. Ink, watercolour
‘Silver birch bark’ Conte, gouache 30 x 21cm

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