Unique photography project reflects on importance of open spaces

As lockdown restrictions are eased, the importance of having access to open spaces has never been more apparent, and now a unique photography project is aiming to tap into people’s new or long-held associations with the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths.

During the Covid-19 crisis, the heaths have seen record numbers of visitors benefiting from the site in terms of their health and wellbeing, as thousands go there to exercise and enjoy the beauty of the area, known locally as Woodbury Common.  The heaths are not only a valuable recreational space to local communities, but also a protected wildlife site.

Now the Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust, the charity which manages the site on behalf of Clinton Devon Estates, is launching a summer project called ‘The Heaths and Me’. It aims to capture the spirit of the heaths and understand what this area means to different people. Visitors are being asked to submit favourite photographs which express why the commons are special to them. As well as providing an important social record, some of the images will also feature in an exhibition next year which will celebrate the unique character of the heaths.

The trust is leading the project on behalf of the organisations involved in caring for the Pebblebed Heaths, including the RSPB and Devon Wildlife Trust.

Kim Strawbridge, Site Manager for the Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust, said: “As land managers, we understand what makes the Pebblebed Heaths special in terms of the habitats that are present, the wildlife they support and the historical features that are under our care. We also put a good deal of thought into how we engage with people to enable them to understand why these features of the heaths are important and how they can help us care for them.

“With this project we want to flip that on its head and get an insight into why the heaths are important to the people that choose to spend time here. We appreciate that there is a strong sense of connection between local communities and the heaths; those connections are diverse and not always tangible or simple for people to explain. These often overlooked details all make up the story of this much-loved landscape, why it is special and its spirit.”

Andy Thatcher, a key member of the team driving the project, is studying for a Masters in Photography and volunteers with the Pebblebed Heath Conservation Trust. He explains: “I’m fascinated by how people see the places that matter to them and this is central to my research and practice at Falmouth University. I’ve found that the photos which say the most don’t need to be technically perfect, so whether it’s a GoPro over-the-handlebars shot, a smartphone family snap or a carefully considered shot from a tripod, we’re looking for shots that show what it’s really like to be out on the Pebblebed Heaths for everyone who uses them.”

Andy continues: “As well as providing a valuable archive, I’ll be selecting a number of contributions which I feel communicate something personal and individual, I’ll then be adding my own photograph in response and bringing images and words together into a series of pieces for an exhibition next year.”

Kate Ponting, Countryside Learning Officer for Clinton Devon Estates, adds: “This isn’t a typical photography competition, so we hope this project will inspire and appeal to everyone to share their images of their heath. This summer many will have more time to explore and connect with the landscape and with most people having access to cameras or a mobile phone we hope this will make it easy for people to contribute and take part. Each week look out for our social media posts and pop-up reminders across the site to encourage everyone to contribute different images.”

People are being invited to share their photos on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #TheHeathsAndMe, or alternatively by emailing mail@pebblebedheaths.org.uk.

Further details of the project can be found at https://bit.ly/THAM2020