Simon Read presents at the Nordic Geographic Meeting 2015
About NGM 2015
The Nordic Geographers Meeting (NGM) is an international geography conference held in every second year in one of the Nordic Countries and now, for the first time, in Estonia. The 6th Meeting will be held in Tallinn and Tartu on 15-19 June 2015 on a theme Geographical Imagination: Interpretations of Nature, Art and Politics.
About the panel
Imagining wetlands: geography between wet and dry
Bogs, mires, floodplains, tidal zones – these are ambiguous, if not ‘liminal’ spaces for modern imagination and utilisation. Part water and part land, at times dry and at others wet, too soft to plough but too solid to sail, these spaces defy easy categorisation as well as many forms of conventional land use. In order to render them usable and – arguably – imaginable, wetlands had to be drained or flooded, turned into properly dry ground or into pleasingly watery scenery.
From generally being considered wastelands, both economically and aesthetically, wetlands have recently experienced a revival as vital ecotopes for biodiversity and hydrology, and as beautiful and popular scenery. Former
drainage infrastructure and dams are being dismantled, and visitor facilities are criss-crossing the re-discovered landscapes. At the same time, unforeseen floods and droughts keep disturbing this friendly image of wetlands.
This session is to facilitate a discussion about current and historical work with and understandings of wetlands. How do people imagine, represent, use and change wetlands? How do wetlands support, defy or comply with these projects and imaginations? What do particular imaginations of wetlands – as wasteland, ecosystems service provider, mythical locus, archaeological time portal, refuge, climate change meter, tourism destination, livelihood source, real estate, etc – do to and with these places? And what is the specific role of the
uncanny mix of solid and fluid substance in the imagination, use and transformation of wetlands?
Simon Read's presentation
Towards a cultural understanding of the value of the intertidal zone
I live in a place that is subject to substantial tidal variation, which although not extreme, is sufficient to lull you into a false sense of security and then with little warning, it can wash you out. On 6th December 2013 our coast in Suffolk, UK was subject to a major tidal surge that saw me rowing home over dry land. Home for me is a seagoing vessel, where the intertidal zone is both habitat and workplace.
For centuries our intertidal zone has been an ambiguous territory, both targeted for reclamation and valued as a buffer between dry land and the sea. However due to heightened sensitivity to its uniqueness, the instinctive mistrust of a place that becomes no place twice daily has moderated: now saltmarsh has secured a place within our culture that corresponds to an awakening of understanding. It is a pivotal zone routinely acknowledged as habitat for both fish and avian species, in contemporary parlance it provides an ecosystem service as a first line of defence, by dissipating tidal energy, it acts as a carbon sink and locks up pollutants within its root mass.
I have worked intensively with saltmarsh systems for more than a decade, exploring ways to understand its dynamic and to stabilize it through soft engineering interventions. Using case studies from my own experience, I will discuss the shift in awareness vital to enhancing a sense of community ownership, responsibility and affinity for the intertidal environment.