2018 - Ongoing
Sophie Gerrard’s ongoing project, The Flows (from the Norse ‘floi’ meaning ‘flat, deep, wet land’) focuses on the gentle and undulating peatlands of the Flow Country, located in Caithness and Sutherland in the far north of mainland Scotland.
Peatlands are a globally rare habitat, vital in combatting climate change. Although they cover only a tiny amount (3%) of the planet’s land surface, peatlands hold almost 30% of all terrestrial carbon - twice as much as all the world’s forests. Scotland holds a vast amount (13%) of this vital global resource. The Flow Country is widely considered to be the largest expanse of blanket peat bog in the world. It is the principal single terrestrial carbon store in the UK and is of such high conservation value it is currently under consideration for World Heritage Site status by UNESCO.
Historically peatlands have been seen as empty, unproductive and valueless wastelands, of little benefit to humans yet still forced into marginal production for the leanest of economic return. During the 1980s, the Conservative Government under Margaret Thatcher offered tax incentives to the super rich, resulting in vast areas of the Flow Country being planted with non-native coniferous Sitka spruce which drained, damaged and ultimately killed large areas of the bog. Over 80% of the UK’s peatlands have been damaged by years of mismanagement - through drainage, inappropriate development, extraction, burning, forestry and grazing.
Inspired by childhood journeys through this flat land in the far north, Sophie returned to the landscape of the Flow Country for a number of editorial assignments early in 2017. The endless views of the boggy moorland so often described as bleak, empty, a wasteland, nothing here, featureless and eerie, evoked a renewed sense of exploration and investigation and Sophie has returned to the area on many occassions exploring and researching the landscape, the people who live and work there and the ongoing restoration work being carried out.
Eschewing sentimentality, Sophie Gerrard’s photographs look at how this precious environmental resource has been desecrated and denuded over generations and how these almost magical places are being revived and reinvigorated through careful and considered conservation by the RSPB and their partners. This is no abstract notion: survival of the peatlands is a touchstone for the environmental health of the nation. Once seen as ‘fair game’ for industrial-scale exploitation, The Flows poses a metaphorical question, asking us to consider our relationship with local and national areas of outstanding beauty and how these places of natural resources fit into Scotland’s topography and consciousness, linking people to the land, and vice-versa.