Caught by the River


2nd June 2023

Today, to coincide with World Peatlands Day, Rose Ferraby, Rob St John and Tommy Perman unveil STACKS — an interactive project commissioned by the South West Peatland Partnership (SWPP), which is working across West Penwith Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor and Exmoor in South West England to undertake ambitious peatland restoration projects.

Peatlands are vital to human lives: they lock up carbon, buffer floodwaters, naturally filter drinking water, and provide rich biodiversity habitat. However, their importance is often overlooked and underappreciated. In an era of ecological loss and climate crisis, peatland restoration is a vital activity. How do understandings of past change in these remarkable environments help us imagine and prepare for the future?

STACKS aims to highlight the hidden richness, beauty and importance of peatlands. Produced by Ferraby, Perman and St John between 2021 and 2023, STACKS is an interactive website featuring film, sound and voices. It is intended to celebrate the often-unseen worlds of peatland landscapes, and the importance of their past, present and future in addressing environmental change. It highlights the importance of sharing the voices of those living and working in peatlands.

Visitors to the website can shuffle three film windows to create their own visual landscapes. Many of the films were shot across Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor and Exmoor to capture abstracted peatland tones and textures. Others were created using photographic film buried in peat and bogs for months on end to degrade, then sliced into tiny frames and animated. Another set of films documents archive images of peatlands projected through the water column of moorland streams in the middle of the night.

The films are accompanied by a soundscape of field recordings, music and local voices. Ambient microphones pick up bird calls, insects and the sound of water and wind. Hydrophones lowered beneath the surface of peatland pools record the squelch and crackle of sphagnum and humming stridulations of bog pool insects.

A collage of voices from peatland landscapes across the South West of England delve into the rich histories and complex natures of peatlands. These voices are drawn from environmental managers, peatland restoration practitioners, landscape archaeologists and poets to form an experimental ‘radio play’ tuning into the peat. Archive recordings of local people from The Dartmoor Trust Archive trace the extraction and use of peat through the 20th Century.

It is intended that STACKS will be presented as an art exhibition and installation in galleries in late 2023 and 2024.

Visit STACKS here.