Sense of Here - Q&A follow up

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Posted on October 7, 2020


Well, last night we were overwhelmed by the number of questions that came in to our Live Q&A following the showing of the Sense of Here film and Exhibition Tour with the Royal Geographical Society. We must have been fairly wound up as we’ve both spent the night mulling over the questions, wishing that we’d had more time to go into more depth for some of them. But hey, we worked with what we had - and we still didn’t have time to answer all the questions that were posed. So we’re taking this opportunity to share some brief replies to those that we didn’t address last night.

 We have tried to be as succinct as possible. The conversation continues - it always does - so we look forward to what comes next and please feel free to get in touch if you want to delve into something in more depth. The exhibition might be in place but the project has far from finished.

 Note: if you’re reading this blog and you were not at the event, you can follow this link to view the Sense Of Here film. And follow this link to view the Live Q&A session

 The exhibition is on show in the galleries of Grizedale Forest, daily until December 13th 2020. 


Afterthoughts ... 

We are not going to give additional answers to the questions we took last night but we did want to share some of our thoughts about the second question, which mentioned the disposal of waste concrete along the River Crake. One of the farms within sight of our house is called Crake Farm. These ‘crakes’ in the landscape hark back to the days when corncrakes were plentiful. Before 1960 so many of the fields around us would have been loud with the less-than-tuneful calls of these birds. We, though, are part of a generation that has never heard the birds call; children today are probably unaware of the birds even existing. This is a sign of what is being lost, and how quickly, and it is a reminder of a duty of care that we humans have to the natural world of which we are all a part.

One thing Rob woke up with was: I think one thing that I wanted to strongly emphasis last night, but felt like I didn't, is the fact that it appears to me that as a society (or at least what is considered the white affluent Western world) we are sleepwalking towards environmental and ecological disaster. By and large we are comfortable passengers in life, content to have become Homo-Consumer, rather than being active participants in aspiring to become awesome ancestors that consider each action that we take carefully, and looking after all life forms better. I realise that this is broad-brush stuff and a lot of society is barely clinging on and cannot afford the luxury of caring about other critters when it is hard enough bringing food to the table each day, but still... Get up and engage folks, this is important stuff.


Answering the Unanswered Questions

Thanks again for engaging so thoughtfully. Here are the questions that didn't get addressed in the Live Q&A.

Helene Rossiter  How can tourism work to educate and encourage a new audience for our protected landscapes? Many more people are looking to holiday at home - a huge opportunity to support wider understanding of the importance and value of Place.

 There is a lot of work to be done and many opportunities. Tourism is a very important industry here in the Lake District, and as more people choose to holiday without leaving the country visitor numbers are likely to rise in many special and protected landscapes. Overnight visitors need somewhere to stay and the tourism industry, like all others, needs to evolve and build on best practice as it adapts to a different level of demand. There are many very good tourism businesses out there that address this challenge head on and continue to do excellent work. What can be learnt from them? We’d like to think that individual businesses could be supported - perhaps through National Park partnerships, Local Enterprise Partnerships, County Councils, Defra - to offer accessible information to visitors that helps to raise awareness of the nature and culture of specific locations, and the fragility of protected landscapes, and offer easy-to-access tips on respectful and sensitive visits. The Countryside Code seems to have fallen by the wayside - what can replace this that suits today’s visitor profiles, and is inspiring and inclusive?


Anonymous    I really enjoyed taking the time to enjoy your long walk with you this evening - thanks. It would be interesting to repeat aspects of this with young people to engage them with (and for (?)) the environment or their 'heres' to see what they want for their future and give them a voice.

 Thank you. Lovely to hear that you’re inspired by this and there are some exciting options to explore depending on location and age-group. You don’t leave your name but if you’d like to get in touch and talk about this further it would be good to connect. Next year we are going to be reshaping our plans for engagement and activities with young people, which will include offering them both training and a platform for sharing those views with their peers, with wider communities and with organisations and professionals connected with policy making. We have a number of partners working with us on this but are redeveloping it so get in touch if you’d like to. We have also developed a ‘sense of here’ clock-face tool to use with people of all ages as an observation/connection exercise to consider place in the round.


Liam McAleese  Congratulations Rob and Harriet. I hope that the youth engagement and "summit" can happen after Covid- it's such an important component.

 Thank you Liam. Yes, we hope so too. More than hope actually - we will find a way to make it happen either during a Covid-changed world or ‘after’ Covid. We always felt this was a key component of the project: providing a number of avenues for others to share learning, ask questions and have their voices heard, and, in the context of young people, for them to feel truly part of the debate about decisions affecting the places in which we live.


Anonymous   Given what you said about the youth strikes how crucial do you think it is to engage young people in all aspects of the conversation and how do they get to be part of some of the more complex discussions?

 It’s absolutely crucial. It’s very encouraging to see more and more opportunities for young people to join conversations. As an example, WWF is doing a lot of work across the world and has just held a Changemakers event to help young people network with one another, and share learning with adults already engaged with action and discussions. We were really proud to be asked by them to select 6 young people to join these talks (and a private Q&A with David Attenborough), and delighted to feel the enthusiasm as well as concern coming from the generation that is following us. There are also youth ambassadors involved with the Lake District Foundation, and with Local Enterprise Partnerships, and groups of Young Farmers and Young Commoners. One of the challenges going forwards is to ensure that conversations are not limited to single-interest groups: it’s difficult, for sure, but bringing multiple value systems into the conversation can help to drive more considered actions, and reduce polarisation. Our answers to the questions above show what we’re aiming to do - the Youth Summit is very much on the agenda!


Dave Pritchard  What does the mountain want? What does it know..?

 Thank you Dave, a nicely provocative question that we think Jonathan might have been too scared to ask. The question of ‘agency’ in actions and decision-making is an important one. We sometimes refer to the ‘natural world’ as a silent partner, always at the mercy of human actions. Asking how a mountain might be heard is a question that might suit an ‘artist’ mind more than any other discipline, and there’s a lot of work going on at the moment to explore the way non-human species and landscapes can be heard. It’s also a pertinent question for law and policy; the development of Earth Law, for instance, is grappling with ways to include non-human voices (heads up: we are probably going to be involved in a project centred on Earth Law next year, which really, really excites us). As humans, however deep our meditation, or however prolonged our contact with a mountain (or a tree, or a river) can we really ever know what it wants, feels or knows? We necessarily come at this question through the filter of human language and conditioned constructs. Having said that, some art forms like dance, music and abstract visual art might offer some way to bridge the gap between us, humans who have been on the planet for such a short time, and the natural world around us whose timespans are beyond our comprehension. Perhaps answering a question literally is less important than respecting the mountain (or tree, or river, etc.) for its own sake, accepting that our understanding will always be limited.



 Julian Hoffman  Such vital and engaging work - thank you, as always, for digging deep into these critical questions of place, belonging, and connection.

 Thank you Julian. The digging continues to be rewarding and challenging but we think the questions do need to be asked, and aiming for simple and reductive answers isn’t necessarily the way forward.


Anonymous  That was a fabulous presentation Harriet and Rob. You make the case of this being a call to action, but what action?

 Good question. I suppose we mean that in the broadest sense. Action could be slowing down and taking time to look and feel when you’re outside; it could be following lines of curiosity to learn more; it could be joining a volunteer network; it could be writing to your MP about an issue you feel strongly about; it could be changing some daily habits around diet and resource use; it could be taking children to the park or the woods and creatively exploring the space; it could be building new groups of people who would like to talk or work together, and exploring new collaborations. It might even be reading a different news feed and allowing ourselves to be challenged by views outside our usual echo chambers. 

Perhaps at the root of the answer is that to do nothing differently, to make no changes, is no longer an option in the face of the current pressures faced: the reality of a changing climate and declining biodiversity, or declining river conditions, or soil loss (there are many examples) is not going to change if our actions as individuals and as a society (which includes industries and businesses) do not change. No single one of us can change everything, but each small act really can matter.

 Mike Pickwell  What comes first the image or the poem or do they evolve together?

 We often get asked this question. It’s difficult to ask as the process can be quite fluid and unconscious. Sometimes a poem comes about in response to an image - although behind that image, always, is the experience of being present when the image was taken. The common thread that we are both in the same place at the same time, hearing and seeing the same things, feeling the same weather. The conversations we have can sometimes help to direct where Rob points his camera; and they often feed into the words for a poem.

Anonymous  As an archaeologist who has spent many years literally digging and surveying into the past of the Lakes, this project raises many interesting questions. There are many aspects of the National Park that necessitate archaeology’s ‘deep time’ perspectives. I look forward to visiting the exhibition! 

Thank you. Time eh … certainly something to think about. It’s interesting to us how many different timescales exist in a single place, and also what events and/or people ‘we’ as a society, a national park, a country, choose to make note of, to celebrate or value. What has happened during the long deep time of place, and in the shorter time frame of human history, feeds into a rich mix of culture today. There are stories that will keep surfacing and feeding into a deeper understanding of place.  On a further, perhaps more arty note, on our 13-day link walk of the Lake District we carried a 5000 year-old discard from the Langdale axe factories. It was given to us by an archaeologist friend and it felt very fitting for that depth of time to travel in a linear way with us. This shard of stone sits proudly in one of the display cases in the exhibition venue.


 Anonymous  How do you stay inspired and motivated when so often environmentalism feels like a hopeless endeavour? The video and exhibition have filled me with hope and reminded me of the beauty of nature; what it's all for!

Well, perhaps there are two strands. One is to get out there and be out there - to see not just where aspects of the natural world are not doing well, but where natural habitats are thriving, to witness a rare plant, to watch a kestrel or a merlin hover against a stormy sky, to feel the pulse of land. This connection is vital for keeping up motivation, and helps us let go of the circling of the intellect and to, quite literally, plug back in. 

The second thing is other people. Those times when we despair at yet another bad news story, or another goal for environmental change missed, or downright wrong decisions (like the recent approval at County Council level for a new coal mine on Cumbria’s west coast) we allow ourselves to be lifted by the conversations we’ve had with people who have optimism, or when optimism is low, simply press on with stubborn commitment. These qualities ensure that there are many people who are individually and collectively continuing to stand up for the natural environment whether this is through personal actions, research, scientific enquiry, social justice campaigns, art or policies. And there are good news stories out there. There are.

 Anonymous  Tremendous admiration for your commitment to embracing the complexity / the nuance...we don't need slogans, soundbites and popular contribute powerfully to a mature, thoughtful assessment of the current state, and the real requirements for healthy progress.

Thank you. It does feel difficult to get a message across without simple soundbites. Maybe a single image, or a single poem, goes some way to make up for this! But continuing to have conversations is vital.

 Mark H  Really great to hear your presentation, thank you for starting your exhibition at Grizedale Forest! Particularly liked your observation at the beginning: People shout their points of view from the mountain tops, but the real fertile working together takes place in the valleys. 

Thanks Mark. It feels fitting to start at Grizedale given that we both have strong connections to the place, plus it’s a beautiful space to show in. Next year we are not sure where the exhibition might go, but we are open to suggestions and invitations.

Tessa  Is this being recorded? Linking in from Governors Island NYC (hi Harriet and rob !) but keep losing connection :(

Hi Tessa. Thanks for tuning in from the island – we loved our tour with you pretty much this time last year. We remember sitting together listening to the guys from Urban Soil Research and having our minds expanded by what they shared, and then experiencing an excellent range of art, all inspired by soil studies. 

You can catch up on the RGS YouTube channel here: and the Q&A is at


Helen D  Huge congratulations on your exhibition Harriet and Rob!

 Thank you Helen. I hope you do get to see it in person.


Anonymous  Such a lovely and loving look at the world and hopeful. How do you stay hopeful / optimistic or one or the other?

I think we’ve just answered this question above, so please scroll up … but thank you for asking. It can be quite a challenge but feels important to keep finding ways to stay hopeful as giving up or giving in does not feel like a good option.


Eirini Saratsi  Thank you so much! that was really inspiring!

 You’re welcome Eirini. And thank you for all the work you make happen through the AALERT network. It continues to inspire us.


Rosalinda Ruiz Scarfuto Thank you! Lovely walk a~long.

 Thanks Rosalinda. Glad you enjoyed it!

Norman & Deb Hadley  I'm curious if your approaches to your individual artforms has converged? E.g., photography *can* be literal, capturing a specific scene with maximum clarity, whereas poetry works best when nebulous. So have Rob's photos become more impressionistic and Harriet's poetry more concrete over time?

Good question and as ever we find it difficult to answer this kind of thing clearly. I’m not sure poetry always has to be nebulous, but I get what you mean - it can refer to so much that is out of picture. Perhaps an image can as well. I wonder if, through asking the question, you have observed a shift in the way we each present our work. Would be interested to know!


Julia Aglionby  Do you see a future for a nature rich culture rich Lakes? 

We did receive this question last night but were already over-running the overrun of the evening, so felt able to say little more than ‘yes’ and we wanted to expand a little. We think that your question refers to ‘culture’ in the context of hill farming and commoning in the uplands. The Lake District has the largest area of upland commons in western Europe and this tradition of land use and collaborative working is one of the things that is noted in the World Heritage Site assignation. We have spent many years working in our capacity as artists and researchers alongside active commoners in Cumbria and in other parts of the UK and we have gained so many insights from this. There is a strong sense of connection between so many farmers and the land in which they live and work, and in some cases their parents and grandparents have lived before them. This is something of profound value. The land is owned by many, but farmed by few, and the commitment to nurturing land as well as livestock is powerful. Farming practices do always evolve, and the shift to post-CAP policies and the ELMs system will bring with it changes in funding and policies but if there is effective facilitation and support, joined up thinking, and respect, changes that are beneficial for the environment and also support individual farm businesses could help to ensure a nature-rich and culture-rich future; with social and cultural capital as well as natural capital all given consideration.

This is a question that could, and often does, take over entire conferences so it’s tricky to be brief. Within the wording though it also feels important to think about the word ‘culture’ in the plural: the ‘cultures’ of this place, as in any other protected landscape, are many. Farming is one, woodland management another. Conservation could be considered an important cultural element in the Lake District (heralded as the birth place of the conservation movement); art, performance and literature as well; and the evolving culture of tourism. The Lake District is lived-in and vibrant, and hugely popular with tourists, so to disregard either nature or culture would be a mistake: they are intertwined and complementary and both need to be cared for.

Laura B  Thanks for sharing a great project and huge effort on both of your behalf...would you consider touring your exhibition to Birmingham, a therapeutic garden for adults with disabilities? 

Thanks for coming along Laura. Do get in touch with us about this through and we’ll explore the possibility. Sounds like a great idea.


Danielle Chappell Aspinwall  Do you think because the conversation of climate change doesn't bring as much revenue for the government than our enemy of greed of pharmaceuticals, oil, plastics, weapons that control the £ power of the world, when do you think the world will listen to change for our climate action? PS I heart you!x

Hi Danielle. That’s a big question. We have this kind of conversation a lot and it’s sometimes difficult to know when meaningful action at policy and government level might happen, although we’re all holding out for it there are powerful lobby groups. But the plus side is that there are positive things taking place behind the scenes. We feel very privileged to be in touch with some policy advisers and to have a bit of insight into things we might not otherwise be able to get our heads around. Industrial strategy (nationally and globally) seems to be very high up the list when it comes to pressing for truly ‘green’ change, or blocking it and pressing on with a shameful disregard for damage to the natural world. The good news is that more industries and pressure groups are trying to find ways to work better together and redesign practice: so that ‘growth’ and ‘money’ are not the only drivers, but social justice and environmental responsibility are measured as a form of profit/success. In one sense you could say it’s a long way off, but maybe it’s closer than we think. As individuals our choices as consumers will also drive the decisions further up the chain … keep going!


Rosalinda Ruiz Scarfuto  Gaudi remarked Nature was based more on curves in space than lineal thus he avoided the human squared aspect. Why did you choose such a format in such a wild windy land?

Hi Rosalinda. Thanks for your question. Like you, and Gaudi, we’d agree that the natural world is short on straight lines! With the canvas we wanted to design something that juxtaposed with a space otherwise dominated by topography, natural vegetation and weather - we wanted it to be provocative in its form as well as in content. We also needed something practical, and wanted to re-use the photographic studio stand that Rob has had for decades. The square is a reminder of the page of a book, the clear canvas a painter might use, or perhaps a window - as such it has an impact on a way of seeing. To deal with the challenge of wind we had to make sure we timed it just right to avoid poor weather and gusts! This project is the latest in a series where we introduce text into landscape, and you might be interested in seeing some of the other work we’ve done - if so head over to




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