Jane Smith, a local wildlife artist, describes her inspirational year as Artist in Residence at Taynish NNR and all its natural riches.
Our village is a cluster of houses around an Argyll sea loch. On the far side of the bay are some oak trees – quite a lot of them. There are paths through the trees and up over the hills to wonderful views of the wooded peninsula and the sea-lochs that surround it. We sometimes take this place for granted as it’s always been there. In fact it’s been there for nearly ten thousand years.
In the last 40 years, since Taynish became a National Nature Reserve, more and more visitors have arrived to visit our woodland. Three years ago SNH started an Art Trail with installations throughout the reserve, leading to a poet’s seat. The poems and comments left there have helped us all see our woodland through the eyes of others and appreciate it more.
With this in mind, in 2016, SNH offered me the job of Artist in Residence for a year. I am a wildlife artist, and have worked and exhibited across the UK, but like many of us, have paid less attention to the familiar sights on my own doorstep. Part of my job was to run art workshops and bring new people to the woods, but I myself learned as much about Taynish as the visitors. I was then able share what I had seen with a wider audience through my artwork.
The proximity of oak woods and sea is what makes Taynish so interesting, affording unusual views such as the combination of gannets and oak trees. I especially enjoy the shapes and colours of winter when the cloak of green leaves has gone. There is also the promise of renewal, as fat oak buds lie dormant, waiting for the warmer weather.
Moisture-laden air from the Atlantic dumps plenty of rain on the coast here, and the Gulf Stream current ensures that the temperature never drops below freezing for long. This warm, wet atmosphere means that many mosses, lichens and ferns grow on the oak trees in this Celtic Rainforest. The micro-jungle in the branches shelters many insects – good food for all the birds which live here.
Sea surrounds the reserve on three sides, and the wildlife under the waves is every bit as rich as that found in the oak woods above. The variety of brittlestars, starfish, sea urchins, sea squirts and crustaceans makes snorkelling a voyage of discovery. I always find myself shivering, both from the excitement and the cold.
In October the north wind brings Scandinavian raiders to plunder the autumn berries in Taynish. Fieldfares are thrushes, but bigger and seemingly more fierce than our song thrush or blackbird. These impressive birds arrive in their hordes, perhaps as did the Viking invaders of old. It only takes them a few days to strip all the rowan trees of their berries, and then they move on.
If you are interested in seeing more of the artwork from the project visit Jane’s blog or follow her on Instagram.
For more information about Taynish National Nature Reserve go to our website or make a visit there yourself.