“Bare land almost never anywhere on the planet does not stay bare for very long. Plants very quickly start to colonize the bare land and over time an entire plant community develops... Ecologists call this process succession.” (Rutherford J). For this project I looked at the process of succession in the English landscape, specifically at Horsell Common in Surrey. The majority of England used to be covered in heathland, however over time 80% of heathland has been lost, mainly because birch and pine trees started to take over (www.horsellcommon.org.uk). Their growth created shade which ultimately resulted in the heather dying due to lack of photosynthesis.
Horsell Common has a preservation society that is concerned with the loss of heathland. The society clears specific areas of woodland in order for dormant heather seeds within the soil to grow. The reason for the restoration is to create a habitat for the 5,000 different rare species who can only survive in heather. The society has set up a 10 year plan to re-establish fields of heather and thus the Common has various stages of succession including a cleared area, heathland, overgrown areas and woodland. I documented these four steps to create a photographic piece of work as well as a timelapse. Because succession is such a long process, I was unable to take all four photographs in the same area. Therefore, I took every photo in exactly the same style – making sure that the horizon of each photo was exactly the same. To get the most precision and detail possible and no lens distortion, I used a 5x4 large format camera.
The process of succession is an endless cycle. When the area has been cleared, the heather starts to grow. However, since the area is still surrounded by woodland, their seeds fall onto the heather causing trees to grow. Over time, the trees take over the heather and the Horsell Common Preservation Society would have to chop down the trees again. I wanted to emphasize this concept in my photographic work and therefore put four photographs of the different stages in a circular format. The image could be looked at from any angle, and it would make sense. For my time lapse I portrayed the idea of succession being endless by making sure the order of the scenes reflected the order of succession as well as looping the video. The main idea of the timelapse was to create a context for the work as well as presenting to the viewer that succession doesn’t happen in a day.