The project goals. Kite aerial photography (KAP) is something of a oddity in the fast moving world of reality capture: it is a contemplative activity and, although utterly dependant on the weather, provides an outdoor activity that brings together people with a variety of interests in the landscape.
The project achieved much: an archive of unique images, shared kite flying fun and first time aerial photography experiences for attendees of workshops arranged at St Ives, Denver ..and despite a lack of wind, at Manea.
The immediate interest tended to be more in the technique than landscape involvement which developed as the images were reviewed. Images from the project became familiar devices for the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership (OWLP) on banners, leaflets and as lecture illustration. The impact of the raised viewpoint of the great perspective of the Washes recorded from the kite reached from Earith To Downham to act as a visual marker for the significance of the landscape.
The objectives of the OWLP Community KAP project are:
- Encourage wider engagement with the Washes Landscape
- Champion the Washes as a place of historical significance
- Enhance the sense of place experienced by visitors to the Washes
- Explore KAP as a means to understand the heritage value of the Washes
- Develop KAP as a habitat monitoring method
- Provide a resource for the promotion of the Washes project area
Why KAP? The choice of aerial capture from the ground by wind blown opportunity lends itself to the Washes as:
- Extended flight duration increases the opportunity for public involvement
- With correct guidance kites offer a safe platform free from rotor danger
- low cost aerial capture
- Encourages weather sensitivity
- The Fenland laminar flows are smooth and predictable
- The Washes are unobstructed by overhead wires and trees
- Linear walks along the banks follow the prevailing winds
- Low flying aircraft over the Washes are restricted to 6000′
- Accessible from Downham, Ely, March, Chateris, Lynn etc.
- Large horizon to horizon subject
- Dramatic seasonal change in landscape appearance
Compared to aerial photography by other means (aircraft, drone, balloon) KAP is accessible, the project aimed to provide an opportunity for local people to try their hand or simply witness the process and experience the views revealed on recovery of the camera. There is a chance element to the camera position and the views captured often have a sense of personal discovery, the sense of surprise on seeing the view draws interest to the landscape.
Using a video relay drives involvement:
The Fens are a great place to fly kites, the wind, being uninterrupted by hills, trees or buildings is smooth and predictable.
The seasonal nature of the Washes and the mix of agriculture, wildlife conservation, and flood prevention land uses combine to make terrestrial photographic records focus on individual aspects of the landscape and meaningful wide views are relatively rare, at ground level the horizon is close to the viewer but by raising the camera, even by the modest height afforded by a kite the scale and drama of the engineering achievement becomes clear.
The Washes are man made and the adaption of landscape for flood prevention, agricultural improvement, wildlife conservation and leisure uses are evident in the low level aerial views captured and shared with the community. At Manea the scheme to recliam the pits as a fishing and wildlife resource was recorded:
Outputs. The project sought community engagement with the landscape and the principal tool for this was the use of key images at OWLP events:
- 7 Illustrations in the OWLP Landscape Character Assessment https://ousewasheslps.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/ouse-washes-lp-landscape-character-assessment-low-res.pdf
- At the St Ives on 19th Nov 2014 at the OWLP Conference on the natural landscape of the Washes where the low angle shots of Earith Bulwark were shown for the first time.
- At the 2015 Downham Market OWLP Conference on the Archeology of the Washes on 24the Nov : slide show.
- At the Welney study day on the Manea Community: as an illustration of the landscape of the ‘fenland ark‘ in a talk by Kirsten Bennet on 24th Sept 2016.
- Presentation of slide show at OWLP Anual Conference, Ely Maltings 23rd Nov 2016
- As tourist inspiration http://ousewashes.org.uk/ouse-news/mini-guide-to-the-ouse-washes-landscape-b2b-tourism-promotion/
Heritage records. The most striking historic structure on the Washes is the Earith Bulwark, its completeness can only be appreciated from above and, although scheduled, it is at risk from rising water levels. The archaeology investigations at Earith bulwark made good use of KAP images to illustrate the project.
The settting of the monument and the Bedford Rivers was captured at a dramatic low angle seldom seen by faster moving aerial platforms. Thought to be cut for the defence of the Eastern Association during the English Civil War the Bulwark is the best preserved example of a Dutch ‘Festig’ in Britain, a reminder of Vermuydens work as well as the national trauma of the Civil War.
Flood impact on the monument was also recorded, this image was widely used for character assesment , archaeology and history presentations, the permissions negotiated to fly the site at short notice paid off : an image that captures both the significant structure but also the dynamic nature of its environs.
As Fen skies are ever changing, the archive of images sought to capture this where possible:
Waterland- the sky in the water. The textures of the land and water, bounded by bank and drain offer a contrast to the vertical camera, the low level cover from KAP is uniquely detailed. The project recorded close up land use where possible, the flooded claypit at Manea reveals the strip extraction of clay for re-enforcement of the Washes banks.
The network of pumps, drains and sluices are important but often overlooked features of the Washes system, wind, steam diesel and electric pumps all played their part in the formation of the landscape we see today. The aerial view gives some context to structures:
The Washes in spate drown the road at Welney for a few days after heavy rain in the winter, an annual reminder of the flooding of ’47.
Recording evidence of the ’47 breach, a catastrophic event still visible after rain as raised water table and discolouration of the grazing East of the New Bedford channel at Sutton Gault :
KAP Workshops. 4 workshops were held. The first, after several postponements, at St Ives where, in cold blustery conditions the Ouse riverport was captured from above by 3 attendees. Enthusiasm for the idea was evident and, although lighting was poor, the value of the method was agreed by all. After trying several kites to find one best suited to the wind a camera was lofted for half an hour over the River Great Ouse.
The workshop run in conjunction with Ouse Fest 2016 at Manea flew no kites due to a lack of wind but preparatory work paid off and discussion of technique, image review and the sharing of knowledge made the day worthwhile for those who attended.
Two workshops were run at Denver Complex and these proved to be the most fruitful, the location being kite friendly and access easy. From Denver a kite with camera was walked to Downham and back along the flood wall successfully, the mobility of kite and line possible along the River, as along most of the Washes being a unique experience for lowland Britain.
Who attended? Managing attendance was not a simple matter, workshops had to coincide with safe conditions and, ideally, with good photographic opportunity. Total attendance over the 4 workshops amounted to 15 persons who came from the across the region. Although the attendance was low the quality of interaction was high, each person spent time engaged with the both the process and consideration of the locality and its context. Interest was broadly from the professional sector with photographers and archaeology practitioners to the fore. Ages ranged from the 14-16 age group to the 60-74 group.
- flying a kite
- in discussion over photographic issues
- sharing experiences with other attendees
- learning the options for aerial photography and their aplications
- sharing the viewpoint by video link to ground
Of the attendees who answered questions on 9 themes:
- 33% had previous experience of photography
- 50% had some experience of flying kites
- 50% had previous archaeological experience
Attendee attitude to the Washes:
- 33% Professional
- 50% have an interest in its history
- 83% felt they did not personally identify with the Washes
- 33% felt the landscape defines identity
- 83% felt the Washes are a needed home for nature
- 66% agreed the Washes are a place of peace
- 16% saw the Washes as a work place
- 50% see the Washes as monument to civil engineering
Attendee photographic agenda:
- 50% Professional photographer
- 50% Hobbyist
- 16% post photography to social media
- 50% Enjoy photographic records of places
How the workshop changed perception of the Great Ouse:
- 16% the Ouse as the landscape driver
- 83% were neutral to the idea of the Washes as a transport corridor
- 66% saw the Ouse as a flood relief channel
- 16% saw the Ouse as a regional system
- 50% see the Ouse as landscape heritage
Assesment of utility of KAP:
- 100% thought KAP is useful for small site records
- 83% thought KAP is useful for recording habitat condition
- 83% thought KAP is useful for recording landscape character
- 66% thought KAP is ‘just for fun’ photography
How much was learned:
- 83% about aerial landscape photography
- 83% learned a lot documenting the locale
- 100% learned a lot about low cost aerial photography
Changed attitude to the significance of the Washes:
- 66% experienced in the value of the location to them
- 16% experienced an increase awareness of significance
- 66% experienced an increase awarensss of local heritage
Was the experience enjoyable?
- 100% found the location enjoyable
- 100% the people good company
- 100% enjoyed the use of equipment
- 100% enjoyed the knowledge available
Raction to workshop experience:
- 100% reported their view of the landscape had changed
- 83% want to learn more about KAP
- 100% found the guided structure helpful
- 16% found the photography unexpected
- 83% found the photography as expected
- 100% would like to attend another workshop
- 100% would recommend a similar workshop to a colleague
Matching kite to wind force and body mass was an important aspect to the work shop as best practice was observed to safe operation at all times.
Best practice developed. Working with OWLP partners Natural England and RSPB a risk assessment was developed for the project and this has become a model for practice involving kites in the UK. (e.g at SNAPS ). The principal concern is avoiding line related injury in high winds which is ameliorated by setting limits on wind force: Bft 4 was found to be a reasonable limit. Equipment such as correct gloves, rapidly deployable ground anchors, and line recovery pulleys were all tested prior to use by the public. Stable lifters were tested in a variety of conditions prior to deployment.
Wildlife impact. A wildlife impact assessment was proposed but not taken beyond the outline stage by OWLP partners at RSPB. Research into the impact of kites on birdlife is needed as the focus of studies to date has been on bird scaring techniques which suggests high flying and exteded exposure ameliorate impact on bird life.
Feedback: The reaction to the workshops was overwhelmingly positive with recorded comments:
- “awareness was valuable, enjoyment immeasurable”
- “fascinating introduction to a technique which can have many advantages over drones”
Legacy: Habitat Monitoring. During the project Natural England, who advised on wildlife impact in the early stages, requested KAP coverage of 2 landscape stewardship schemes in the Ouse catchment, this is designed to be a monitoring exercise and will continue on a seasonal basis. The skills acquired and equipment gained during the OWLP project are deployed in these habitat monitoring exercises.
The first 3 passes over the stewardship scheme at Carters Bridge : Top: Jan 2016, Middle Feb 2016, Bottom Late March 2016.
The Natural England commissioned KAP cover will continue periodically to record the vegetation development at these sites.
Summary of the project. Many new views of the Washes have been captured and the engagement of the workshop attendees has left them with a lasting experience of how simple techniques can reveal a landscape and change how we relate to it.
Over the course of the project technique and equipment was developed to get KAP as accessible as possible, this involved adaption of cameras, rigs, selection and testing of kites, line and the preparation of risk assessments for safe operations by the public both as passive and active participants.
PDF material prepared for the workshop attendees:
Archive of images:
Prickwillow Ploughing Festival 2015 https://www.flickr.com/photos/bblakecambridge/albums/72157659448223732