I’ve just crossed, or rather skirted around the snowy Forest of Bowland to deliver three paintings to the Platform Gallery in Clitheroe. They will be exhibited in “Creativity within the Beauty”, an exhibition of work by artists from across the region. The exhibition commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Forest Of Bowland being designated as an Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
I’m exhibiting three recent paintings. ‘The Last Skydancer’ is my most recent Bowland painting. I originally conceived it as a study of the mid-winter moorland, before the snow. I wanted to capture the beautiful shades of colour of the moorland, which has huge variety even on a dull day, (as most winter days are here!). I added in a hen harrier, or Skydancer, as they are sometimes called, afterwards.
I had been reading about the plight of this upland raptor which is now all but extinct in England due largely to persecution on grouse moors. Hen harriers love to eat grouse, so are shot by gamekeepers protecting grouse for the shooting season. The Forest of Bowland used to be a stronghold of the hen harrier, but in recent years their numbers have plummeted – from 15 pairs in 2005 to effective extinction by 2014. Then last summer, their luck seemed to pick up slightly when following a two year absence where no hen harriers bred at all in England, the birds somewhat miraculously returned to the Bowland fells to nest. Under 24/7 survelliance by RSPB staff and volunteers, nine chicks were raised, a bumper crop of skydancers. But shortly after having fledged the nest two of the young birds, Sky and Hope, went missing. It is not known what happened to them. Their radio transmitters and bodies have never been found, and despite the offer of a £1000 reward, nobody has come forward with any information and no perpetrators have been identified.
Despite living on the edge of the Bowland Fells, the closest I have ever come to seeing a hen harrier is on the Forest of Bowland signs, so perhaps it is somewhat ‘cheating’ to paint one. Nonetheless, I painted this in memory of Hope and Sky, the young birds who went missing last autumn. I hope very much that this painting is mis-named and that one day I might see a live Skydancer gliding above the moorland.
There are also two other paintings that I’ve recently finished on display in the exhibition, ‘Sheep, Hawthornthwaite Fell’, as seen in the snowy late winter of 2013, and ‘Autumn Sky over Wyresdale’, which shows the view looking west from the little Bowland fell of Nicky Nook.