Geography, Earth and environment at Brighton

Observing nature; working with nature – an artist’s perspective

A Wetland LIFE Blog – Dr Mary Gearey

One of the many joys of working on the WetlandLIFE project has been the chance to meet, talk with and spend time with a wide variety of people who cherish these very special landscapes. In particular the ‘sense of place’ fieldwork that we are collectively undertaking explores the various ways in which these wetlands engender a very special relationship between site users and the wetlands themselves. Talking with these different users has helped the research team really appreciate the particular, and often unseen, characteristics of these spaces.

On a recent visit to one of our case study wetlands, Shapwick Heath (part of the Avalon Marshes system of wetlands that lie within the Somerset Levels close to Glastonbury) one of the team’s researchers, Dr Mary Gearey from the University of Brighton, met up with a local artist, Margaret Micklewright, to find out more about what delights her in this very special wetland.


Margaret Micklewright: Wetland morning, Westhay Moor, Somerset Levels.

“I love nothing more than coming to Shapwick Heath and Westhay Moor really early in the morning when there’s no -one else here,” Margaret explains, “when the sun is coming up and the light is changing minute by minute, it feels like there’s magic in the air.” Coming to these particular wetlands is part of Margaret’s own health and wellbeing ethos, aside from her exploration within the sites themselves she also cycles almost thirty miles each way to reach the wetlands from her home in Burnham on Sea – a journey of almost three hours or more by bike – and longer if something special catches her eye.

Once on the site Margaret’s art is a combination of close observation for later reinterpretation back home in her studio and sketching and painting with ink in situ.

“Drawn from my visits to Shapwick with my kit in a rucksack on my back, these are emotional and observed responses to light on water in particular, using small elements of detail, trying to recreate the sublime feeling of peace and immersion that I find there.”

Margaret Micklewright: pen and ink Shapwick Heath Nature Reserve, Somerset Levels.

Margaret works quickly to map the changing light, sounds and physical sensations that she experiences in different spaces within Shapwick Heath and Westhay Moor, managed by natural England and Somerset Wildlife Trust respectively. She often sketches outlines in pencil and captures her interpretation of what she experiences, dexterously using delicate ink washes to fix a moment in time. Not only does the medium of ink dictate rapid response, but sudden inspiration in the heart of the wetland means that Margaret will often use materials from the wetland to integrate her surroundings into the artwork itself:

“I use acrylic ink and handwriting ink on wet paper or canvas, allowing it to flow and create ambiguities which translate into some of the feelings that I have. Using a few washes, sometimes using puddle water to create atmosphere and then once dry, I add in detail with a reed pen, cut from the reed beds themselves.”

Margaret Micklewright: Moments at Decoy Hide, Shapwick Heath Nature Reserve, Somerset Levels.

To view more of Margaret’s work her website address is:, or find her on Facebook as ‘Margaret Micklewright Artist’ and on Twitter as ‘@inkpaintermick’. The WetlandLIFE team have tweeted some of Margaret’s sketches; and are a welcome addition to our artistic celebration of wetlands.

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Suzanne Armsden • September 26, 2018

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