Press Release: Artist’s Year Capturing the Landscape and the Lives of Threave’s Ospreys


John Wallace's Audio-visual installation explores the environment and eco-system that is home to one of Scotland’s rarest birds of prey.

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Image by Colin Hattersley
Image by Colin Hattersley

One of our rarest birds of prey, and the ecosystems that allow it to maintain its fragile presence in Scotland, are the focus of a new video art installation.

Scene: here A year in the landscape of the Threave ospreys will be screened this month at Kelton Mains Farm, one of the handful of places where these magnificent hunters can be easily viewed by the public in Scotland today.

Video artist and filmmaker John Wallace has spent a year exploring the landscape and waterways around Threave, in Dumfries and Galloway, where the conditions are right for ospreys to survive and breed when they arrive annually from West Africa.

The project is part of Artful Migration (a programme developed by Upland CIC in partnership with Moving Souls Dance) which supports artists to create work informed by wildlife, the natural world, the environment and climate change. 

Among the compelling images in John’s work is a close-up of a young osprey’s eye. It was taken when the un-fledged birds were being ringed for study purposes.

John, who is based in the region, said: “What’s fascinated me is how much has to be in place when the birds arrive in Scotland from Africa each March. There’s a huge and diverse system of flora and fauna that changes during every season and creates the right conditions for them.

“With this work what I’m trying to do is to dig into this one place where they breed and rear young and show it across the year, including when they’re far away.”

“The story of how these birds were able to re-establish in the area is also notable.

“They were spotted in the area, a nest platform was built to get them started, and sure enough a pair moved in – or rather back into a landscape they were always part of until they were wiped out 100 years ago.”

The role of humans in the ongoing success of the birds is also set to fill the screens in the stone-built former “tattie shed” where the work will be shown.

John said: “It’s been amazing getting to meet some of the people involved. All the volunteers and workers who devote their time to watching over them, building and maintaining nest sites and viewing places, helping visitors see and learn about them. It’s been a privilege to share in their excitement and expectation across this strange and difficult year.”

The multi-screen installation, which is free to see and takes place from 21-29 August at the National Trust for Scotland’s Threave Nature Reserve coincides with the start of the conservation charity’s 100-year Threave Landscape Restoration Project to improve habitats and make the area at Kelton Mains more resilient to climate change.

John added: “As top predators, osprey catch the large fish, but the big fish need small fish to feed on and the small fish need their own conditions to thrive and so on. This has to happen all along their migration path, so you just have to hope the ecosystems in all those stopping places will be able to cope with continuing climate change. Hats off to the NTS that they’re already doing work to help that happen here.

The art project has involved getting very close to nature, with John spending substantial amounts of time wading in the River Dee and neck deep in vegetation and biting insects.

He said: “It’s Scotland, but in summer it really is a jungle out there! Getting the kit and myself into position can be tricky, you get a wee bit warm you know, but it’s been a real gift being able to work at all during COVID. I’m so lucky to have had the support of Ginnie and Nicholas at Moving Souls, Amy at Upland, and of course NTS. Huge thanks to them for keeping a light on for the arts.”

Amy Marletta, Uplands Creative Director, said: "We are delighted to see John's residency come to fruition. The original timeframe of the residency was stretched to deal with restrictions, but this has actually enabled John a longer period of engagement and furthered his insight into the changing of the seasons over the migration cycle. It's an exciting moment to see how all the complex issues at play have manifested in his work.”

Dr Samuel Gallacher, NTS Operations Manager for Threave Castle and Estate, added: “We are very pleased to be involved in this incredible project which showcases Threave and all the reasons why it is loved by so many, so powerfully. It’s very fitting timing as we’re just embarking on our 100-year project to restore this landscape and make it even better for the many species, including the majestic ospreys which visit us each summer.”

Artful Migration was originally set up in 2018 with funding from Ginnie Wollaston and Nicholas Parton Philip of Moving Souls Dance.

Ginnie commented: “I am so looking forward to seeing the final installation that John has so carefully crafted. The additional time frame during this year has allowed John to observe the ecology of the landscape and to understand the joy and interest that these visiting ospreys bring to this landscape and to all who love to visit.

“We are also pleased that this residency has coincided with the ambitious 100-year plan by NTS Threave Estate to restore and re-wild parts of the landscape. This will encourage nature-based solutions to build resilience for the flora, trees, birds and animals, who need to adapt to the climate changes that are upon us. As the IPCC report stated today: 'Many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level’.

“We are proud to be using funds donated by my uncle George Clark to Artful Migration to encourage longer term artist residencies in natural locations. We are delighted that John has wanted to understand the impacts of climate change on the wider ecology of this landscape with and without the visiting ospreys.

“We need artists to challenge the way we think, see and feel about our changing world, to encourage us to adapt and meet the challenges of today. We appreciate the combined efforts of John, Amy, Sam and James at NTS Threave and funding from Creative Scotland to have made this possible.

“We also look forward to creating one final residency in 2022-3, which will conclude with a conference, to collate and review the works created by these remarkable artists.”


Artful Migration is supported by Moving Souls Dance, Creative Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland, who own and manage Threave Nature Reserve.