Grampian Mountains of the Cairngorms National Park by Luke Brown

Luke Brown: Wooded Heights

Luke Brown explores the wildest and most endangered habitat in the UK in his new series, Wooded Heights.

The series, on show at ONCA, focuses on the landscape of the Ancient Caledonian Forest and Grampian Mountains of the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland.

Brown took the images over the course of three winters.

Only one per cent of native woodland now remains in the Cairngorms.

Pockets exist in isolation from one another, resulting in a fragmented landscape, which is home to some of the country’s rarest wildlife.

Its future hangs in the balance of newly funded rewilding initiative Cairngorms Connect, delivered by the Endangered Landscapes Programme.

The aim is to fulfil the landscape’s potential by restoring its former ecology, creating a new standard for habitat restoration in Britain.

This aim reflects a change in attitudes towards how land is managed.

The realisation of the growing importance of protecting wild spaces offers hope for their existence in the face of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Wooded Heights aims to show the true value of this ecosystem, emphasising why the preservation of remaining wild spaces is so vital.

The Cairngorms National Park in Scotland by Luke Brown
Wooded Heights © Luke Brown LB-2017-CAIRNGORMS-171 001

A Sense of Place #2: The Cairngorms

Brown’s exhibition in the main gallery is accompanied by Max Smith’s video, A Sense of Place #2: The Cairngorms, showing in the basement gallery.

Stretching across the highest peaks of the Cairngorms National Park, the Cairngorm Plateau is the best-preserved example of wilderness in the British Isles.

It has never been exploited by humans for agriculture or development.

The same plant and animal species have inhabited this landscape since the retreat of the glaciers.

Here, domed mountain caps provide a home for several species uniquely adapted to a life in these frigid conditions.

The snow hare and ptarmigan turn white in the winter months, disguising themselves against the snow to avoid predation from eagles.

Further down the slopes, re-introduced reindeer stoically dig through snow to reach their grazing, while snow bunting pick off insects that have strayed too far up the mountain from the sheltered woods below.

Despite the longevity of this ecosystem, human-made pressures have now arrived in the Cairngorms.

The changing climate is gradually shrinking the arctic habitat, and snowless winters leave species that turn white vulnerable to predation.

The overall population of snow hare in Scotland has collapsed, down to ten per cent of their former numbers.

Even the apex golden eagles are suffering.

Smith’s film takes viewers into this frigid world, where boulder fields ring with the strange call of the ptarmigan.

Luke Brown's Wooded Heights images on display at ONCA
Installation shot: Wooded Heights

Luke Brown

Luke Brown is a British photographer, based in Brighton.

His photography focuses on the landscape.

Brown explores the impact of modern society, referencing history and tradition.

He highlights examples of how humans can coincide with the world’s natural beauty without destroying it.

His practice currently revolves around the pursuit of long-term, research-driven projects, in which the work created reveals an interest in our relationship with nature and the wild.

Max Smith

Max Smith is a cinematographer based in Bristol.

His work is inextricably linked to the topics of wildlife and wilderness, specifically in the context of the United Kingdom.

Smith’s films aim to transport viewers into the last wild spaces found here.

He conveys not only the beauty of these landscapes, but the intrinsic value they possess.

Wild landscapes’ ability to affect those who spend time in them has been well documented.

But in an era where the natural world has fewer and fewer places to hide, and our lifestyles move ever further from nature, creating pieces that draw us back to a bigger, simpler and stiller existence is more pertinent than ever – and at the heart of Smith’s work.

Exhibition information

Wooded Heights by Luke Brown, ONCA, until October 13.

For more information, visit onca.org.uk.

Spectrum Photographic produced Crystal Archive Matt prints mounted to white PVC for the show.

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