We residents are very fortunate to live in the beautiful surroundings of the Test Valley. It’s a privilege I try very hard never to take for granted. Photography helps me with this task, reminding me of that which changes with the season and that which endures as a constant, in both ways enriching our lives. This constant of our natural ecosystems cannot be taken for granted in modern times. It requires our love, support and constant reminder that we have a responsibility to it. I hope photography helps with that too.
I returned to live in the Test Valley in 2021, I was born here and grew up in Stockbridge. I haven’t been too far away in the intervening years, but far enough that visits to the places that inspired me as a child; Danebury, Longstock Water Gardens, Stockbridge Marsh, have been few and far between. So, to immerse myself once more in the heart of the valley has been joyous and I’ve felt a strong sense of purpose in sharing the beauty of the Test Valley through photography once again.
One challenge that we face in the Test Valley is access to much of our countryside. This is a complex and contentious subject, one that I try to see both sides of. Rights and responsibilities must be balanced. Much of the land is privately owned, and the few areas which are not have become very busy. No one enjoys seeing car parks closed or riverbanks fenced off and yet these restrictions have had to happen in the local area of late. How can we balance that equation, so it doesn’t become the norm? My sense is that education lies at the heart of this, an education not just of facts but of emotional connection. A connection that breeds community love and respect for nature, rather than seeing it as a commodity to be used as each individual sees fit.
So I took a small first step. Not a perfect step, but the start of a journey to see where it might lead. I reached out to a landowner and I made a proposal; to run small-group photography workshops on a stretch of the Test, outside the trout fishing season, giving people the chance to access the river and its surroundings, build that connection and give it meaning via the creation of beautiful images we can share to inspire others. I am very grateful to the trustees of the Bossington Estate for granting me the opportunity to trial this.
I have other ideas that could build on this and make our local community bond with nature more widely available but that will require more visibility, education and collaboration with others. One step along the journey at a time. But I welcome the opportunity to talk to any organisation, landowner or resident with whom these words resonate. There are so many wonders to experience and stories to tell about them, here in our beautiful valley.