Curator of Photography

Exposed. Climate Change in Britain’s Backyard 2007

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Juliette Jowit
The Observer
01 04 2007

Shafts of winter sun meekly pierce through a leafy oak tree and light up the frosty grass below. It takes a few minutes to adjust to this beautiful scene before the incongruity begins to jar: the sight of a thick green canopy in mid-winter just doesn’t make sense. The moment is caught in one of 90 photographs to go on show this month in a special exhibition by the National Trust to highlight the strange, visually wonderful and often worrying changes around Britain as a result of global warming and climate change. From rocky ‘snowlines’ in winter with no snow to beachgoers running from a summer storm that might be more at home in the tropics, from wind-whipped yew trees to cormorants sheltering on dwindling nesting grounds, these photographs show how global changes could affect Britain’s gardens, forests, beaches, rivers, castles and homes.

The portraits, commissioned by the National Trust and Magnum, highlight the fact that the impacts of climate change are already visible, said Rob Jarman, the National Trust’s head of sustainability. ‘It’s a here and now issue: it’s not some future climate we’re going to have to respond to,’ said Jarman.

The trust has been praised for being more active than most organisations in preparing for change - from the need to plant flowers that need less water and provide new habitats for species forced north to find cooler weather, to improving gutters to cope with heavier rainfall and stamping out pests that thrive in a milder climate.

However, Europe’s biggest conservation organisation is taking a controversial stand at a time when some scientists have expressed concern about the ‘Hollywoodisation’ of climate change and the trend to blame all weather events on the problem.

‘What we’re saying is we’re having to adapt to change,’ said Jarman. ‘A lot of the things we have taken for granted are proving much more vulnerable to fluctuation than we have experienced before, and we have got to get used to that. We have got to do that almost regardless of global warming and climate change.

Laura Sevier
Ecologist Online

Images of climate change usually depict polar ice caps or parched deserts. But climate change is happening here and it’s happening now - if you’re in any doubt, Exposed: Climate Change in Britain’s Backyard will really bring it home. Working with Magnum Photos, eight of the UK’s top photographers were commissioned by the National Trust to capture the consequences of climate change in Britain.

The power, and importance, of this exhibition lies in its images (90 in all) which bring to life the facts, figures and predictions that normally accompany climate change concerning sea level rises, extreme storms, increased rainfall, milder winters and hotter summers. Coastal flooding and erosion (which already threatens over 1 million homes in England and Wales) becomes all the more real, and disturbing, when you see a flooded Norfolk village, as depicted in Ian Berry’s ‘Living with Floods’.

From Stuart Franklin’s sublime stormy Cornish seascapes to an everyday scene that almost anyone living in Britain can relate to: Chris Steele-Perkins’ ‘Heading for cover’, showing beach-goers fleeing a cloud-burst in Dorset, these images act as a visual record of the changes that are happening now.
 
If seeing the effects of climate change on our coastline, landscape, trees, wildlife and houses creates a feeling of unease, it’s also worth mentioning that the majority of the images are stunning in their own right. Many were shot on National Trust land and seen through the eyes of top photographers, captured on film and exhibited in a gallery, the intrinsic beauty of nature shines through above all else - which makes protecting it all the more worthwhile.

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