Unearthing the political urgency of moss with photographer and filmmaker Juliet Klottrup

Moss of Many Layers aims to emphasise the ecological potential of the Bolton Fell Moss and its ability to become a major carbon sink for England.

14 December 2022


When we first spoke with photographer and filmmaker Juliet Klottrup, she was guiding us through the youth of the rural north, exploring their stories against a stunning backdrop few of us take vested interest in. Now, Juliet is back with another project of the same vein – only this time with a more intricate political message weaved into her subjects’ stories. Moss of Many Layers is an “art-science community and research project led by the University of Cumbria in partnership with scientists from the Centre for National Parks and Protected Areas, artists from the PLACE Collective and the landowners, Natural England”, Juliet tells It’s Nice That on her latest project’s genesis. “It’s mainly being run in collaboration with members of the local community.”

Taking place across the vast expanse of lowland bog known as Bolton Fell Moss, the project illuminates the rich resources and preservation efforts just north of Hadrian’s Wall in Cumbria. “Before the restoration started on this ‘wounded’ site. locals described it as looking as if the earth had been burnt or like a desolate brown moonscape,” Juliet explains. “However, it is now a National Nature Reserve and when it opens in 2023, following the long process of healing and recovering, it will be on track to become a major carbon sink for England.” For over a year, Juliet filmed the site and saw in detail how the Moss changes through each season. “From a sea of cotton grass, vivid green sphagnum mosses, a living carpet of spongey hummocks to deep purple heather,” she describes, looking back in fond recollection of time spent at the bog.


Juliet Klottrup: Moss of Many Layers (Copyright © Juliet Klottrup, 2022)

For centuries, Peat was hand cut at Bolton Fell Moss for domestic fuel to supply the horticultural industry. “The site became an important source of local employment for both full-time and seasonal workers. As production increased, more machines arrived and fewer people were needed,” Juliet explains. “Even so, as the factory was still one of the largest employers locally, there was a real threat to local incomes and a sense of loss when the site closed.” Moss of Many Layers is a fascinating insight in to the many people which now constitute the land, and through a stunning eclectic array of images we uncover the “complex relationship” between the locals and the site. As the Moss is no longer being “exploited for peat,” Juliet says, “there is a new generation of people who value the bog in a very different way.”

Juliet was fortunate enough to meet with over 30 people while creating the project, including “people who worked here, people who live close by, conservationists, scientists, researchers, artists, volunteers and school children all with a different relationship to the Moss". This valuable time spent understanding the land and its locals shines through in the project, as it shies away from a voyeuristic lens towards a more illustrative angle. “We have realised the importance of carbon and keeping it in the ground, so restoration on sites like this is imperative,” Juliet adds on the project’s message. “Without restoration, a bare, dry peatland exposes thousands of years of trapped carbon to the air and it becomes a significant carbon dioxide emitter, contributing to climate challenges. But if we restore it so that it is growing and making peat, the Moss becomes a huge potential carbon store again. Not only that, it also stores water within it.”

It’s a project which is not only tranquil and beautiful in its imagery, but one which also comes to life with a vibrant political life force. “The project came to me from my involvement with Place Collective, and it felt like a small piece of hopeful activism in the form of a visual essay,” Juliet concludes. “I am not able to give you a scientific report on the site but I can share with you a portrait of a place and the people to whom it belongs. I know it will be one of many more to come.”

GalleryJuliet Klottrup: Moss of Many Layers (Copyright © Juliet Klottrup, 2022)

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Juliet Klottrup: Moss of Many Layers (Copyright © Juliet Klottrup, 2022)

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About the Author

Joey Levenson

Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. They were part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.

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