Gabrielle writes:

Over the past few weeks, we’ve found ourselves almost overwhelmed by the possibilities for work that Dawlish Warren opens up for us. The a-n Professional Development Bursary is something of an anchor. So I’m returning to our starting point – the Buffer Zone – to think about our progress so far.

Dawlish Warren includes a popular beach resort and a nature reserve that extends across a low-lying and constantly shifting spit of sand; in between them is an area known as the Buffer Zone. According to a 2006 Teignbridge Council report, the Buffer Zone exists “to absorb and dissipate the high level visitor usage pressure […] minimising conflicts with the demands of protecting the Nature Reserve”. It’s also an important habitat in its own right, where many species thrive  ̶  alongside humans and their dogs.

While the Nature Reserve raises questions about what constitutes ‘nature’ and whether it can or should be ‘reserved’ or ‘preserved’ or ‘conserved’ in relation to human activity, the Buffer Zone is a complex, transitional site that acknowledges the interrelationship between human and other interests. It’s been a powerful trigger for our shared inquiry into human/nonhuman dialogue.

It also stands as a useful metaphor for our own collaboration. The project brings together three independent but related practices with a view to finding out more about where they intersect. The Buffer Zone is a designated ‘soft’ space where our practices can safely bump up against one another and mingle. But it often also results in work no one of us would have devised alone. So in this second sense, a buffer might be a way of moderating the impact of self-censorship and allowing a wider range of ideas to thrive.

In a third sense, found in computing, a buffer is a shared area or holding place where data is screened and processed. So our buffer zone is where we consider together what can be publicly shared – and how; what should be held back and what needs more space to grow. These conversations can be complex.

While at the Dawlish Warren Buffer Zone and Nature Reserve, we’re each gathering research and documentation to feed individual work. But we’re also taking advantage of the opportunity to work together in ways that are new to all of us – specifically, experimenting with live activations of space, body and matter. In challenging and supporting each other to take creative risks, we’ve entered a territory where none of us feels completely comfortable. We also find ourselves creating a new and unruly body of shared work that is disrupting our ideas about how to document, develop, refine and attribute outcomes. It feels like a fitting response to this dynamic, liminal place.


Susie David writes:

A pirate, stuffed parrot on his shoulder takes up position by the public loos. The open air caff gears up for the day. Neon lights flash electric in sunlight. We slip away, through the gate.

I notice the way we enter the Warren is always different to the way we come out. Returning over a hedge worn down to Devon red earth. Desire lines.

The coconut scent of gorse.

Let’s go to the furthermost point of the Warren.

Crow on his tapping stone tries to tap into a snail. A birder strides past. Tripod over one shoulder. On a mission. The birder disturbs the bird. Gives us a sideways glance. Two pigeons get too close to crow. Stay back, no closer. The snail will not come out. Try drowning it in a puddle. Nothing.

We are walking at talking pace but whose talking? The crow falls silent as his mates fly overhead.

My snail

We ramble meandering sentences snagging on the fresh blossom of a small tree. No thorns. Not a blackthorn then. A few speculative names dry up. Prospecting rabbit-scrapes break the ground cover of moss, lichen, liverwort and …Warren Crocus! Smaller than a rabbit dropping. Attitude of a garage forecourt lily.

Small blades of grass ranger Steve says aren’t strictly speaking grass. We’re a bit lost.

Bird foot prints, beak prints — dunlin? A trio of them, an almost not-there grey, dribble past us. A sideways glance from one of them (the second today), towards the sun-bathing seal on the shoreline. Dappled grey-green in full sun. Its fat body gouging a wide desire line down the beach marking high tide to low, as it gradually traces water’s descent. She lollops down a bit further. Ready for a quick escape. Wide whiskers fan out sand to sky. Flippers flush with her white under belly. We step closer. She arches backwards to look. Dark eyes, dark nose. Stay back, no closer. Asleep again. Megan and Gabby mimic seal, so light, they barely leave any imprint behind.

Thrill of arriving at the furthermost point but Exmouth is just across the water! Stay back, no closer. Machinery reversing and pneumatic hammer sounds hitting something hard clanks over the water. The tourist boat chugs by loudly announcing — And to our left, beyond those three people — that’s us — what looks like a log, is a seal.

This far out the sand is undisturbed. The sacrilege of our footprints.

Flotsam lines high water mark. We speak of seaweed looking like plastic. Plastic looking like seaweed.

I pull open a tawny owl pellet — Jaw, scapula, rib, fur. A small rodent rearranged.

All is calm for a moment. Skylark only seems to sing when disturbed, so we sit waiting in silence in an auditorium of dunes. Suddenly it sings. We listen to the whole story speechless in case any clues fall into our laps. Dull ache of a plane’s humming ransacks the lark’s pristine sky. This is the problem of ‘metaphorical interference’*. Can we edit it out? Do we want to edit the un-beautiful out?

I think you’ve got to keep going till it’s ordinary.

A vapour trail gets left behind and is wind twisted helter-skelter.


* Thanks Nicholson Baker


Megan Calver writes:

Dawlish Ranger, Steve, points out the tiny flowers of the Warren Crocus.

At first we can’t see anything.  You need to look carefully to spot these rare and diminutive plants.

Steve: “Is it rare or can no one be bothered to look for it?”

We become aware of crushing the crocuses under our booted feet and ask if trampling spreads the seed.

Steve: “The trouble with trampling…you need diffuse trampling.”

(Clue for the day)

If you trample too heavily in one place it crushes the flowers before they can set seed, though a little light trampling after the seed is set may be a good thing for dispersal.

Walking further into the Warren along the spit, we find a clump of Spanish bluebells.  In contrast to the crocuses they appear like brutish imposters.

A sign at the very end of the spit reads:


(Huge bird flocks must rest ahead when tide is very high)

You need to look carefully; the lettering is weathered, obscured.

(And I fail to grasp this second clue)

At the far end of the spit, our feet sink into the wet sand leaving deep footprints.  Sharp little beak holes in the sand alert us to the most delicate of footprints scattered across the sand’s surface —Dunlin, we guess.

Are we careless, monstrous?

“No” says Susie “We are allowed to be here too.”


Bellows the megaphone from a tourist boat.

The seal at the sea’s edge lumbers elegantly when we get too close.

Its mass equates to ours.

We are allowed then, like the seal, just as Susie says.

At the end of the day we try out some gestures together, mimicking the dignified movements of tufts of marram grass that we have observed leaning sideways into each other and drawing perfect arcs in the sand.

Our attempts at marram calligraphy are coarse compared to the real thing.

Frustrated, I break the no-talk rule, becoming bossy.

It’s a case of direct trampling.

As this sinks in, I resolve to GIVE WAY a bit more from now on.

A successful collaboration, I’m learning, is based on diffuse (rather than direct) trampling.  Disperse — don’t crush — the seed.


Posted by Gabrielle, Megan and Susie

We gaze through a dirty pane of glass at the taxidermy display in the Visitor Centre. “What is that?”

“It’s a hoopoe.”

Try again, try not to try. See with a beginner’s mind.

It’s Friday 11th March 2016: our first exploratory day together at Dawlish Warren.

Equipped with a few lightly held ideas carefully poised to slip and some gently held equipment – camcorder, cameras, pen and paper, megaphone, dictaphone, spray cream, latex, pencils and paper…

We look for clues:  in the beach resort, in the nature reserve and in the buffer zone between them.


Tainted Love – Dumbo – Extraction unit – Perfect for perching  – Incongruous things (in trees) – Out of reach  – Doubling back  – Calling  – Nature tables  – magpie perspective, tongue-in-cheek  – Amalgam and assemblage  – Monstrous  – Synthetic whelk eggs  – Trembling – Anonymous – Feasting…

Feasting: empty shells on the grass where birds have been feeding; cockle-shaped holes in the sand where herring gulls have been digging.

We ate homemade brownies.

Encountered amongst other things, one Ranger called Steve, one skylark didn’t catch your name a flying ring toy named ‘Astonishing’

“Throw only to an alert catcher.”

Influenced by the site and each other, we veer away from individual plans and begin to generate work in a process of live, spontaneous, collaborative activations.



…energies coming together and eyeing each other up…

Reminding us to always leave room for slippage – of meaning, of intention, of outcome.

We ask, what can we do together that we can’t do alone?

We take away pieces of beach debris (plastic bottles, fishing line, burnt polystyrene, tiny plastic sticks) to reconfigure another day.

Reconfigure another day.

Megan forgets her glasses and has to run back.

On Saturday 19th March, Gabrielle and Megan come back and join Steve the Ranger and members of the public for the Spring beach clean-up connecting with site users and listening to their stories.

Walking my dog on another beach gathering up old fishing line, I contemplate a knee jerk categorisation that numbs vision perhaps –
plastic = bad, ‘natural’ = good

— Gabrielle and Megan also make decisions. Sawn timber evades the bin bag, despite being alien to the site.  Plastic laid down in the sand strata of delicate dunes left in place.  Colour is often the strongest clue to what doesn’t belong.

“It’s so difficult to see.”