An audiovisual exploration of the past, present and futures of three peatlands: Bodmin, Dartmoor and Exmoor.



n. piles of things arranged one on top of another
v. to arrange things in an ordered pile

An audiovisual exploration of the past, present and futures of three peatlands: Bodmin, Dartmoor and Exmoor. Produced by Rose Ferraby, Tommy Perman and Rob St John between 2021 and 2022. Commissioned by the South West Peatland Partnership.


A collage of voices from peatland landscapes across the South West of England delve into the rich histories and complex natures of peatlands. These voices are drawn from environmental managers, peatland restorationists, landscape archaeologists, poets to form an experimental ‘radio play’ tuning into the peat. Archive recordings of local people from The Dartmoor Trust Archive trace the extraction and use of peat through the 20th Century.


An archive of films exploring peatlands across different scales can be reshaped and curated by visitors to the STACKS website. Many of these were shot across Bodmin, Dartmoor and Exmoor to capture abstracted peatland tones and textures. Other films were created using photographic film, where photographs of peatland landscapes were taken, and their negative film buried in peat and bogs for months on end. Upon excavation, new patterns of decay and decomposition were traced on their surface. These films were then sliced into hundreds of tiny frames and animated. Another set of films projected archive images of peatlands across the South West of England through the water column of moorland streams in the middle of the night. 


The soundscape weaving through the voices is composed from environmental recordings made in peatland landscapes. Ambient microphones pick up bird calls, insects and the sound of water and wind. Hydrophones lowered beneath the surface of the earth record the squelch and crackle of sphagnum bogs and humming stridulations of bog pool insects. Contact microphones record the whirring vibrations of fencelines strung taut in the wind and slowly shifting geologies. These sounds have been produced using a number of environmentally-resonant processes to create a soundscape which ebbs and flows between peatland scales, speeds and environments.


It’s easy to think that peatlands have always been the way we see them now. That they are broadly similar to one another. It’s easy to overlook them, to see across their surface and miss the rich, organic, shifting worlds that lie beneath. Peatlands play a vital role in our landscapes and climate: they hold in carbon, soak up water to reduce flooding, and provide rich ecosystems. But many peatlands have been damaged by drainage, removal for garden compost … At this key moment in a climate emergency, things need to change. The South West Peatland Partnership is working across Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor and Exmoor to … These actions will help keep water on the moors, keep the peatlands functioning. Archaeology allows us to understand these changes within the perspective of long time periods. Analysis of the peat allows archaeologists to understand changes in vegetation and land use over thousands of years. In this way, the SWPP can work sensitively, using an understanding of the past to guide landscape change for the future. 


Rose Ferraby, Tommy Perman and Rob St John are award-winning artists whose creative practice is informed by their transdisciplinary experience in archaeology, ecology, music and design. Their collaboration draws on shared skills in sound, visual art, sculpture and digital media, resulting in innovative and attentive responses to site and museum based commissions.

Rose Ferraby is an archaeologist and artist based in North Yorkshire. Her transdisciplinary work often explores our relationship with landscape, drawing together past and future narratives. As archaeologist for the Exmoor Mires Project (2015-16), she created innovative new approaches to combining archaeological and ecological research in peatland environments. She has worked with environmental arts charity Common Ground and New Networks for Nature, using visual communication to explore ideas of changing and speculative landscapes. Her work has featured on Radio 3 (Cornerstones) and Radio 4 (Open Country).

Tommy Perman is a Scottish artist, designer, and musician who seeks to blur the boundaries of these three disciplines through collaboration. Based in rural Perthshire, much of Tommy’s work is themed around the built environment, documenting the growth and decay of cities and urban nature. Since his debut record came out in 2002 he has released over 50 records (albums, EPs and singles). Tommy won a BAFTA for co-creating an ‘emotional robot band’ called Cybraphon which is now part of the permanent collection in the National Museum of Scotland. His visual design work has been seen across numerous high profile books, websites, record sleeves, and even projected on the Sydney Opera House. (

Rob St John is an environmental artist and writer based in Bowland, Lancashire. His award-winning creative practice explores overlaps between art and ecology in British landscapes. His work, which spans sound, moving image, text and installation, experiments with the potential of key concepts in contemporary ecology and conservation as catalysts for site-specific art, and has been seen/heard at Tate Modern, The Barbican and V&A London, amongst others, and profiled on BBC Radio 3, 4 and 6 Music. (


Oral history recordings from the Dartmoor National Park ‘Moor Memories’ project (2008), made available by kind permission of The Dartmoor Trust.

Bird call field recordings used with thanks under a Creative Commons licence via xeno-canto: Alexander Henderson (XC468552, XC477342, XC477343, XC518961, XC468546, XC754155, XC468562), Krzysztof Deoniziak (XC330143, XC330147), Tony Whitehead (XC358537, XC98834, XC100977, XC90118, XC99449, XC356956, XC356029, XC100956, XC356981), Paul Kelly (XC754734), Alexander Lees (XC102142), Tom Jordan (XC556865), Mark Pearse (XC356014).