Finding Joy in Mud: A Map of the Adur Estuary.

It’s been so cold and damp here that I can feel the grey creeping into my bones and the fingers of February fog beginning to stroke my heart. Taking a walk in the daylight has kept my sanity in check and I get out into nature as much as I can – scientifically proven to be beneficial to low Winter moods . Despite the grey-green, there’s always some joy to be found.

The Adur River, winding its way into the seas off Shoreham in Sussex, not far from my home, is a case in point. Its estuary and mudflats can look drab much of the year, but look closely and the place is home to a multitude of plants from the purple-flowered sea lavender to glossy green samphire, so loved by seafood restaurants.

To those in the know and with the right permits, there are cockle and mussel beds downstream and eel, bass, mullet and sea trout inshore. 

Look upwards, and on one of those beautiful, cold, blue days, you can see the flash of the green-black lapwing or hear the high-pitched call of the redshank hunting for shore crabs. Cormorants loom darkly throughout the year, hunched over on mid-river posts and sometimes, unexpectedly, launching upwards like black crosses stamping the sky. 

Take yourself there one day. There’s a walk. You might be surprised at how much life the mud supports.

That was the inspiration for the new signage I illustrated, commissioned to go next to the footpath and highlighting the estuarine biodiversity. The sign shows how this environment is important for many other reasons too. It encourages wellbeing and fitness and provides food, as I’ve already mentioned, but it’s also important in the fight against climate change. Recent research suggests that estuaries like this are as important as forests at storing carbon, if not more so. Value that can’t be underestimated.

The layout of the sign is based on the design of old maritime and aeronautical charts referencing Shoreham’s port and airport history. The double circles, side by side, show life above and below water. The central map, basic and blocky, features the main sights to be found in Shoreham – the crazy houseboat village, the art deco airport, the wartime pillboxes and the old wooden tollbridge, all watched over by Lancing College Chapel on the hill. 

Take yourself to Shoreham one day and walk the footpath alongside the Adur Estuary. I can’t say it often enough. It may be cold and miserable out there but, from the mud, there’s joy to be found in that fragile grey-green world. It’s an environment with much to protect, too vital to lose and with hidden riches too great to ignore. And it might make you feel better too.

The map of the Adur Estuary was completed by hand in watercolour, gouache and ink and was commissioned by The Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust, Sussex Wildlife Trust, The Environment Agency, The Adur and Ouse Partnership, and The International Coalition of Fishing Associations.

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