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WALK

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Walk 5, Thurrock: Rewilding

Our final tour begins at a family-run landfill site, Walsh and Son, in East Tilbury. Walsh doesn’t usually offer public visits, especially for a group as large as ours at 24 people. As site manager Wayne expressed on the phone prior to our visit, for them its more a series of huge, muddy fields than a site to behold.

Walsh specialises in storing, sifting, and using waste rubble and soil from the construction industry as a flood defence along the Thames Estuary. Our guides, John and Charlie, start at the part site is known as ‘the factory’; a giant machine that sieves through all incoming soil removing the fine and coarser stones. Once separated off, these are sold for use many in applications, “including asphalt and various concrete products, such as blocks, kerbs, flags, bricks and precast products such as tunnel segments”.

Any remaining mud and soil become a fresh layer of land in and around the site, raising the ground-level in an effort to prevent flooding. It’s incredible to walk around the site, even if so much of it is, as John and Charlie warned, ‘muddy fields’. The landscape is differently textured and treated at each turn; one moment verdant, the next arid; one moment nothing but blue sky, the next an ominous mound of rubble. The mud so thick it requires us all to concentrate on where we are walking, keeping a lookout on each in case we get stuck and need a hand. At points, some of us have to literally lean on others to catch our breath.

The second part of our walk is led by Professor Kate Spencer, a geo-chemist from Queen Mary’s University studying coastal erosion and historic landfill. Kate guides us on a walk along a coastal path, just down from Walsh’s site, to “clinkers beach”. The name refers to this area’s proximity to a former landfill, back when landfilling was the simple practice of ‘dig, dump, and bury’.

Over the years, the Estuary has been eroding the edges of the coast, dredging up decades old waste from landfill sites decommissioned in the 1950s and 60s. Waste is strewn over clinkers beach, and Kate, expertly donning latex gloves, examines packaging from a loaf of bread whose sell-by date was in the 1980s. She tells us how she’s found old newspapers, still intact, dated to some thirty years before that.

Kate’s been researching historic coastal landfills for over a decade, mapping their presence along the entire country’s coastline. “I was walking here with my husband one year” she explains at Clinkers Beach, “We saw rubbish spewing out, and I just knew I had to find out why it was there”.  We listen to her account of the strange turns her research and life took after this walk along the coast. It feels like an apt conclusion for 800 000 tonnes, getting behind our everyday encounters with individual items of waste, exploring the hidden systems and histories responsible for diverting it away from our lives and attention.

Blog: Eloise Hawser
Images: Frances Christie, Hayley Dixon, and Eloise Hawser

This event was presented as part of 800,000 tonnes: Waste Management and Recycling in Essex, a programme of displays, site tours, and discussions that took place to map waste in Essex past and present by artist Eloise Hawser, who wrote the above text. 800,000 tonnes was supported by a National Lottery Grant from Arts Council England.

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Radical Essex is a project re-examining the county in relation to radicalism in thought, lifestyle, politics and architecture. A programme of events will take place across Essex throughout 2016 and 2017, shedding light on the vibrant, pioneering thinking of the late 19th and 20th centuries. The project will celebrate the crucial role Essex has played in the history of British Modernism and its utopian ideologies under the themes ‘The Modernist County’ and ‘Arcadia for All’.

The Radical Essex site is designed by Fraser Muggeridge studio and Alex Rich, developed by Twelve.

Radical Essex is led by Focal Point Gallery in collaboration with Visit Essex and Firstsite. Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England it forms part of the country wide Cultural Destinations programme, a partnership with VisitEngland, supporting arts organisations to work with the tourism sector to deliver projects that maximise the impact culture has on local economies.

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We gratefully acknowledge the support of our project partners:

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