I could tell that Harriet was hooked on the marine world by the glint in her eye as she described her most recent dive, made on the chalk reef that sits just off the North Norfolk coast. The enthusiasm underlined that this was a new experience, a first glimpse of the diverse community of organisms that lives below the surface of our coastal waters. Harriet Mead is a sculptor, president of the Society of Wildlife Artists and recent recipient of a diving bursary from The Wildlife Trusts. This bursary has been given annually for the last five years to highlight our marine communities and the threats that face them. Harriet was diving the Cromer Shoal Chalk Beds, often referred to as the Cromer chalk Reef, sketching the wildlife she encountered before creating the wonderful sculptures that are now on display at the Mall Galleries in London.
You may well have come across news of this chalk reef through features on local television or in the EDP. The reef’s important contribution to our marine ecosystem has only recently come to light and, quite rightly, it has been recommended for Marine Conservation Zone status. The first of these zones was designated around Lundy in the Bristol Channel in 2010 and others have since been designated or put forward as candidates through the Marine Conservation Zone Project, a partnership bringing together people who use the sea for their livelihood or leisure. The extent of the chalk beds and the range of creatures that they support is being catalogued by local divers who are discovering new things all of the time. The beds could prove to be Europe’s largest chalk reef and they have already revealed species new to science, most notably a new species of purple sponge.
The reef, with its boulders, stacks and arches, provides an array of microhabitats for the many different creatures that live on it. From delicate sea slugs and pipefish to robust crabs and beautiful worms, the reef is rich with life. Harriet’s sculptures deliver a taste of this underwater world; recreated from scrap metal we see the solidity of a lobster, claws raised in defiance, and the curves of a baby cuttlefish – the size of a bumblebee – that squirted ink and then dropped to hide in the sand. Such works provide an insight into this marine community and raise the profile of the important efforts that are being made to secure the reef’s future. I suspect that Harriet will be diving the reef again and again, delighting in this new experience and the creatures with which she is sharing it. Information on the Cromer Shoal Chalk beds can be found at www.wildlifetrusts.org/MCZ/cromer-shoal-chalk-beds and Harriet’s work can be seen at www.harrietmead.co.uk