Blue Health with Wessex Archaeology

The first six sessions of The Ripple Effect, Wessex Archaeology’s community building initiative with the Environment Agency, took place during June and July 2022. Each week we met at the Five Rivers Health and Wellbeing Centre on the banks of the River Avon in Salisbury, to talk about our plans for that week’s session, record in our project sketchbooks what we remembered about the previous week and walk out along the river to take part in creative activities or hear from invited experts.

The Ripple Effect participants meet up at the Five Rivers Health and Wellbeing Centre before heading out to the River Avon A hand print created using mud in one of the participant's sketchbooks Three participants in The Ripple Effect project interact with the River Avon from the bank

Above: Meeting The Ripple Effect participants and exploring the River Avon through art

‘The Ripple Effect’ so far

The Ripple Effect will be made up of four six-week blocks of sessions, taking place across two years; Summer 2022, Autumn/Winter 2022, Spring 2023, and Summer 2023, together with associated sharing events and exhibitions. The Ripple Effect is being facilitated by Wessex Archaeology Heritage Inclusion Development Specialist, Leigh Chalmers, and myself, Artist James Aldridge.

Using objects found in nature is a core part of The Ripple Effect project's use of art James Aldridge, Art practitioner on The Ripple Effect project, takes video footage using a GoPro whilst stood in the River Avon Salisbury Cathedral spire as viewed from the banks of the River Avon

Above: The Ripple Effect project lead, Artist James Aldridge

At present, we have had 8 regular participants joining the group each week, and a number of contributing experts, including:


  • Andy Wallis - Salisbury River Park Project Lead, Environment Agency
  • Tom Westhead - Photographer & Videographer, Wessex Archaeology
  • David Norcott - Geoarchaeologist, Wessex Archaeology
  • Sander Aerts - Environmental Manager, Wessex Archaeology
  • The Environment Agency Fisheries Team


All quotes here have been taken from project participant feedback provided unless otherwise stated

Ecology meets Archaeology

The Ripple Effect project sessions are designed to provide participants with information about the Salisbury River Park project, and experiences that provide an insight into the history and ecology of the River Avon as it passes though the city.

Participants in The Ripple Effect project make their own scrap books recording their experience of the sights and sounds of The River Avon A large part of The Ripple Effect community project involves standing by the River Avon and reflecting on the life taking place there

Above: Mapping how local wildlife lives on the River Avon using art

The Salisbury River Park project is an exciting project to be involved in for many reasons, but one of the key ones is the benefit it will bring to the local community. At an early stage in the project, we were looking for opportunities to get local groups involved in the design and construction stages of the project, so when Wessex Archaeology approached us with an idea about The Ripple Effect project we were very keen support it and get actively involved.’

Andy Wallis, Environment Agency

Photographic blueprints are created using leaves James Aldridge, Artist leading The Ripple Effect project, discusses sketchbook practices with participants Sketching the surroundings of the River Avon for The Ripple Effect

Above: The summer 2022 sessions of The Ripple Effect take place by the River Avon

Creative activities enable people to slow down and pay attention to the river through recording what they notice about it, bringing their individual experiences and insights to the wider group.


Our first six sessions have been about getting to know the river and becoming more familiar with the Salisbury River Park scheme. Together we have learned how the river has been formed over time, what animal and plant species make it their home, and what changes we can expect in the future due to climate change. We are observing how the Salisbury River Park scheme is changing the river corridor to enable fish to migrate more easily, for the river level to rise and fall without flooding local buildings, and for local people to spend more time alongside the river.

Sketching the River Avon from a bridge overlooking the river Asking questions about the life of River Avon as recorded in The Ripple Effect sketchbooks The Ripple Effect participants gathered by the River Avon to discuss the project

Above: Recording in-the-moment reflections in project sketchbooks builds participant’s experience of The Ripple Effect

I knew very little about the details of the Salisbury River Park scheme apart from its general aims (environmental improvement, flood prevention, regeneration). The care taken over the wildlife has been impressive, and the level of detail in planning has been reassuring’

Recording nature in sketchbooks requires constant looking and observation Taking your shoes off and walking barefoot can enable you to connect with the River Avon better Participants in The Ripple Effect made their sketchbooks their own by choosing their own distinctive mediums to work with

Above: Art is the medium being used throughout The Ripple Effect to connect participants with their environment

In one of my favourite sessions - and, so the group tell us, one of theirs too - we watched the Environment Agency Fisheries team catching and moving fish from the river as it passes through Central Car Park, so that works can be done to remove barriers to fish migration without harming resident fish species.


‘Watching and chatting with the Environment Agency staff whilst they were working to move the fish was brilliant. It really felt like we were engaging with the Salisbury River Park project.’


‘The fish rescue. Seeing history take place then capturing it creatively in art. As a multimedia artist whose wellbeing is under pressure all the time, witnessing this took me right out of myself. What a thing to have witnessed.’


Above: Footage of The Ripple Effect Summer 2022 sessions 

In other sessions we were joined by environmental archaeologist Sander Aerts and geoarchaeologist David Norcott. Sander and David helped us to consider how the different habitats provided by the river dictate the kinds of plants and animals that are able to live there, and how this has changed over time through both geological processes and human development.

Heritage Inclusion Development Specialist, Leigh Chalmer, speaks to Geoarchaeologist David Norcott about the fish gathering session hosted with the Environment Agency for The Ripple Effect The River Avon will be made more accessible to local residents as part of the Salisbury River Park scheme Environment Agency staff chatting with participants of The Ripple Effect

Above: Working with the Fisheries team from the Environment Agency to migrate fish in the River Avon

Why Art?

Often when people first join or hear about The Ripple Effect project there is an initial query as to why art is a part of it. Why not just walk, talk, and learn from the experts? That’s where my work comes in. In my arts practice I research the role that art processes can play in enabling people to experience themselves as an integral part of their local environment.

Exploring the River Avon from multiple vantage points helps the art practice of The Ripple Effect participants The Ripple Effect project participants look on as the Environment Agency fisheries team gather fish in the River Avon Observing species such as caterpillars on the banks of the River Avon

Above: The Ripple Effect session with the Fisheries team from the Environment Agency provided special inspiration

I develop ways to record what I notice about a wood, city, or river and then share these with project participants, providing them with different ways to access and contribute to an activity, informed by their backgrounds and interests.


Art can offer us a way to bring together the different capacities that we have for learning and researching. We can record what we see, hear, feel, and think, and return to that record later for further reflection. Drawings, prints, photographs etc. can also offer us an opportunity to share our learning with others, and that’s another key aim of the project.


‘The idea of gathering in a group and creating something from what we found in the landscape. Each is so different, and we can take ideas from each other. That is very enjoyable for me.’


We want to help the ripples from The Ripple Effect to spread far and wide, by working with the core group of participants to share their learning and artwork more publicly. The group may be relatively small as a proportion of Salisbury’s population, but that means that their experiences and level of understanding can become rich and deep, providing opportunities to share really engaging content with the wider community.


So far, we have made our own fold-out sketchbooks that echo the linear shape of the river to record what we experience as we walk and talk. We have made cyanotype prints (photographic blueprints) with river water and bankside vegetation, drawn fish, printed with leaves, taken loads of photographs, and filmed underwater. We’ve also shared memories of rivers from our past both verbally and in writing.

Filming underwater in the River Avon for The Ripple Effect Cynatope prints floating in the River Avon The Ripple Effect participant on the banks of the River Avon

Above: Cyanotype print creation using the waters of the River Avon

As the project develops, we will be setting up opportunities for more people to become involved, whether at pop-up events, through accessing online content, or through physical exhibitions/installations.


‘…the openness of the creative process has made me feel more at ease with things being undecided or incomplete. I feel the support of working with and alongside others has helped me to relax and feel less anxious about who I am and what I am doing.’

Group Wellbeing

Leigh and I are keen that The Ripple Effect sessions are planned with participants as much as possible. As the project continues, and people’s confidence in recording and sharing their experiences grows, we expect that to happen and more.

The Fisheries team from the Environment Agency participated in one of The Ripple Effect sessions Sander Aerts, Wessex Archaeology, Environmental Archaeologist The Environment Agency Fisheries team work to relocate fish on the River Avon

Above: Participants in The Ripple Effect are invited to give feedback after each session

To that end we are consistently gathering feedback from the group, and embedding ways for them to record and share, not only their experiences but also their ideas for future sessions. This includes who they'd like to hear from, what they’d like to focus on, and what creative activities they'd like to revisit or try for the first time.


James’s approach to being creative has really opened me up. I have enjoyed spending time with The Ripple Effect group in a very explorative way.’


Each session, we provide participants with prints of their photographs, to add to their sketchbooks and provide a sense of continuity from week to week. Alongside the photographs and sketchbooks is a growing body of artwork and video footage captured both by Photographer Tom Westhead and by the participants themselves.


‘My major activity is the photographic use in the project, primarily because of a severe memory issue, it enables me to have an instant review of topics and activities…using grouped images I retain memory for longer’


In my own research, as part of my Queer River project, I’m looking into Blue Health, the role that set processes can play in engaging people with local blue spaces, and what that means or looks like in a time of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss. I’m most interested in the reciprocal nature of individual and ecological wellbeing, how each depends upon the other. Of course, as people we form an integral part of our local ecosystems, although we often lose sight of that in our everyday life.

Photographic blueprints created by the River Avon lined up to dry Leigh Chalmers, Heritage Inclusion Development Specialist, and Tom Westhead, Photographer & Videographer, discuss how to use filming equipment as part of The Ripple Effect project

The Ripple Effect course has prompted me to consider the importance of our water courses and how humans interact with them in the past, present and future.’

Our hope for The Ripple Effect, is that through learning about and coming to know their local river more intimately, participants will not only become more aware of what rivers (and more specifically chalk streams) need from us to remain healthy in the future but will also benefit from an increasing sense of purpose and belonging. This extends both within the group and in their wider lives.


‘It has been fun getting to know others in the group and being supportive to one another has made me feel more human. I have enjoyed the mixture of learning, practical evolvement, friendly chat and open but guided creative encouragement.’


Coming Up in Autumn 2022


We’ll return as a core group in October 2022, when we’ll be focusing on the history and cultural heritage of the river, and the way that the city of Salisbury has grown up around it. We will look at Salisbury Museum’s Drainage Collection, and historical representations of the river and city in art too, for instance at what old maps and paintings can tell us about the co-evolution of river and city.


We will also be looking at seasonal changes, focusing on the way the river looks/behaves in Autumn/Winter, and what has happened in the Salisbury River Park scheme since we were last together. As we move from Autumn into Winter, we will also be paying close attention to fish migration. Mature, adult eels will be making their way downstream between October and December on their journey to spawn in the Sargasso Sea, and come December/January, Salmon will be arriving in the city to spawn in the river’s gravel beds.


‘Working on The Ripple Effect has been the highlight of my week.  To be out beside the river and learning alongside the participants has been a huge privilege and seeing how positively they have responded to the project and how much they have enjoyed it has been heartening.  Certainly, is has done my wellbeing the world of good to be away from a screen, in good company, being creative and knowing that we are a positive addition to a bigger project.  It feels good.’


Leigh Chalmers, Wessex Archaeology

By James Aldridge, July 2022