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A Sense of Place

Blackwater arboretum is not only an idyllic and peaceful place, but the arboretum has a stunning variety of beautiful trees from around the world. Inspired by the tree collection at this special place, sculptor, Richard Austin, is creating a new sculpture trail that will complement the setting.

We know that people respond to places in very personal ways, which depends on their previous experience and what they already know about a place. What makes a place special may be its importance for nature conservation or landscape character, or its history. All these things can contribute to creating a sense of place and that’s why we’ve been working on a project that will bring added value to people’s experience at Blackwater arboretum.  The new sculptures are sited along a short, circular route, which encourages visitors to use their senses to discover the many different smells and textures of the forest.

 The New Forest has many diverse and talented artists working here and we’re delighted to be working with Richard Austin, who’s based in Fordingbridge.  He studied art at Wrexham Art College and then graphics and illustration at Bristol Polytechnic, and has always been deeply in tune with nature, which inspires much of his work.  His sculptures are crafted using chainsaws, allowing work to progress quickly and with a real creative flow.  When carving the sculptures he uses a range of chainsaws, each a different size. It’s rather like a painter needing different sized brushes, the same principles apply. Richard uses smaller chainsaws to create tiny details in the wood and the larger machines for cutting large surfaces, and the finishing touches that bring this work to life, are done by hand.

Wood used to create the four impressive new sculptures comes from coast redwood. Richard loves to use this material, as it cuts so easily, “like butter!” he says. The oak that he’s used to carve the new uprights for the Blackwater archway is sourced from nearby Forestry Commission woodlands at Parkhill and the top of the archway, which marks the start of the trail, is made from Douglas fir, from Fordingbridge. These timbers have now been given a new lease of life and demonstrate the artist’s continued commitment to using sustainable materials.

Richard and his assistant, Henry, have been working in situ creating the sculptures over the last four weeks, enduring the cold weather, but they’ve enjoyed been at one with nature. Due to the scale of the artworks, it was the most practical option and people have been able to see them working and understand more about the process.

His creative designs depict the seeds from a sycamore, oak, Douglas fir and redwood, and were inspired by the splendid ancient and ornamental woodlands along the New Forest’s Rhinefield Ornamental Drive, where some of the oldest and tallest Douglas fir and redwoods in Britain grow.

Now he’s finished carving and they’ve been sanded to carefully remove any rough edges, as they are designed to be touched and enjoyed by visitors, the next stage is to finish the timber with about five coats of natural oils to protect the sculptures from the elements. The oil he uses is made from natural oils, including citrus, which adds to the lovely scent of the timbers.

As part of the project we invited pupils from local school, Hill House, along to give them the chance to see Richard’s skills in action. He enjoys sharing his passion for wood carving and is happy to have an audience while he’s working, even competing at various wood carving events and competitions across the country.

The project is still a work in progress, with the trail panels still be completed and installed. These will cover a variety of trees and showcase our best examples. Each panel will show information about the tree species, where it’s from, its uses and interesting facts. Richard is creating customised interpretation panels for us and hopefully they’ll be ready at the end of spring.

We hope that this project, a Senses of Place, will encourage people to learn about the New Forest through the new interpretation at this site, with a focus on hands on and sensory activity. It will help people to experience the Forest through touching the tactile sculptures and discover the health and wellbeing benefits of time spent in this special area.

The project is part of a Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Our Past, Our Future’ Landscape Partnership Scheme led by the New Forest National Park Authority in conjunction with 11 key partners.

For more details about the New Forest visit: to find more about Richard’s work visit


Last updated: 16th June 2018

England's Woods and Forests are cared for by Forest Enterprise England, an agency of the Forestry Commission.