‘Iron, salt, ships, chemicals – and now birds’ – a new arts project explores Teesside’s industrial landscape

NEWS | POSTED ON 30 April 2019
Artist and poet Thomas Pearson uncovers the industrial heritage of Teesside in a new project, Brine Field, opening at RSPB Saltholme on 25 May.

12 white obelisks appear amid the reedbeds and wet grasslands of RSPB Saltholme as part of Thomas Pearson’s explorations of the environment, history and industrial heritage of the site. These striking sculptural monuments are designed to commemorate the salt found deep below this remarkable landscape, echoing the brine derricks which were used to extract it. Saltholme is now a popular destination for birdwatchers, local families and visitors to Teesside, and is home to numerous birds species including common terns, lapwings, peregrines and water rails.

The Billingham-born artist has also written a series of atmospheric poems that respond to the site and its ‘submerged histories’ – from migrating birds to the ICI chemical works where his great-grandfather worked ‘with men in moleskin suits and masks’. A booklet of seven poems has been produced so visitors can read his words while exploring the nature reserve (also available online at edgelandia.com). Visitors can also join a ‘poetry tour’ led by the artist on selected days.

Thomas Pearson says, “I am delighted to present Brine Field in the unique landscape of RSPB Saltholme, so close to my home town of Billingham. It has been fascinating to use words and sculpture to explore the site’s connections to iron, salt, ships, chemicals – and now birds. I’ve also really enjoyed weaving in some threads from my own family history, including tales from Cassel Works, Haverton Hill and Seal Sands.”

Brine Field has been commissioned as part of Edgelandia – a national arts project to explore hidden stories and forgotten landscape. It is part of a week-long programme of celebrations to mark the 10th anniversary of RSPB Saltholme, including family activities and a visit from the Urban Birder David Lindo. Brine Field is being delivered in partnership with the River Tees Rediscovered Landscape Partnership, thanks to money raised by National Lottery Players and awarded through The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Notes to editors

About Thomas Pearson

Thomas Pearson is a poet, musician, designer and architectural conservationist from the north-east of England, based in York. His work concerns history, buildings and places. His writing has been published by the University of Leicester, Block and the Architects’ Journal. His drawn work has been exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts. Readings have included solo poetry evenings at Eleven Spitalfields gallery and poetry tours around the site of London’s hidden river Walbrook. He has written and produced two albums of electronic folk songs. He was lead designer and heritage consultant, for Arup, on an award-winning project to refurbish the Grade II* listed Engineering Building in Leicester.

About Edgelandia

Edgelandia explores the remarkable places and people on the edges of the map: between land and water, wild and reclaimed, real and imagined. A new, four-year project from award-winning arts producing company Penned in the Margins, Edgelandia will tell the hidden stories and forgotten landscapes of Britain through a series of artistic ‘disruptions’, each set in a unique location – from salt flats to flood zones, abandoned villages to eroding coastlines – and will span literature, performance, music, visual, sound and digital arts. The first three projects are Thomas Pearson’s Brine Field at RSPB Saltholme, Teesside; Hannah Nicklin’s Gibraltar Point in Lincolnshire; and Nick Murray’s Walk With Me to Derwent in Derbyshire’s Hope Valley.

About RSPB Saltholme

The RSPB is the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again.

RSPB Saltholme is situated near the mouth of the River Tees between Billingham and Seaton Carew, adjacent to the A178.  The RSPB and Teesside Environmental Trust have a long-term partnership to ensure the success of Saltholme for people and wildlife. Saltholme is only possible thanks to almost £7 million investment and funding support from the Single Programme via One NorthEast and the Tees Valley Partnership, European Regional Development Fund via the Government Office, Teesside Environmental Trust (TET), Stockton Borough Council, Biffaward, the SITA Trust, Veolia Environmental Trust, Impetus Environmental Trust, the Northern Rock Foundation, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Shears Foundation, Augean Plc, Premiere Waste and the County Durham Environmental Trust. The Trust and the RSPB would like to take this opportunity to publicly express our grateful thanks to all of our supporters.

Saltholme is a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) nature reserve north of Port Clarence. As well as a visitor centre, the wetland reserve also has a cafe, play area and shop. It stages events throughout the year.

About River Tees Rediscovered Landscape Partnership

The River Tees Rediscovered Landscape Partnership, is supported by the National Lottery through the National Lottery Heritage Fund and aims to develop the river and its surrounding area through conservation and community activities, reconnecting the people of the Tees with their river – a natural feature that has moulded the physical and cultural development of the landscape and communities through which it runs.

About The National Lottery Heritage Fund

Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about – from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. www.heritagefund.org.uk.  Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #HLFsupported.


Brine Field by Thomas Pearson

Saturday 25 May – Sunday 9 June 2019


Free entry

RSPB Saltholme
Seaton Carew Road
Middlesbrough TS2 1TP
01642 546 625

Opening event: Saturday 25 May, 6-8pm

Poetry tours:
Sunday 26 May, Wednesday 29 May, Saturday 1 June, Wednesday 5 June
Times to be confirmed