Badgers and birds make the most of empty Yorkshire Sculpture Park

As the Yorkshire Sculpture Park closes to visitors for the first time in 40 years, director of programme Clare Lilley explains how nature has the park all to itself.

Friday, 1st May 2020, 1:33 pm
Yorkshire Sculpture Park pictured during the coronavirus lockdown

Weeks of severe winter weather, incessant rain and wind, deep mud, and huge wear and tear by visitors on the paths and grass made parts of Yorkshire Sculpture Park pretty bleak over the winter.

Since the lockdown, with no visitors, low rainfall and beautiful spring weather, the grounds have begun to recover. Even the sculptures are cleaner than ever since mud is no longer splashed around.

Bird dropping is now the biggest sculpture maintenance issue.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Yorkshire Sculpture Park pictured during the coronavirus lockdown

On a recent fleeting visit, I was struck by how quickly the birds and beasts had moved into land normally dominated by humans.

Pheasants and Canada geese traipsed through the deserted car park, rabbits darted here and there, and the air was absolutely full of birdsong, with no traffic or human noise to compete.

On the lake island, the herons continued to tend their enormous nests, and with no visitors or fishermen, the cormorants, ducks and moorhens were in paradise, cheek by jowl with the long-horned, shaggy Shetland cattle that paddle on the lake shore – and who a couple of weeks ago decided to make a run for freedom.

Happily our farmer neighbours continue to work and managed to corral them back!

Yorkshire Sculpture Park pictured during the coronavirus lockdown

I didn’t hear the call of our resident buzzard or the drumming of the great spotted woodpecker, but it is lovely to know they carry on regardless of the situation.

Recently, night security photographed a family of badgers ambling among buildings; dozens of lambs are happily bouncing around sculptures by Henry Moore – soon they’ll be nuzzling up to the Damien Hirsts.

Over the lower reaches of the park, Jaume Plensa’s tree-high girl’s face, Wilsis (2016), waits in deep meditation. The park’s 500 acres of 18th-century designed landscape have never been more idyllic.

It all seems a far cry from installing a major exhibition of work by the Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos, which opened on 7 March only to be closed ten days later.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park director of programme, Clare Lilley.

In February the Yorkshire and Portuguese teams had battled through three extreme storms to install large sculptures. The nine-metre-high Pop Rooster (2016) was constructed, dismantled, turned from the prevailing wind, and reconstructed.

Planning for the worst, on the last day before lockdown we decided to tether with ropes the beautiful Venetian mask sculpture made from dozens of real mirrors – and a couple of weeks ago the foresight paid off as gale-force gusts hit the park.

YSP is open all but two days a year, but a week prior to the lockdown, we closed the restaurants and galleries, keeping the parkland and more than 100 sculptures in the open air available for our visitors.

As for National Trust properties and many others, Mothering Sunday was unnerving to say the least.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park pictured during the coronavirus lockdown

Everyone was new to social distancing and our staff had a difficult day, sadly making it clear that we must close.

For the first time in over 40 years, the Park is closed even to our neighbours in the village – a very difficult but necessary decision to safeguard YSP staff and the sculptures.

In the buildings the Internal Security Group keeps an eye out for vermin or insects.

The impacts of Covid-19 will be many and deep-seated, having profound effects on our community and beyond, but Yorkshire Sculpture Park is exceptionally rich in its combination of natural beauty and the best of contemporary sculpture; a place that is vital and transformative.

When our lives return to some semblance of normality, the Park will again show itself to be a place of stimulation, sanctuary and celebration – where once more friends and family will choose to hug and hold one another.

A time when we will all understand, more than ever before, what it means to be free.