Wigtown Book Festival has commissioned a new book celebrating the salt marshes that have shaped the history of Scotland’s National Book Town.

The Saltmarsh Library, a work of creative nonfiction to be published in 2021, will be written by one of the country’s most exciting young authors, the Saltire Award-winning Dumfries-based nature writer Stephen Rutt.

The book is part of the wider Solway to the Sea project, which has been funded by Scottish Natural Heritage’s Plunge In! Coasts and Waters Community Fund. The fund was established by SNH to help community groups across Scotland celebrate the Year of Coasts and Waters.

Solway to The Sea will be a central programme strand at this year’s Wigtown Book Festival online (25 Sept-4 Oct). 

The salt marshes are one of south-west Scotland’s greatest natural assets and have witnessed dramatic events with the drowning of the Wigtown Martyrs. 

Sometimes known as The Inks, they are now part of the 2,845-hectare Wigtown Bay Local Nature Reserve, sitting within the Unesco Biosphere. The reserve hosts three species of migrant geese and overwintering whooper swans that migrate in from the arctic. The area is also special for its fish species with sparling and twait shad breeding there, and eelgrass beds that are important wildlife habitats.

The commission comes at a busy moment for 28-year-old Rutt. A paperback version of his first book, a memoir called The Seafarers: A Journey Among Birds, is released on 4 June by Elliott & Thompson. He will also appear in an online event organised by Wigtown Festival Company on Wednesday 10 June.

Stephen Rutt said: “Like a library, nature is a great repository of stories, experiences and cultures. I hope the new book will communicate these tales and give a sense of the place. 

“The saltmarshes are very special, with their shifting of sediments that suddenly stabilise with vegetation like glasswort and samphire. Being there and watching the tides come in and hide the landscape – making it a seascape – and seeing the water recede to reveal land again is something I find hypnotic on a deep, emotional level.

“My research will be partly cultural, partly scientific. It’s the blending of these strands that I focus on in my writing.”

Adrian Turpin, Wigtown Book Festival’s creative director, said: “The book and the wider project aim to help more people discover the very special character of this place which exists between land and sea. Stephen is a truly engaging writer, and someone who knows and loves Dumfries and Galloway, so he’s absolutely ideal to write this book.”

This year it is hoped there will be guided tours of the marshes (physical or filmed – depending on the Covid-19 situation). These will be run by Freelance Ranger and 2019 Dumfries and Galloway Life Environmental Champion Elizabeth Tindal, who is a consultant on the project.

Elizabeth said: “I love the whole of Wigtown Bay – it’s one of my favourite places in the entire world. There’s such a sense of space and it’s full of beauty, birds and sea. I’m really looking forward to sharing this with everyone.” 

SNH Chief Executive Francesca Osowska said: “We had a fantastic response to this fund and each of our 24 successful projects were chosen because they demonstrate just how much there is to celebrate about Scotland’s wonderful coastlines and waterways, their landscapes, biodiversity and wildlife.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing the Solway to the Sea project progress and am sure that its creativity and enthusiasm will engage and connect more people with our coasts and waters and secure a real and lasting legacy for the themed year in the local community.”

– Ends –

Notes for Editors

About the Author

Stephen Rutt is a 28-year-old writer, birder and naturalist. In 2019 he published his first two books, The Seafarers, recipient of the Saltire First Book Award and a Roger Deakin Award, and Wintering: A Season with Geese which was a Times’ Nature Book of the Year (paperback publication 15 October, 2020). Rutt studied on the literature and environment MA at Essex University. In 2015 he spent seven months at the bird observatory in North Ronaldsay. Stephen lives in Dumfries.

The Saltmarsh Library Project

Set in a Unesco Biosphere, Wigtown Bay Local Nature Reserve’s saltmarsh is one of Galloway’s greatest natural assets. Covering 2,845 hectares, it hosts three species of migrant geese and many overwintering whooper swans. The estuary is special for its fish species with sparling and twait shad breeding, while the Bladnoch is an SAC on account of its salmon run.  As a part of the Wigtown Festival Company project to celebrate this rare ecosystem, they have commissioned one of Scotland’s most exciting young nature writers Stephen Rutt to write a short book, The Saltmarsh Library.

The Saltmarsh Library will look at the saltmarsh as a repository of stories – appropriate, given its place beside Scotland’s Book Town, and its nickname, The Inks. The marsh literally shaped Wigtown as tide patterns changed and it was shaped by man (the Earl of Galloway even rerouted the Bladnoch!). It has seen human drama like the drowning of the Wigtown Martyrs and has hidden secrets (eg evidence of Chernobyl revealed via isotopes in mud). Its wildfowl and rare plants have their own fascinating origin stories while, as a huge carbon sink and at the mercy of flooding, it reveals tales of our future climate. It will be released as an ebook and a limited print-run physical book in spring 2021.

About Wigtown Festival Company

Wigtown Festival Company (WFC) is a multiple award-winning literary charity which runs the annual Wigtown Book Festival, BigDog children’s festival in Dumfries and the Big Bang Dark Skies weekend in Scotland’s Book Town. It also delivers a year-round programme of reader and writer development activities including an education programme that reaches more than 1,500 schoolchildren annually and a peer-programmed young people’s programme (WigWam). The Festival Company grew out of a social and economic development project that aimed to regenerate Wigtown through the means of creating a National Book Town. WFC is also currently partner in a multinational EU Interreg Project looking at developing literary tourism in the Northern Periphery and Arctic region.

About Scottish Natural Heritage

Scottish Natural Heritage is Scotland’s nature agency. We work to improve our natural environment in Scotland and inspire everyone to care more about it. We work to ensure that all nature in Scotland – our key habitats and landscapes, all our green space and our native species – is maintained, enhanced and brings us benefits. It is the job of all of us to achieve a balance in the sensitive management of our natural world in order to maintain and enhance biodiversity. SNH’s Plunge In! Coasts and Waters Community Fund was set up to mark Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters with the aim of engaging and connecting more people with our seas, coasts, lochs, rivers, streams and wetlands, as well as their unique wildlife, and to leave a legacy from the year, through improved skills and knowledge or the creation of a community resource.

About The Year of Coasts and Waters

In 2020, Scotland celebrates its Coasts and Waters with a year-long programme of events and activities which will shine a spotlight on these vital elements of our landscape. 

From our beautiful natural features including coasts, lochs and rivers to our industrial heritage such as our canals, mills and the creation of our national drink – whisky, Scotland’s Coasts and Waters have shaped our culture, our stories and our way of life. 

Join the conversation #YCW2020 

For further information and interview requests contact Matthew Shelley on 07786 704299 or Matthew@ScottishFestivalsPR.Org  

Wigtown Festival Company Ltd, 11 North Main Street, Wigtown, Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland, UK, DG8 9HN © 1999 – 2018. Wigtown Festival Company Ltd is a company limited by guarantee with charitable status. Scottish Charity No. SCO37984.