Campaigners aim to save M5 Willow Man

Campaigners aim to save M5 Willow Man

Cherished landmark needs a complete rebuild to survive

A campaign is being launched to secure the future of the iconic M5 Willow Man who strides alongside the motorway near junction 23 at Bridgwater. Created by artist Serena de la Hey in 2000 as part of The Year of the Artist, The Willow Man was conceived as a temporary structure and now nearly two decades on, it needs a complete rebuild as well as a fund for future maintenance.

The Willow Man: picture by Chris Chapman Photography

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Broadcaster and author Toby Buckland, pictured (top) with Serena, says: “When I heard The Willow Man was under threat I picked up the phone and asked Serena how we could help. Several meetings and a lot of coffee later, a plan was hatched and we commissioned Serena to build a willow sculpture for my 2018 garden and harvest festivals. We can’t bring The Willow Man to the festival so this was the next best thing to raise awareness of his plight.”

In a nod to The Willow Man’s roadside location, the festival sculpture – known as ‘The Wonder’ – will be located as a welcome to visitors near the garden festival entrance on the driveway at Powderham Castle, in the village of Kenton near Exeter, before it is moved to Forde Abbey for Toby’s Harvest Festival in September. Serena is building the sculpture in situ at the castle in the run-up to the festival in collaboration with willow artist Stefan Jennings and Toby.

Toby says: “For the millions of holidaymakers who visit the West Country The Willow Man is a sign they’ve arrived! For me he’s a symbol that I’m nearly home. If he did disappear it’d be a huge loss to our landscape and I’m only too happy to help give him a future.’

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Serena, who sketched the above image, says: “Willow is an ephemeral material, and no one realised The Willow Man would become a cherished part of the landscape – least of all me – so we have to do something soon or he will be lost.”

You can see The Wonder and meet Serena de la Hey at Toby’s Garden Festival on Friday and Saturday, April 27 and 28 when she will be speaking to festivalgoers and encouraging visitors to add their own willow embellishments to support the fundraising. The event is at Powderham Castle, Kenton, Devon EX6 8JQ (10am to 5pm).

Serena de la Hey is a modern innovator in the use of willow in sculptures and her work now encompasses a broad range of traditional and contemporary materials. Having worked all over the world on a range of projects, she is best known for The Willow Man (proper name The Withy Man), made from woven withies over a three-tonne steel frame in the shape of a man. It was ranked among Britain’s favourite roadside landmarks in a 2016 poll conducted by coach firm National Express.

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Toby Buckland is a lifelong gardener and qualified horticulturist, whose career has taken him from professional flowerpot-washer to presenter of numerous TV shows and winning awards for broadcasting and garden design along the way. In 2014 Toby decided to create a gardening event which champions the smaller, specialist nurseries, to give them a chance to reach a wider audience and allow gardeners to get the best advice. The first Toby’s Garden Festival took place at Powderham Castle to popular acclaim and is now a premier gardening event in the South West returning for a fifth year next month. Toby is part of the BBC presenting team from RHS Chelsea Flowershow and the new host of BBC Radio Devon’s Sunday morning show between 9am-12pm each week.

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Steve Ott
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