Sugar Beat Fen?

Sugar Beat Fen? Kathryn Parsons

For over a century, sugar beet has been farmed in Norfolk. Though locally grown and a useful break crop, it is one of the most damaging plants to grow on peat soils. Draining, ploughing, harvesting and the shape of the beet itself causes peat to break down, releasing significant amounts of carbon dioxide and damaging the soil structure impacting future harvests.

My work with GroundWork Gallery, Norfolk, for the summer residency 2023 focuses on extractions involved in growing sugar been in the Fens, particularly on peat.


This sculpture is made of British sugar and peat. Its patterns and form refer to Methwold Severals, a cluster of fen peat fields in west Norfolk, where Europe’s largest sugar beet factory and a new wetland nature reserve are found.

The map on the front traces the increasing density of drainage ditches on the Severals through time. The side-panels reference plants growing in those ditches and on the new wetland where Marsh Harriers and Bearded Tits now make their home. On the back is a pattern that echoes the precision planting of sugar beet seeds on a fen field.

Most of us eat sugar without considering the environmental impacts. I certainly did when years ago I used to teach sugar craft classes. Through my research we too are… culpable?