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We recently highlighted how the Government seems less determined lately to impose large housing developments onto unwilling communities and sensitive historic landscapes. But it’s not just houses, it’s also wind farms. Eric Pickles is now calling most of them in for review. Take Northumberland:
“the wind of change seems to have blown through the whole vexed issue on onshore wind. Many believe that the DCLG and its boss Eric Pickles is acting out of a desire to appease rank and file Conservative voters, who rightly or wrongly are associated with an anti-wind stance.” The wind farm industry is angry about it: “The Government is clearly trying to shut down onshore wind…. It’s a long an arduous job to get a wind farm through the planning system then along comes a politician from Westminster who knows nothing and kills it”.
The timing of all this certainly looks suspicious. Not that the “election factor”, if such it is, has been all good for heritage conservation: a short tunnel at Stonehenge, with no public consultation and in the teeth of likely bitter opposition from most archaeological and heritage organisations, looks very like chasing votes in the South West by sacrificing the welfare of parts of the Stonehenge landscape.
by Sandy Gerrard
A recent news feature in the Dundee Courier highlights a basic problem with the way that the destruction of heritage is viewed. The story concerns the discovery and excavation of human remains in Stirling. The cemetery is being excavated in advance of a housing and retail development with building work due to commence later in the year. The discovery is variously described as exciting and fascinating and clearly much new and potentially important information will be gleaned.
This much is not in dispute – it is excellent that the archaeology is being looked at and the remains treated with respect. At the end of the process the archaeology will inevitably have been destroyed and all that will remain is the record compiled by the archaeologists and the human remains hopefully reburied with the absolute respect mentioned in the newspaper. This is the inevitable result of progress and indeed many of our wonderful archaeological palimpsests are a direct result of our understandable need to change our surroundings. So would it not be more honest to admit that sometimes the past must be sacrificed in the interest of the present and future. In Stirling the spin put on the destruction of a small part of the city’s heritage takes some beating. According to one of their councillors:
“The development of this key city centre site is clearly important, but it is also important that we preserve and protect the city’s rich past in the way that is happening now in the excavation phase of the project.”
It is difficult to understand how the complete destruction of heritage can ever be remotely described as preservation and protection. Taking this approach to its logical conclusion Stirling’s rich past would be best served by destroying it all but making sure to place the artefacts in a museum and the records in an archive. The idea that destruction can ever be seen as a way of preserving and protecting our heritage is one that needs to be challenged at every opportunity. Our understanding can certainly be enhanced by destruction, but every time a site is destroyed tangible remains are lost and the chance to learn more using enhanced investigative techniques in future has also vanished. We need to face this reality and stop hiding behind the idea that somehow because we have made a record of what was there that is somehow miraculously preserved and protected – it is NOT, its gone and its gone for ever.
We’ve just received the latest newsletter of The Campaign to Protect Rural England in which they outline their efforts to protect the Countryside from the dash for economic growth.
Thanks to you and to thousands of others, we now have over 22,500 signatures in support of our Charter to Save our Countryside. People have been spreading the word among their friends to help demonstrate the strength of public concern for the countryside they love. Our Charter promotes the reuse of brownfield land before building on open countryside, giving people a fair say in planning for the places where they live, and providing the housing we need but in the right places.
It’s been over two years since the Government introduced major reforms to planning. Right from the start we warned that the changes gave too much weight to pursuing economic growth regardless of the long term environmental consequences. We warned that they would result in more badly located and designed development, harming the countryside and undermining the regeneration of our towns and cities. Our fears have been realised. Our latest research has revealed 700,000 houses planned in the countryside – including almost 200,000 allocated for the Green Belt. Thousands of acres of green fields could be lost. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.
Between March 2013 and March 2014, at least two thirds of major housing developments turned down by local councils and taken to appeal were approved by the Secretary of State or Government Planning Inspectors – double the number of appeals granted in the previous year.
Please help us stop this needless destruction. We’re campaigning to persuade the Government to make the development of brownfield land in our towns a priority before building on open countryside.
The British Government (who else!) is spearheading a move to roll out biodiversity offsetting throughout the world. It has just hosted in London “the first global conference” on it (called“To No Net Loss of Biodiversity and Beyond”). At the same time those opposed to the concept have held a counter-conference of their own called “Nature is not for sale -the 2nd Forum on Natural Commons” in Regent’s Park right opposite the Government’s one. In their own words their belief is that “biodiversity offsetting ignores the difficulties in recreating ecosystems, it overlooks the uniqueness of different habitats, and it disregards the importance of nature for local communities. Once a harmful development project goes ahead, communities lose access to it forever.”
But has this relevance to heritage? It must have, for often enough if you rip up fields or forests to build houses you also destroy heritage features and knowledge, things that can’t be “offset” for once they’re gone they’re gone. On that basis it follows that archaeologists should be involved in many of the anti-biodiversity offsetting battles which the “nature lobby” is currently fighting. As well as the “Nature is not for Sale” forum perhaps there should have been a “Heritage is not for Sale” forum.
So it was pleasing to see one recent instance of archaeologists joining with the nature lobby – The CBA is supporting the Woodland Trust’s campaign to exclude ancient woodland from biodiversity off-setting schemes. The original biodiversity offsetting green paper indicated that some habitats (including ancient woodland) are irreplaceable and should be excluded from the scheme. However recent comments from (who else!) Environment Minister Owen Paterson suggest that this advice has so far been ignored. The Woodland Trust calculates there are at least 380 Ancient Woodland sites across the UK currently under threat from development – and it is inevitable that archaeology will be threatened at many of them. It will be interesting to hear Mr Paterson explanation of how the irreplaceable can be replaced!
Last month many people in Ohio were understandably scandalised that their local Hopewell Culture monuments and their surroundings were up for auction and that some of the setting was being targeted by developers. So they launched a campaign, raised $375,000 from the public, obtained various grants and successfully bid for the land at the auction.
In total they bought the 89 acre earthworks tract, two separate tracts of forest (for which they were bidding against developers), and a third tract of river corridor along Paint Creek. The total cost was about $1.1 million at an average of $5751 per acre. They now intend to create a park and preserve and will be raising more funds for land restoration and stewardship, a hikng trail, and interpretive signs. See more here.
If only the same could happen in Oswestry, but unfortunately the price tag there, just for the bit of the setting that’s being targeted by developers, would be more than 10 million pounds. Which explains a lot!
During a recent holiday in Cornwall, I took the opportunity to revisit Carwynnen Quoit, to see what progress had been made since my previous visit during the recent excavations. Seeing one of the uprights back in place has prompted me to put together this brief overview of the history of the quoit.
Built some time between 3500-2600 BC, this Cornish dolmen had (presumably) stood for millenia before its collapse and reinstatement in the early 1840’s. The recorded history of the quoit begins in the early 18th century, mentioned by Edward Lhuyd during his Cornish travels. It was later drawn by Dr Borlase, and this illustration was included in W.C. Borlase’s ‘Naenia Cornubia’in 1872. J.T. Blight’s ‘Ancient Crosses of West Cornwall’, published in 1858 also includes an illustration of the quoit, somewhat different from that drawn by Borlase.
A section of the capstone broke off when the monument fell in 1842, and during its reconstruction “by workers on the Pendarves Estate and local people, galvanised by Mrs Pendarves”, one of the supporting stones was reduced in height and the arrangement of the uprights was thus changed. Comparing this reconstruction to the original, W.C. Borlase noted:
The two supporters at the south-eastern end seem to have retained their original positions. They were, formerly, respectively 5 feet 1 inch, and 5 feet 2 inches above ground, and are still nearly the same height. The single pillar at the other side has been moved nearer the edge of the covering stone than in the above sketch; it measured 4 feet 11 inches high, but is now shorter. The covering slab, which, like the other stones, is granite, measures twelve feet by nine; one side, however, seems to have been broken in its fall.
The monument seems to have remained in this state for around 124 years, until in 1966 it collapsed again, reputedly due to an earth tremor. With thanks to Paul Phillips and the folks at the Sustainable Trust, we have photographs of the quoit taken a short time prior to it’s later collapse.
After the collapse, the Pendarves estate declined, and what were once the landscaped gardens of the estate were returned to agriculture. The collapsed stones were piled in a heap, and with repeated ploughing more stones came to the surface, to be added to the pile of ‘field clearance’.
My own first view of Carwynnen came in May 2007, whilst trying to ‘tick off’ all the Cornish quoits. There was actually very little to see – a field of scrub, with a few stones almost hidden amongst the weeds. But the site was purchased in 2009 by the Sustainable Trust and their partners, and plans were immediately put in place to once again restore the quoit to it’s former glory.
I returned in 2012, to find on the surface very little had apparently changed, the pile of stones was still there, looking much as before.
But now there was a noticeboard at the entrance to the field, indicating that the plans were very much under way. Later that year, two excavations were held in the field. The first was a preliminary investigation via a series of test pits. The stones were then moved using a crane, from the place where they had been left after the 1966 collapse, in preparation for the ‘Big Dig’ in the autumn.
In April 2013 I returned again, to attend ‘Quest for the Quoit’ a neolithic exhibition of crafts and an archaeological test pit dig. This was just one of a series of events and exhibitions both at the Quoit and around various parts of Cornwall to advertise what was going on, and to get the community involved. The day was a great success with a lot of local interest and involvement. And of course, the ‘Big Dig’ had provided the perfect surprise with the discovery of the original footprint of the monument, and the stone ‘pavement’, the original chamber floor. A year after the excavation of the original socketholes, in October 2013, the first of the uprights was put back up into place.
Although it looks quite forlorn, locked away inside it’s protective fencing, the other two uprights are scheduled to be raised to join it in May this year, followed by the placing of the capstone at Midsummer. I hope to be there to witness that.
Further details about the history, excavation and events at Carwynnen can be found on the project website at http://www.giantsquoit.org
Unless otherwise stated, all photos © Alan S.
Carwynnen Quoit is situated a short distance south of Camborne, in Cornwall. OS Grid Ref: SW650372, Sheet 203.
Snip! Snap! Snip! the scissors go;
And Conrad cries out – Oh! Oh! Oh!
Snip! Snap! Snip! They go so fast;
That both his thumbs are off at last.
Some say “The Scissorman” is a real person. Others that he is merely being used as a literary device to represent The Profit Motive. Who knows? All that is certain is that whatever anyone tells you in posh technical language what’s really happening at Oswestry is a fight between those who want to conserve History and those who want to make a personal profit, the bigger the better. Yet how can one know that’s true when it’s easy to photograph History but impossible to photograph The Profit Motive?
Or is it?
That’s Balfarg Henge, Fife in the middle. The rest is The Profit Motive.
No, Oswestry Hill Fort isn’t going to look like that, not imminently anyway. (So no claims we’re spreading misinformation or using scare tactics please, we’re just showing how ruthless Money can be if left unopposed). What is yet to be revealed is the degree of success the Campaigners will have in preventing the Hill Fort looking anything like that. Half as bad or a tenth as bad would be an outrage. Yet The Profit Motive has given zero indication it gives a damn about History or is willing to exercise self-restraint – it would simply walk away if it did – so it all depends on the strength of those who believe the Hill Fort’s current setting should be kept entirely sacrosanct.
It’s a bit like the farmer with the fox, the hen and the bag of grain. Which are safe together? Conservation is sometimes about choices ….. rabbits do massive damage to bronze age barrows and Iron Age hill forts, trees have often meant they have survived, but often the reverse…
Recently though, English Heritage has had to make an unusual choice: the removal of a beautiful stand of trees to protect a rabbit warren. The beech trees, on Cothelstone Hill in the Quantocks are to be felled over a four-year period due to concerns their roots could start to damage an underground medieval rabbit warren. A spokesman for English Heritage said they were working with the Quantock Hills AONB Service to manage the land, adding: “We agreed that the needs of this scheduled monument, which is at high risk, take precedence over the beautiful but relatively young trees.”
A local walker disagrees, saying he is “gobsmacked” and that it would leave the skyline bare for the next 20 years. He said: “I understand we need to preserve archaeological heritage but we should be thinking about protecting the areas millions of people recognise.” EH and the AONB Service feel differently and say they intend to replace the trees. To add a final complication EH mention that “Unfortunately damage is already being caused due to erosion of the surface layers of the scheduled monument due to the herd of Exmoor ponies, which use the location for shelter.”
So should the ponies be shot?! ** Or the beautiful trees be cut down? Or the present-day rabbits be culled? Or should the fort and the warren be left to further deteriorate?
On January 23 a wind farm company is bringing a legal test case which is expected to set a precedent on how much protection stately homes and historic sites have from people wanting to build turbines. (See here).
Arguably that’s a very good thing as there seems to be a lot of inconsistency in decisions but on the other hand it’s a high-risk case. The issue is whether four 400ft-high turbines should be erected less than a mile away from Lyveden New Bield, a Grade I-listed, unfinished Elizabethan lodge and moated garden. When the original go-ahead was given Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, said it was “a despicable & disastrous decision”.
If the developers win and the National Trust, English Heritage and East Northamptonshire Council lose, it theoretically leaves a vast number of ancient sites vulnerable to gross intrusion onto their visual settings.
On the other hand, if the developers lose it could be good news for heritage in general. Or will it be? When the decision went against them originally a spokesman for the developers said: “It would be wrong to suggest that any kind of precedent has been set on this occasion, as each wind farm application is considered on a case-by-case basis” – which sounds a bit like ” it’s always worth a try, sometimes you get lucky!”