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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!”
by Sandy Gerrard
For several years the needs for renewable energy have been seen as paramount and the historic environment as an unfortunate inconvenience. The government guardians of the historic environment have more or less consistently voiced concerns about the impact of each development but more often than not the decision makers have ruled that the strategic energy needs of the country outweigh any heritage interests. This has resulted in wind farms being built in very sensitive archaeological locations with the inevitable destruction of heritage.
The idea that a particular type of development is inevitably always more desirable than the protection of our heritage is a dangerous place to be. Sadly this is where we appear to find ourselves. Why is the safeguarding of our heritage always seen as secondary to a myriad of other interests? This is not a new position. There are a number of different types of development where national, regional or local interests are seen as having an almost de facto right to destroy what has gone before. This is where we are and despite certain improvements over the years our heritage remains very vulnerable and those who are tasked with its protection are faced with colossal obstacles. The huge number of wind farm development applications, many in very sensitive heritage locations, must represent a major headache for the authorities and their apparent failures to make a difference is frustrating for everyone who cares for the historic environment.
The trouble is that the guardians of the historic environment are heavily constrained by the planning environment in which they operate and have relatively few tools at their disposal. This has recently been highlighted in Angus, Scotland where Historic Scotland has opposed the erection of a single relatively small turbine at Eassie. Their disapproval is welcome but their reasons for opposition reported in the local newspaper illustrate just how desperate things have become.
The proposed 77m high turbine would stand within 1.1km of three scheduled monuments – the nearest being 500m away. Clearly the setting of these monuments would be affected, but surely at least the archaeological remains would remain safe. It is therefore rather disappointing to read that amongst Historic Scotland’s grounds for opposition is that “These monuments are of national importance as well-preserved burial cairns which have the potential to enhance considerably our understanding of prehistoric burial and ceremonial practices.” It will surely be obvious to the planners that the building of the turbine will not directly impact on the scheduled monuments. After all our understanding of prehistoric burial and ceremonial practices is not going to be compromised by the building of an unsightly tower so far from the important archaeological remains.
The Historic Scotland objection also mentions “Its importance is enhanced because there are possibly related mounds on the ridge line and on nearby hilltops.” This response is troubling. If there is further archaeology in the vicinity and Historic Scotland considers it may be important why have they not considered it for scheduling? Surely the organisation responsible for safeguarding our heritage should be doing its utmost to ensure that the importance of the area is fully recognised within the planning system.
The newspaper report concludes that “Historic Scotland said the national importance of the monuments outweighs national policy on wind energy.” It will be very interesting to see if the planners agree with this assertion and I sincerely hope they do, as this would set a very significant and helpful precedent. However on the basis of the case presented in the newspaper this would seem to be another example of a half-hearted and poorly focused objection.
The above stunt, created nine years ago by The Real Countryside Alliance at the Uffington White Horse, caused no damage but because it was unauthorised by its National Trust guardians it was deemed a bad thing.
On the other hand, the one below (promoting Big Brother in 2003) was considered a “good stunt” to start with (presumably, since the Trust accepted £2,000 for allowing it). But then, after complaints about the lack of respect for monuments and the bad example it set, their spokesman announced “we might have got this wrong”.
Then in 2012 when Paddy Power did this at Uffington it was deemed a bad stunt but not for the Big Brother “lack of respect” reason but for the Countryside Alliance “lack of permission” reason. For their part, Paddy Power dealt with criticism by donating some penance money to charity whereupon they seem to have been forgiven.
Thus it seems the “respect for monuments” complaint is sometimes but not always recognised as valid by the Trust. The latest example of that uncertainty is that the Trust has recently allowed a moustache to be added to the Cerne Abbas Giant because it was in aid of charity.
Two important questions arise: do stunts carry a risk of damaging copycatting elsewhere and if so do “charitable purposes” justify taking such a risk? It would be good if the Trust clarified their policy.
Update 28 November:
This theoretical image produced by Paul Barford raises issues of principle that would need addressing if the Trust is to formulate and publish a clear policy:
No doubt (these days) a proposal to brandalise a hill figure by a pro-hunting group would be given short shrift and the same would apply to artefact hunters (bearing in mind the Trust doesn’t allow metal detecting on it’s land). But what if it was in order to advertise a metal detecting rally “in aid of charity” (as so many are these days) – maybe even the very charity the moustache stunt was in aid of? Do the means justify the ends? Our conviction is no, in the case of both detecting rallies and brandalising, but it seems it is a matter that is yet to be fully addressed by the Trust.
Regular readers will have spotted recurring Diary Dates for CASPN Site Clearances in our monthly listings. These clean ups are held on a monthly basis, at a different site each month, and staffed entirely by volunteers, under the instruction of Dave Munday from CASPN.
I was fortunate enough to be in the area this month, when a clearance was undertaken at a site I’ve not previously visited; the Courtyard House settlement at Mulfra. I went along to take a look around the site, and to see what was going on during the clearance.
The site lies on the southern slope of Mulfra Hill, which itself is topped by Mulfra Quoit, a neolithic burial chamber with extensive 360-degree views across the West Penwith peninsula.
A public footpath leads to the Courtyard site, but this was somewhat overgrown, and embarrassingly I had to be cut out of the brambles by one of the volunteers, who then pointed out an access path from the farm, which they had permission to use, across two open fields (not public). There is a single courtyard house discernable, with several other structures nearby. Dave told me that there is an enigmatic larger enclosure a short distance to the west, but currently totally inaccessible due to the undergrowth.
The picture above shows how little of the site is visible through the ground cover, which consists of tough moor grasses, brambles, bracken and gorse.
The CASPN volunteers are very dedicated to keeping the sites in their care in as good order as they can, and tools are provided for any volunteers that turn up. In fact, it wasn’t too long after I’d taken the photo above before a pitchfork was thrust into my hands and I was invited to help move the cuttings into a designated area (atop a cluster of nettles) to rot down naturally.
Despite it being a fine day, only five volunteers turned out, but CASPN can always make use of more hands, so if you’re in the area, check out their web site for dates and locations, and go along to lend a hand. Last minute information (weather, access routes etc) is usually posted on their Facebook page.
The Council for British Archaeology are advertising for a Local Heritage Coordinator.
“The main purpose of this role is to develop a UK-wide network of effective local advocates for the historic environment, focusing initially on England, that is reasonably self-supporting at a local level, but which feeds wider issues up to the CBA for national advocacy and action as appropriate. The postholder will work closely with community-focused CBA colleagues to integrate with and enhance our voluntary engagement strategy.”
Sounds good. In particular we like the idea of the operation extending down to grass roots level – “Building connections with other groups to share intelligence and develop a Local Heritage Engagement Network” and to use it “to engage local communities in advocating for, and protecting their heritage”. ARCH, the Alliance to Reduce Heritage Crime has done something similar, let’s hope the CBA scheme takes off too.
Ten years ago today, at the suggestion of our much-missed friend Rebecca van der Putt, a diverse group of ordinary people interested in prehistoric sites met at an extraordinary place for a picnic.
From that first meeting grew Heritage Action which subsequently morphed into The Heritage Journal which aims to promote awareness and therefore the welfare of ancient sites. It has perhaps filled a gap as it seems to have struck a chord with many people, both professional and amateur. 140 archaeologists have contributed articles to it and it is currently followed by more than 4,500 people on Twitter (including Nelson Mandela!).
We can’t claim the Journal always says things that everyone agrees with – that would be impossible bearing in mind how many individuals contribute content to it but we can claim two things – first, that everyone that puts it together or writes anything in it has their heart in the right place when it comes to ancient sites and second that anyone with an interest in prehistory who reads it regularly is likely to find at least something to pique their interest. At least, that’s the aim. The guiding principle is to try to make it like a magazine, updated nearly every day and with articles that are as diverse as possible. If you don’t like Stonehenge you could scroll down or use the search box to read about the last black bear on Salisbury Plain, the Hillfort Glow experiment, the stony raindrops of Ketley Crag, the policeman who spotted three aliens in Avebury or indeed that the Uffington Horse may be a dog!
Now that we’ve reached this milestone (which coincides with this year’s Day of Archaeology - do please join in there too, if you can!) the question arises – where does the Journal go from here, and for how long? It’s a matter for conjecture for it depends entirely on the efforts of contributors and the wishes of readers. A number of veterans from the original picnic are still involved and we’ve also been joined by a number of excellent new contributors but we’re always on the look out for still more. Please consider helping (an article, many articles or a simple news tip-offs and a photograph – whatever you like) as it’s a worthy cause that is only truly valid if it’s a communal entity with multiple public voices. In addition, any suggestions for future innovations or improvements will be gratefully received (brief ones in the Comments or longer ones at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Better still, we’ll shortly be holding a pow-wow and lunch (details to be announced) to discuss how the Journal should progress from now on. You’re more than welcome to come.
Exactly a year ago today we published this plea made by Heritage Action Founder Member Jamie Stone on a forum. We think it’s worth repeating – every year if necessary. How about saying something similar on your front page English Heritage?
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a digger destroying a stone row, a quarrying company destroying unique evidence of temporary camps around a henge, modern poems placed over a prehistoric landscape, a farmer allowing livestock to slowly destroy cairns or ploughing flat a round barrow, thousands of people stealing our heritage knowledge in the name of a hobby every weekend, landowners driving 4x4s across chambered tombs, tenant farmers flattening henges, 1000s of people denuding Avebury’s banks by not keeping to paths, unused roads being built over unique archaeology, 100s of people leaving tealights and garbage in barrows or one solitary person clambering to the top of a dolmen.
Don’t tell me it causes no damage. It doesn’t matter that in the greater scheme of things it’s practically irrelevant, because as the people that actually give a damn we should be setting the highest possible standard when we visit a site. We must do that because frankly, most people don’t know, they simply don’t realise.”
An interesting English Heritage document, Heritage Crime Research: The Size of the Problem seeks to evaluate the damage caused by various crimes and in our particular sphere of interest (scheduled monuments and other designated historic sites) simple antisocial behaviour is the single most common heritage crime. Illegal detecting and off-roading are also problems but metal theft is less common than it is with other types of heritage assets.
However, viewing damage through the narrow prism of heritage crime can distort the reality and none of the crimes quoted in that research document cause anything like as much damage as is caused legally by agriculture, as highlighted in another English Heritage document from 2003 – Ripping up History.
Modern ploughing has done more damage in six decades than traditional agriculture did in the preceding six centuries. Among the sites being actively ploughed are nearly 3000 scheduled monuments, sites recognised as being of national importance to our heritage.
“We are, quite literally, ripping up our history.
Farmers are not at fault.They have done what society has asked them to do and past agricultural policy has dictated. However, if this important inheritance is to be better protected in future, it is essential that government, archaeologists and farmers now work together to find a new and more sensitive approach.
Over 10,000 wetland monuments are estimated to have suffered damage in the last 50 years …….. An estimated 94% of East Midlands ridge and furrow has been destroyed …….. Ploughing is damaging over 100 Anglo-Saxon cemeteries in Norfolk and Suffolk …….. Fewer than 10 out of 1200 burial mounds in Essex now survive as earthworks …….. Over a quarter of the nationally important scheduled monuments in the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site are under damaging arable cultivation.“
At that time EH suggested 3 key actions were needed: an expansion of Environmental Stewardship schemes, further protection legislation and further policies to lessen the amount of grassland over protected archaeology being turned over to arable cultivation. That was almost ten years ago and some progress towards those aims has been made, particularly a big expansion of the Stewardship schemes (70% of agricultural land is now in schemes). However, perhaps the best hope for greater protection in the next few years will come from something that wasn’t specified back then: the Government is to move towards paying farmers to adopt “min til” (minimum tillage) – the low impact farming system that replaces ploughing.
We’re pleased to be able to present a guest post by Peter Cornall, the Area Representatives Convenor for the Cornwall Archaeological Society, telling us a little about the Society’s “Monument Watch” scheme and its workings.
The late Tony Blackman was President of the Cornwall Archaeological Society until his untimely death early in 2012. Highly regarded both locally and nationally, in particular for his work with young people, Tony felt keenly the need to offer members of a local Society the chance to play an active role in the archaeology of their area. Opportunities in excavation for amateurs are infrequent, even in a region rich in monuments of the past. Other openings were to be sought, one being helping with the care of Cornwall’s ancient monuments.
Of these hundreds of monuments, scheduled and unscheduled, some may be found to be under no threat at all, while others may be neglected and clearly at risk. All stand to benefit from regular inspection, so it is no wonder that the development of Monument Watch across Cornwall came to seem a highly appropriate objective for the Society. The idea is by no means new, and important groups of volunteers have for some time been active in the protection and sometimes also the physical care and maintenance of monuments in several areas of Cornwall, including the Lizard, Meneage, West Penwith, Newquay and Bodmin Moor. Monument Watch countywide is in debt to their pioneering example.
For many years, the Cornwall Archaeological Society had recognised volunteer ‘Area Representatives’ acting as archaeological watchdogs for whatever group of parishes each felt to be within their reach. The members of this small group met quite informally each spring and autumn to exchange ideas and to report significant items of archaeological news, which might prompt the Society to action, often in concert with the Cornwall Historic Environment Service, English Heritage and the National Trust. It was this group which could be developed into a countywide watchdog for monuments, although this would never be the whole of its work.
During the past four years the group has doubled to twenty, as new volunteers have been recruited from the CAS membership, each to ‘adopt’ a contiguous group of ‘orphan’ parishes which the new Area Representative feels able to cover. By the autumn of 2012 the whole of Cornwall’s considerable land area and all its numerous Scheduled Monuments were covered by the scheme. (We also have an associate in the Isles of Scilly, who works alongside us.) A Short Guide has been written to describe the role of Area Representative; this paper can be consulted on the AR page of the CAS website, and probably offers the best concise picture of what we are trying to do. Our Monitoring Report Forms can also be found on the website.
This group of monument watchers now includes a wide range of age, experience and expertness, with some of the local heritage professionals doubling as advisers and Area Representatives. After careful discussion, a format for reporting has been devised which meets the recording needs of both English Heritage and the Cornwall Historic Environment Record. Reports on monuments can be submitted at any time either by e-mail or post, and the steady flow of these new-style reports is now of key importance to the sadly shrunken group of professionals in Truro. Thanks to this routine process, monuments under threat can be identified and action taken, while those reported as comparatively safe and sound -happily the majority- need not take up precious time. In this manner, Tony Blackman’s original wish to offer Society members a chance to be more active has led to an important and most timely collaboration between volunteers and professionals, just when resources for heritage protection are under serious threat.
It is possible, I guess, that this account may come under the eye of enthusiasts in other parts of the country where no such collaboration as that described here yet exists. There is one aspect of our Monument Watch which we would not offer up as ideal. Ours has been an organic growth, with the untidiness often associated with such a pattern of development. A group starting from scratch would certainly wish to achieve a more even distribution of responsibility for Scheduled Monuments than ours, which is numerically grossly uneven, reflecting the history of the Area Representatives group and its relatively rapid expansion. We have not seen fit, as yet, to attempt any redistribution of parishes in order to achieve a fairer sharing of burdens. Our answer has rather been to encourage the ARs to form support groups (where these do not already exist) or to recruit friends and fellow-members as sharers in the monitoring work. At the same time, we recognize the inherent difficulty of achieving even an approximate evenness of load, where the variables of terrain, distance, monument type and site distribution are so significant.
Our distribution of MW responsibilities to Area Representatives happens – somehow – to be based on the ancient ecclesiastical parishes of Cornwall; church and civil changes over the years have sometimes complicated matters for us, and more up-to-date boundaries would obviously be easier to use.
Then there must be more exciting – and descriptive – titles for monument watchers than ‘Area Representatives’, even when their duties (like ours) extend further than simply MW, and I am sure that they will be found and employed!
Any scheme starting-up elsewhere would certainly wish to ensure that all its monument watchers could at least send in their reports online, even if not all would be ready to deploy every possible gadget in the field, seeking their targets by GPS, making notes on tablets and taking their photographs on smart phones. Some of us in Cornwall still cherish the compass, the map, the notebook and the camera!
Our grateful thanks go to Peter for taking time out to put together this account of an important part of the Society’s work. If your local society has a similar or comparable scheme, please let us know and we’d be happy to give space to it here on the Heritage Journal.