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A while back we complained there were very few prehistoric sites in the list of British sites being considered for nomination as candidates for World Heritage status. So we suggested….
“If there aren’t going to be any specific prehistoric sites amongst the front runners, we’d probably support The Lake District – on the grounds that it includes many amazing prehistoric sites – and is anyway a marvelously strong contender for a host of other reasons as well.”
So we were happy to learn that The Lakes have indeed been chosen as Britain’s nomination! Next step will be for UNESCO to be persuaded – but that should be relatively easy, surely?
As prehistoric site enthusiasts we thought this was excellent. It’s part of EH’s extensive set of teaching resources and what struck us as particularly effective were the series of questions designed to get children to think a bit more deeply about any “bunch of old stones” they may visit.
“If you are visiting a prehistoric site, you can become a landscape detective… Often these sites weren’t just put anywhere but were carefully designed either to be seen from miles around or to have good views.
When you are being driven or are walking to the site, think about how soon you can see it… Could you see it for miles and miles or was it a surprise when you got there because it was hidden away? Did you have to walk or drive up a big hill?
Have a look at what you can see from the site… You might have to think about what wouldn’t have been there thousands of years ago (roads, walls, telegraph poles for example). Can you see a long way? Can you perhaps see other prehistoric sites?
Now, being a landscape detective, can you decide whether the site you are visiting was meant to be seen by lots of people or was the view from it more important? maybe it was meant to be a secret?”
Then they suggest the fun bit….
Make some sketches and take some photographs when you are there and draw or paint a picture of what you think the site might have looked like when it was first made… Collect between 15 and 25 stones from somewhere – perhaps your garden or a driveway or even the beach…. Think about the colour, texture, shape and size as your stones, just as they did in prehistory…. and so on.
What child could resist?
As we reported here and here, faced with growing opposition to onshore wind farms in the UK, Tory MPs are backing a plan to outsource the production of wind power to Ireland. Turbines will be built over there using British Government subsidies and the energy will be exported back to Britain using cables running under the sea to Wales. It’s the brainchild of American company Element Power who say “the Irish have a less reactionary attitude to onshore wind turbine developments than the British.”
It has just been announced that that slightly insulting claim is going to be tested because there’s going to be a public consultation. If the Irish public don’t like the idea that’ll be the end of it. Or will it? In Britain the public’s clear wishes sometimes get ignored – hence the phrase “Oswestry democracy” – a process in which the people of Oswestry have given a resounding “no” to building next to a hill fort and Shropshire Council is acting as if they’d said yes.
There are indications that the die is now cast in Ireland whatever the public says. Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte has just said “the views of local communities must be at the heart of the transition to renewable energy” – “at the heart of the transition”, note, not “at the heart of the decision”. It’s ironic that this is about to happen in Ireland to supply Britain’s energy needs just at the moment when the British have decided to step away from such things at home and Energy Minister Greg Barker has stated that the rush to develop on-shore wind farms is “over” as “They have turned public opinion against renewable energy” and “We put certain projects in the wrong place” and “We are very clear about the need to limit the impact on the countryside and landscape” and “future wind farms will be developed off-shore”.
Well, Ireland is certainly off-shore! How fortunate Britain has always treated the population of Ireland well else people might think we’re doing something duplicitous!
Last week we highlighted the eloquent words of National Trust chairman Sir Simon Jenkins (“Our glorious land in peril”) about his fears for the future of our countryside under the impact of the “presumption in favour of sustainable development” which he describes as “the most philistine concept in planning history”.
This week Sir Andrew Motion, chairman of the Campaign to Protect Rural England was equally eloquent and we highlight some of what he said below. Once again we make no apology for featuring a plea for the countryside on a website that is concerned with ancient monuments since damage to the one so often involves damage to the other as has often been seen.
.“The English countryside is our great collective masterpiece – and any development that needlessly damages it is an act of vandalism….the Coalition’s controversial changes to the planning system have created an atmosphere where all development is seen as good development…. When even our protected countryside is at risk, what hope is there for our unprotected but equally loved ‘ordinary’ countryside? ….. David Cameron has previously been at pains to emphasise that National Parks and AONBs are safe from the planning reforms, which ripped up hundreds of pages of protections…. However, the CPRE has warned of a surge in the number of applications to build in national parks, AONBs and locally valued landscapes after the relaxation of planning rules. ”
National Trust chairman Sir Simon Jenkins recently explained with great eloquence why he fears for the future of our stunning scenery. We thought it worth highlighting here because so often encroachment into the Green Belt also involves encroachment into the settings of monuments. Damage to settings tends to attract less public indignation than damage to scenery but if it can be resisted at the same time that’s fine.
“From the Iron Age fort at the south end of the Malvern Hills is a view of incomparable beauty. West lies the Severn vale towards Evesham, with the Cotswolds stretched across the horizon. East is the soft green of the Wye Valley, and south the dark outline of the Forest of Dean. Here, Elgar sought inspiration for marches of pomp and circumstance. Here is the landscape that Anglo-Indians are said to have recalled most often when dreaming of England.
To a modern government minister, such talk must seem sentimental tosh. The Severn Valley is an ideal growth zone, sprawling round the M5 corridor northwards from Gloucester to the Midlands, perfect for warehouse estates and out-of-town housing units. Already, plastic polytunnels are spreading up the Wye Valley, while the hills of the Welsh border are sprouting wind turbine applications. This is the new “coalition landscape”, and it has nothing to do with Elgar.
I have been to every corner of industrial England and there is no shortage of places on which to build. Thousands of acres of post-industrial sites and infill land, in the South as well as the North, are lying idle. They offer a tremendous challenge to English planning. But location, setting and some thought for beauty are all. The Government’s policy of an ubiquitous “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, defined merely as profitable, is the most philistine concept in planning history”.
A guest article by Christopher Strickland, an American expat living in Britain for the last 10 years.
Having read Environment Secretary Owen Paterson’s plan to let developers build in National Parks and compensate for the damage they cause through “biodiversity offsetting” elsewhere (“Beware the Paterwock my son“) I find it astonishing and frightening. It is typical of the thought process of developers though. The only line they see is not a timeline, but the bottom line …of their profit margin.
This proposal not only flouts the efforts of so many past and present who have devoted their time and resources to the purpose of setting aside special areas to preserve them because of their uniqueness and beauty for posterity, but it also undermines the very spirit of the law which created these sanctuaries and heritage sites. If I steal a persons wallet in London, take their money and give a few pounds of it away to a person living in York…how is that fair and justifiable? It is still a crime against the person in London.
If developers win….every person who lives in Britain that enjoys the use of these special places will lose…including all future generations yet unborn. This MUST be voted down if it ever rears its ugly head in parliament. It defies common sense…in every way. Mr. Paterson is a good example of a politician who cares nothing for the greater good of Britain and its people, but only for his personal job record at appeasing special interest groups who are well-heeled and unscrupulous in their approach to “progress”.
Let’s start with an archaeologist. Charles Mount took the opportunity of last week’s Day of Archaeology to provide an insight into the state of Irish Archaeology in a contribution titled “Picking up the pieces”. He says the end of the Celtic Tiger boom has meant that
“Irish archaeology has been blighted by economic failure, imposed austerity and the failure of the commercial archaeology model. Those of us who are left are trying to pick up the pieces, but the loss of collective knowledge and experience will never be made good. Many excavation archives generated during the boom years now sit in store rooms with no one now to write them up and bring them to publication”. Data from many sites “may never see the light of day”.
And now the politician. Mr Mount’s account reminded us of our article in June 2009 about Mr. John Gormley, T.D., Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. He was once the author of The Green Guide For Ireland but was also the man who presided over the building of the M3 at Tara and who refused to prevent the destruction of the newly discovered National Monument at Lismullin. When launching three Codes of Archaeological Practice he made this amazing false claim that seems to underly a lot of government posturing on both sides of the sea:
“development and conservation can go hand in hand”.
He never explained how, and no wonder. Anyway, he is out of politics now and archaeologists like Mr Mount have been left with the reality and to pick up the pieces.
It seems the plan to restore Stonehenge to “splendid isolation” originally came from the Prime Minister. Well actually, not from the Prime Minister but from three Prime Ministers. It was in 1927. A letter was sent to a number of newspapers from David Lloyd George, Stanley Baldwin and Ramsay MacDonald. It called for something to be done about Stonehenge and contained a prophetic warning: “Our generation will be vilified by all posterity if we allow the surroundings of this monument, the frontispiece to English history, to be ruined beyond repair.” It was part of a campaign to raise money to buy the land surrounding the stones as it was feared the setting might be ruined by inappropriate development because improvements in transport would lead to increased tourism and “the monoliths will in time be surrounded by all the accessories of a popular holiday resort“
They succeeded – but ironically what they feared still came to pass for despite being in public ownership the surroundings still took on many of the “accessories of a popular holiday resort”. It has taken a further 75 years and a whole succession of Sir Humphreys, Jim Hackers, and Inquiries to reach the stage where all that is about to be swept away. It won’t be quite the idealised situation the three PMs called for so eloquently: ”The solitude of Stonehenge should be restored, and precautions taken to ensure that our posterity will see it against the sky in the lonely majesty before which our ancestors have stood in awe throughout all our recorded history”…. but it will be a big step forward.
Incidentally, it would be nice to know if our modern term “splendid isolation” was deliberately adopted with their phrase “lonely majesty” in mind. They are spookily similar. [Update: "Splendid isolation" came first, a correspondent tells us. Adopted as a popular term in the 1890s, stemming from something suggested by a Canadian politician.] Still, the phraseology matters little so long as we start to do right by the place. It would be nice to think that in another 85 years the job will be completed with the removal of the MoD buildings and the A303 !
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.
Cadw believes a proposed wind farm in Herefordshire would spoil the view from an historic parkland – in Wales! Accordingly, the widening of the only possible access road to the development – which also happens to be in Wales – will depend on an environmental impact assessment and it seems that will conclude that the wind farm will have “an adverse visual impact” on Stanage Park, ergo the road won’t be widened, ergo the wind farm won’t be built. It would be quite a contrast to what has happened back in Cadw’s own back yard (at Mynydd y Betws) where they’ve just seen a massive view-spoiling wind farm built. A pro-wind farm Herefordshire local was heard to murmur: “they be taking the heritage biscuit. Is it ‘cos we’m English?”
Certainly no-one could accuse the planning system as it operates with respect to wind farms of being entirely consistent and a Planning Inspector dealing with an Appeal at Beechbarrow Farm near Wells has recently added to the difficulty (so far as our reading of his words goes anyway). How do you interpret this, dear reader:
“the wind turbine proposed would be visible from the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the boundary of which is relatively close to the appeal site. However, I do not equate visibility from the AONB with harm to its landscape and scenic beauty.”
Is that just in the particular case or generally? Is he really saying that a development that’s not within an AONB cannot do harm to it? And is that consistent with the Herefordshire/Cadw case? It’s hard to fathom, but surely the whole essence of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is that it has visual merit – which can be harmed by visible developments?