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Never say never! Following January’s bad news for Duddo Stone Circle it seems that there has been a re-think!
Northumberland County Council planning officers had recommended approval for two wind turbines close to the monument but now they are advising the Council to throw out the plans – on the back of a recent decision to allow another turbine to be erected in the area.
The case will be of interest to those campaigning on behalf of Oswestry Hill Fort in two particular ways. The Inspector had said – and the planners had advised the Council – that the development “would not cause substantial harm to the setting and significance” of the monument but now the planners are telling the Council “The proposed turbines in conjunction with the recently approved Shoreswood wind turbine will cause substantial harm to the setting of the Duddo Stones Scheduled Ancient Monument.”
Oh, and the Council has listened! They’ve thrown the two turbines out! And that really is the end…
by Dr Sandy Gerrard
According to the Dyfed Archaeological Trust (DAT) the coal mining remains and holloways at Bancbryn are “post-medieval/modern features and therefore did not require evaluating.” So in a large part of Wales it would appear to be acceptable to sanction the unrecorded destruction of archaeological remains dating from the past 500 years or so. This attitude is curious given that a quick glance through their records available on Archwilio reveals that most relate to sites that are of post-medieval/modern date.
So, why is the hard pressed tax payer being asked to fund the collection and curation of information regarding sites that the Trust considers not to be important and worth evaluating when threatened? The position that no evaluation was required because it was post-medieval/modern is completely untenable. Perhaps the organisation should be re-named the Dyfed Prehistoric, Roman and Medieval Archaeological Trust as clearly they have no interest in post-medieval archaeology. Given the Trust’s unwillingness to engage with post-medieval archaeology perhaps the responsibility for its curation should be transferred to an organisation that actually cares.
What is certain is that an opportunity to enhance our knowledge and understanding was squandered. Survey of the surviving earthworks indicates considerable chronological depth and an interesting story that the DAT did not consider worth investigating. The first point to emerge is that the coal mining may have been carried out in two separate phases. Dumps from some pits lie within earlier pits and properly conducted excavations could have provided some much needed answers. This would seem vital given the importance to the economic and social history coal played in this part of Wales, or is the Trust suggesting the significance and historic development of coal mining should be ignored? Could it be that the earliest mining here was medieval rather than the late 18th or early 19th century date suggested by the Royal Commission? The opportunity to find out for certain was not taken and this would seem a dereliction.
Plan showing a variety of earthworks of different periods and the new wind farm road (pink) and verge (green). The earthworks destroyed during the development were not recorded prior to their destruction because DAT considered them to be less than five hundred years old and therefore not worth bothering with.
What is certain, from survey evidence alone, is that holloway A is earlier than the coal mining as it has been truncated. This holloway is therefore of some antiquity and the failure of the evaluation process to identity this detail is lamentable. A second holloway (B) also predates the coal mining whilst others (C) are either contemporary or later in date.
Sitting on the southern edge of the coal mining earthworks are two cairns. The western cairn appears to have structural elements within its fabric whilst the eastern one is clearly respected by a pair of holloways that skirt around it. The relationship with Holloway B is of particular significance as it implies that this cairn is earlier than the adjacent coal extraction pits. The line of stones leading south westward from this cairn can be traced for about 700m. The summary dismissal of the coal mining remains as unimportant meant of course that nobody looked to see if there were any earlier earthworks surviving in the vicinity. So much was missed as a result.
Surely it is foolhardy to dismiss something as post-medieval/modern without first checking to see what is there?
This, for example?
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Remember our article a couple of weeks ago, What on earth is going on at Duddo Stone Circle? Well now we know, it’s setting IS going to be damaged.
Mrs Clare Dakin, who allows the public to visit the stones on her land, spoke of her anger at the decision to allow the wind turbine. She said: “I am absolutely furious and devastated. The amount of effort we have put in, not only to open the stones up to the public, we have gone to great effort to make it a place for people to enjoy and appreciate. What is the point in working hard to keep the place special?”
What point indeed, when a family that embraces the Big Society ideal of taking responsibility for their local monument ends up unable to protect it? Particularly in view of the basis of the Inspector’s decision. He said the turbines would “cause some harm to the setting” of the stones but that it would be “less than substantial harm” - which is no basis at all. Most people thought it WOULD be substantial harm so how can it be judged otherwise?
Anyway, the lucky winners, power company 3R Energy Solutions declined to comment. Maybe they were feeling shy, even though they haven’t been up to now. So let’s supply their comment for them: Hooray, the system came up trumps!
It is now two years since the stone alignment on Bancbryn at Mynydd y Betws was identified. Those wishing to visit the area will find that a once peaceful hill now often resonates with the sound of huge industrial turbines. The whole setting is very different and the area is littered with signposts and bollards denoting the new roads which have recently been carved through a rich archaeological landscape containing three scheduled ancient monuments.
As regular readers of the Heritage Journal will be aware, for the past two years I have struggled to make sense of the original decision which permitted this seemingly important area to be desecrated. After all it was not even within an area highlight by the Welsh Government as particularly suitable for this type of development and both the archaeological agencies Cadw and Dyfed Archaeological Trust (DAT) had opposed it. This area was known to contain important archaeology and yet permission was eventually granted subject to certain conditions being fulfilled. It was the proper fulfilment of these conditions that has however been my primary concern and formed the focus of my critiques.
Following the discovery of the stone alignment I asked that it be assessed for scheduling and enquired why it was overlooked in the first place. What followed I believe has exposed serious failings in the way that heritage protection services operate in Wales. To date only a small proportion of the issues that have emerged have been aired in the Heritage Journal and during the coming months I hope to be able to illustrate why I believe the present system is wholly unfit for purpose and failed to safeguard the archaeological interests at Bancbryn. Before examining the detail of where things went wrong it is worth remembering what all the fuss is about. After all it’s the archaeology that has suffered most.
The archaeology at Bancbryn is both important and complicated. The importance has clearly been acknowledged by the designation of three separate scheduled monuments, whilst the complexity is something that is increasingly been appreciated. A comprehensive examination of the area is still awaited and sadly those areas that have been destroyed without adequate record will necessarily remain enigmatic. A short report highlighting the different elements found at Bancbryn has been produced and can be viewed here [external link]. The report consists of a series of maps which will hopefully illustrate the nature of the surviving remains and so provide an insight into the character of the archaeology. Hopefully this will help explain, in part, why I feel the archaeological interests of this rather special place should have been looked after rather better by those responsible for its welfare.
The very essence of stone circles is their “setting” so you’d think the surroundings of the most complete and dramatically situated Northumbrian stone circle would be sacrosanct.
But perhaps not. A wind turbine planning application has been made there and not for the first time. A previous attempt was rejected and another is currently subject to appeal. This third, current plan is to build two turbines with tip heights of 34.5m just 1.8km away from the monument. The Parish Council and local residents have objected saying it would cause “a significant adverse visual impact on the stones” but here’s something very strange: County Council planning officers are recommending the County Council approve the scheme on the grounds that:
“The turbines would not be intrusive in views approaching the monument from the south (via the signed route) and would not interrupt the open views to the north (across the Tweed), north-west (Lammermuir Hills), west (Eildon Hills) and south-west (Cheviots) which inform an understanding of the setting and significance of the monument. The proposed development would therefore not cause ‘substantial harm’ to the setting and significance of Duddo Stone Circle.”
What chance do the Parish Council and local people have against that expert-sounding opinion and what chance is there that the County Council will listen to them rather than the experts? Well every chance actually, if they reflect that in truth the planning officers know diddly squat about why the circle was built just there or which views were significant. No-one does! So they’ve no business guessing and then advising the Council accordingly. Only the Parish Council and the local residents have it exactly right: “the proposal will have a significant adverse visual impact on the stones“.
Curiouser and Curiouser!!!
This matter was due to have been determined by the County Council last Tuesday night but it has just emerged that it wasn’t. A council spokesperson said it had been deferred because “comments from Duddo Parish Council had not been included in the committee report due to an oversight” !!
Hopefully, the delay will be beneficial as the planning officers can now amend their report to make clear that their own advice was based on pure speculation whereas the objections of the Parish Council are based on pure fact!
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.
by Sandy Gerrard
Last week a new App was launched which allows all of us to view information about archaeological sites in the whole of Wales. According to the Daily Mirror “Wales has become the first country in the world to have all its archaeological treasures made available at the touch of a button.” BBC News less dramatically reports that “The app will also allow the public to interact and add new information.” The Welsh Assembly Minister for Culture, John Griffiths, acknowledged that “The historic environment records of Wales were already available online, but with the launch of the app Wales will make this wealth of information, collected by generations of investigators, available to mobile users, allowing them a glimpse of the hidden heritage all around us.” In the spirit of the event the Dyfed Archaeological Trust stated “We look forward to interacting with users and being able to update and add new records as a result of their discoveries.”
These claims are well worth examining and from my viewpoint there was nowhere better for a test run than the mangled Mynydd y Betws landscape. It may come as no surprise whatsoever to find that the stone alignment at Mynydd y Betws does not figure on the app. So not quite “all” then! Whatever your favoured interpretation there can be no doubt that within this rich prehistoric funerary landscape there is an alignment of stones and that the Dyfed Archaeological Trust are aware of its existence. So why would they choose to deliberately exclude this feature from their records? This might appear to smack a little of censorship. Are embarrassing sites to be deliberately excluded or perhaps they have launched their new tool before bringing their records up to date? Evidence to support the second solution is sadly abundant.
The record for a scheduled cairn at SN68950998 states “This monument shold be considred for scheduling as part of significant funerary landscape on Bancbryn, which shoulkd also include cemeteries PRNs 551 and 868 and ring cairn PRN 45120”. Ignoring the interesting spelling for moment (we all have off days) it is perhaps worth pointing out that this site was actually scheduled a number of years ago.
More disturbing given the claims by the Dyfed Archaeological Trust that “The app will also allow the public to interact and add new information” is the mis-plotting of the Banc Y Bryn coal mine. The site is shown 1.07km from its actual location. This is worrying given that this area had been the subject of several archaeological evaluations and none of these had picked up on this very obvious error. Moving on though, it is perhaps even more disconcerting that I pointed out to the Dyfed Archaeological Trust HER on 7/09/12 that the site is actually centred a long way away at SN 68834 10333. So over a year after telling them that their records were wrong they have not updated them.
Interestingly the entry for the nearby Banc y Bryn cairns notes “The extent of the cemetery and the close proximity of the other monuments makes this a significant funerary landscape and one that should perhaps be scheduled,” So the stone alignment leads through “a significant funerary landscape” but we should not be surprised that it receives no mention as after all despite pointing out to them over a year ago that the site was already scheduled they have failed to update their records. How often is this the case and therefore just how useful a tool is this? A further four cairns on Bancbryn are also recorded as unscheduled when in reality they are. It is clear there are problems with the data and when I raised this issue last year was informed: “the information is all available here in various stand-alone databases and as tables in our GIS platform, not to mention as fieldwork reports. But this information is on our internal systems, it is just not currently available on Archwilio. All DAT staff have full access to it at all times.”
So there we have it. DAT staff have access to all the information, but Archwilio contains only a proportion of the available information and clearly if the Mynydd y Betws area is typical much of this is inaccurate and significantly out of date. Not sure any of this was mentioned at the launch!
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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!
by Sandy Gerrard
The shambles at Mynydd y Betws could have been completely avoided if Cadw and the Dyfed Archaeological Trust had asked for the vegetation to be cut from the areas that were going to be annihilated by the wind farm development. Both organisations were happy to see areas of high archaeological potential destroyed without any attempt being made to look for visible archaeological remains. When I first contacted Cadw I was informed that:
“the features you have identified have been noted following burning on the mountain, and they are new discoveries which were not visible during the preliminary archaeological investigations due to vegetation cover.”
This comment makes it very clear that the archaeology was not found because it was hidden and therefore not looked for. But why did Cadw and Trust not ask for the vegetation to be removed? After all they had insisted that the soil be removed in places to see if there was anything below. My response to their position was:
“I was also surprised to learn that it is now apparently acceptable practice to ignore areas covered with dense vegetation during an assessment on areas adjacent to scheduled archaeology that are to be destroyed.”
The answer to this observation was:
“Regarding vegetation clearance, it is not currently standard practice for large areas of vegetation to be cleared in advance of development, particularly in areas of ecological sensitivity”.
Remember the areas in question were about to bulldozed to oblivion which is hardly ecologically friendly. Eventually Cadw conceded:
“It may have been possible to clear within the development footprint without causing ecological concerns and it is possible that this would have revealed archaeological remains. This is something which will be borne in mind for future developments.”
So Cadw have accepted that it might in future be helpful to clear vegetation from areas with high archaeological potential that are about to be destroyed. Clearly this is too late for some of the archaeological remains on Mynydd y Betws and why did they previously feel that it was entirely appropriate to allow the destruction of areas within a few metres of scheduled archaeology to be permitted without first checking properly to see if there was anything there?
By comparison, in Scotland, (where things are probably also far from perfect), care is taken to search areas that are about to be destroyed. For example, south west of Aberfeldy along the line of a proposed new road being constructed to provide access for pylons the vegetation has been cleared along a wide corridor, allowing previously unknown sites to be identified and offered protection.
Why is it that in Scotland the archaeological authorities consider it important to have a proper look for archaeological sites within the path of development whilst in Wales they were happy to ignore any archaeological remains that happen to be hidden by vegetation? It seems a very dangerous policy to allow the destruction of sensitive archaeological areas without first checking to see if there is anything there. This is certainly what happened at Mynydd y Betws.
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As expected the Government seems to be finally grasping the nettle over wind farms and admitting a lot of the onshore ones have been a mistake. Two weeks ago the Scottish Conservative spokesman had said: “We appreciate that wind farms have a place, but the fact there are seven wind farm applications a day in Scotland proves this is a gravy train threatening to career out of control” and last week Energy Minister Greg Barker was even clearer:
The rush to develop on-shore wind farms is “over”
“They have turned public opinion against renewable energy”.
“We put certain projects in the wrong place.”
“We are very clear about the need to limit the impact on the countryside and landscape.”
Future wind farms will be developed off-shore.
It’s good news that the Government is indicating that the era of erecting onshore wind farms at almost any environmental or cultural cost is over. However, those landscapes and communities and heritage sites that have been left afflicted in the past few years can count themselves very unlucky for if the same developments that have blighted them were proposed today it seems they wouldn’t now be allowed. It seems likely that many of the onshore wind turbines that remain in beautiful or auspicious locations will now be seen by posterity as massive “mistake markers”.