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After a two-year silence, developers are mounting a fourth bid to build housing in the landscape setting of one of Britain’s pre-eminent Iron Age hillforts.

Since being allocated in Shropshire’s local plan (SAMDev) in 2015, land near the hillfort known as OSW004 has faced a succession of planning applications and revisions, each attracting substantial and sustained opposition both locally and nationally.

Campaigners say that although housing numbers have seen a slight reduction, from 91 to 83, the latest scheme still constitutes ‘major development’ within the near setting of a scheduled monument. They claim that an even greater proportion of dwellings would exceed, either wholly or partly, the northern limit for new buildings that was agreed between Shropshire Council and Historic England as a condition of the site’s allocation for housing.

A change in ownership rights affecting access across the railway line also prevents the application complying with special conditions for development. 

Substantial harm

Campaign group HOOOH (Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort) insists that the revised application does nothing to mitigate what would be substantial harm to the setting and significance of the hillfort. They argue that Old Oswestry is a scheduled monument of great national importance, meaning that any development within the setting can cause substantial harm in contravention of planning law. English Heritage has described Old Oswestry as ‘one of the greatest archaeological monuments of the nation’. 

“We are at a frightening tipping point in Old Oswestry’s 3000-year history,”  HOOOH said.

“The proposals threaten a new direction of town growth that will devastate the hillfort’s surviving but fragile setting, after we have held Oswestry’s urban edge at a respectful and protective distance for generations.

“Housing will obliterate one of the best views of the hillfort for visitors approaching Oswestry from the east, leading to substantial harm to the heritage significance of the monument by destroying appreciation and understanding of the hillfort in its landscape setting as seen from this important vista.

“The town’s northern development boundary will creep ever closer to the hillfort to make way for this out-of-place housing, eroding the hillfort’s rural setting and devaluing its status and visual dominance in the landscape.

“More worrying still, it will give a potential foothold for further construction that will side-line the hillfort as the Oswestry Growth Corridor takes shape along the bypass.”

High quality agricultural land

Classed as greenfield and high quality (Grade 2/3a) agricultural land, OSW004 was originally allocated because the public benefits to meet housing targets were judged to outweigh the detrimental impacts on one of Britain’s archaeological jewels. But HOOOH says new targets have been scaled back in the forthcoming SAMDev revision, and more than sufficient land has been identified elsewhere to accommodate long-term housing growth in Oswestry.

“The over-ambitious housing targets and over-stated need for housing land that were the main imperative to build seven years ago no longer exist,” HOOOH continues.

“The push to develop now is purely down to a housebuilder keen to capitalise on the site’s very saleable proximity to a sleepy, green hillfort despite the devastating impacts on world-class heritage and on a landscape highly valued by the community. We trust the planning committee will see sense and throw it out.”

Campaigners point out that planning consent for housing just a short distance along from OSW004 on Whittington Road was recently refused because it would add to traffic congestion and safety issues at the junction with Gobowen Road.

HOOOH said: “An estate of 83 houses at OSW004 would make these traffic problems considerably worse. Joined up planning is needed to see that OSW004 is the wrong location for Oswestry’s sustainable development due to the disconnect with schools and shops, the additional traffic congestion, and the inappropriate use of land of high heritage and agricultural value.”

Dominate the landscape

Iron Age hillforts were strategically located to dominate the landscape and signpost tribal territory and power. Often referred to as the Stonehenge of the Iron Age, Old Oswestry ranks among the most impressive of Britain’s prehistoric sites. This is due to the earthwork’s unique and complex design, the extent to which the monument and surrounding landscape have been preserved, and their importance to our understanding of Iron Age society.

The historic farming landscape around the hillfort contributes greatly to how we experience Old Oswestry in its setting and how we can appreciate its heritage significance. This landscape is, therefore, an integral part of the safeguarding and conservation of the scheduled monument.

The housing bid has consistently met with mass objections from the public, local stakeholders, and influential national heritage bodies including the CBA (Council for British Archaeology), RESCUE (the British Archaeological Trust) and The Prehistoric Society.

High profile academics and media figures have also voiced their support for the campaign including Professor Alice Roberts, Professor Michael Wood, Professor Mary Beard, Bettany Hughes, Dan Snow, Tom Holland, Francis Pryor of Channel 4 Time Team fame, and the author Cressida Cowell. The campaign was also featured on Griff Rhys Jones’ ITV series, Griff’s Great Britain. 

The public deadline for representations to the planning application (reference   20/01033/EIA) is February 9. Full details can be found at https://tinyurl.com/44m38rna

HOOOH says that if anyone encounters problems making representations via Shropshire Council’s planning portal, they can email them to: planning.northern@shropshire.gov.uk

More information on the 10-year debacle over development in Old Oswestry’s setting can be viewed at www.oldowestryhillfort.co.uk

We’re pleased to report that there is a new player in the site guardian arena. A new group has been formed to look after several sites on the Derbyshire Moors. We welcome GSSN, the Guarding Sacred Sites Network, who introduce themselves in the guest post below. We look forward to hearing good things about their work going forward.

There are many beautiful, ancient sacred sites on Stanton and Harthill Moors, in Derbyshire. Nine Ladies, Doll Tor, Rowter Rocks, Nine Stones Close, Robin Hoods Stride, to name a few. These sites are always under pressure of various kinds.

The damage at Doll Tor during lock-down didn’t go unnoticed as the images spread across social media sites. Although shared on Facebook, no one had reported it to the PDNPA, English Heritage, or the Rural Heritage Police. This is where our group began. We reported the damage and realised there was a lack of information about what to do if one witnessed or discovers damage at sites. We made a poster, set up a Facebook group, and became inundated with messages of hope and offers of help, from people across the country.

Since then we have created an adopt a site monitoring scheme which covers Stanton Moor and Harthill Moor. We have a monitoring form and some guidelines for volunteers to follow. We’ve listed the potential hotspots for rubbish and damage in the area and created a ‘How to report damage’ leaflet. Sites on the list have been monitored every weekend since we started the group.

Many of you will have seen the posts on Facebook about the recent and very busy solstice celebrations at Nine Ladies over the past weekend. Thankfully there has been a group of volunteers on the moor acting as unofficial stewards and collecting rubbish from the site, as well as educating people. At the time of writing this, I can happily say all the rubbish has been collected and taken off-site. Indeed, it may now be cleaner than many other spots in the area.

Organisations who are officially responsible for large numbers of archaeological sites, such as the National Trust and English Heritage, have recognised that one of the most productive ways to ensure their long-term survival and conservation is via a regular and systematic monitoring scheme undertaken by local volunteers. In this way, sites which might not be encountered that often by archaeological staff (e.g. due to their out of the way locations on moorland, farm fields, and cliffs) can still be visited regularly, and any actual or potential damage can be reported and acted on before it gets out of hand. This information is then fed into a database designed to record each site’s current state, including any problems and the subsequent response to them. By recording such information, the database becomes a tool with which to make informed decisions about the management of a broad range of sites, based on their type, construction, location, and so on.

Our second shared responsibility is to create interpretation material that informs visitors about the importance of the sites through an educational website, books, artworks, and so forth, that encourages a sustainable love and appreciation for our sacred sites. ‘Sacredness’ is not simply a matter of joy in experiencing a beautiful or historic place, but a component which motivates people in how they interact with places. Our network is a platform to explore ways that we can help to educate people through positive, informal, and relaxed experiences. Our goal is to help protect sacred sites in this area from any damage. Damage includes digging, rubbish, graffiti, fires within the circles or close to the stones, machinery damage, vehicle access, and other types of damage to the natural environment.

Stanton Moor, in particular Nine Ladies, is a contested space. Many people have very strong opinions about how it should be treated. How can the complexity of meanings surrounding a place, be represented, through formal management and interpretation? This question is difficult to answer. There is no easy solution, there are many. Each site has its specificity, each visitor, their preferences. Such issues are faced by environmental educators, archaeologists, heritage managers, landowners, those who provide information for others regularly.

If you would like to join us on our quest for preservation and education, please like our Facebook book, Guarding Sacred Sites Network, or email guardingsacredsites @ gmail.com.

The Uffington Horse, in Oxfordshire was the site of the first meeting of the founders of Heritage Action, which led to the eventual creation of the Heritage Journal, published continuously since 2006.

Although the figure is thought to date to the Iron Age or even the Bronze Age, like many other chalk hill figures the image must be regularly ‘refreshed’ with fresh chalk to ensure the figure continues to stand out in the landscape.

This refreshing of the chalk is often carried out by volunteer labour, under instruction from the figure’s guardian organisation – in this case, the National Trust. This year the re-chalking is due to take place on the weekend of 4th-5th July and anyone who would like to lend a hand is asked to book in advance. The work involves being given a hammer and a bucket of chalk and then bashing the chalk into the existing monument for an hour or so to help brighten the image.

A great way to meet like-minded individuals, and contribute to the upkeep of a national treasure (that doesn’t involve handing over cash to the NT!)

Highways England’s A303 Stonehenge tunnel scheme is at a critical stage. A decision on whether to approve it is due by 2 April, but funding for the scheme could be announced in the Budget on 11 March. We would like to swamp the Chancellor of the Exchequer with letters from around the country and abroad to show the strength of feeling against it.

Please write in your own words to:

The Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer
Email: public.enquiries@hmtreasury.gsi.gov.uk
cc: transportsecretary@dft.gov.uk and your local MP (find your UK MP here)

Subject: A303 Stonehenge

Dear Chancellor,

I would like to strongly urge you not to approve funding for the high risk and highly damaging A303 Stonehenge scheme:

  • It is poor value for money and high risk. Highways England estimates only 21 pence of benefit for each £1 invested, if the highly dodgy heritage survey is discounted. Cost overruns are likely due to tunnelling through poor quality chalk and unpredictable groundwater conditions.
  • UNESCO opposes the scheme which would irreparably damage The World Heritage Site and which the UK Government has pledged to protect for future generations.
  • The scheme would increase carbon emissions at a time when the Government needs to show international leadership on climate change ahead of COP26 in Glasgow.
  • Please add any other concerns or expand on the above.

Yours sincerely,
Your full name
Your home address

If you have time please also email the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.
 
For more ideas on what to write see the recent letter to Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps from the Stonehenge Alliance

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT AT THIS CRUCIAL MOMENT IN OUR CAMPAIGN

The Stonehenge Alliance is a group of non-governmental organisations and individuals that seeks enhancements to the Stonehenge World Heritage Site and opposes development that would cause it significant harm.

The National Heritage List for England (NHLE) is the only official, up to date, register of all nationally protected historic buildings and sites in England – listed buildings, scheduled monuments, protected wrecks, registered parks and gardens, and battlefields.

Sounds good, no? And in even better news, as recently reported by the BBC, the NHLE has recently had an update, with 17 new sites being added – including an industrial estate, a business park that “features circular forecourts following the turning circle of a car” and a Crown Court building which first opened in 1988.

Whilst we’re sure that these are all worthy in their own way of their place on the list, we can’t help but wonder about the omission of some much older sites, many of national importance.

Elizabeth Dale, a friend of the Heritage Journal, recently highlighted some of the very important omissions which are in danger of being lost to development on her blog: see “Our Defenceless Monuments.”.

And World Heritage Site status doesn’t afford any more protection to unlisted sites within the boundaries than to those outside of it. Blick Mead is a case in point within the Stonehenge and Avebury WHS area, it remains unprotected by scheduling and in danger of being damaged (if not totally obliterated) by the groundworks for the planned tunnel at Stonehenge..

Whilst, in theory, anyone can nominate a site to be scheduled, there does not seem to be an easy way for a member of the public to find how to actually go about this. For instance, searching on Google for Scheduled Monument Application brings up many links, most of which refer to Scheduled Monument Consent – which is something entirely different and is a way for Developers to apply for permission to work within and around scheduled monuments. But if an application is put in, to suggest scheduling and protecting an unlisted site, even nationally important sites are scheduled only if it is felt that this is the best means of protecting them!

And yet a “car turning circle” merits inclusion in the list! We sometimes despair…

Protected: Aztec West Business Centre, South Glocs.

Unprotected: Trevean Courtyard Settlement, Cornwall

Alice Farnsworth is back, to answer another reader’s archaeological query. Don’t forget to send in your questions, and you may be lucky enough to get your own answer from Alice!

 

 

 


Q. As the old adage goes: ‘Take only photographs, leave only footprints‘, but don’t footprints cause erosion to delicate sites? How can I minimise my interactions with our ancient sites, given that I feel visiting a site in person is the only way for me to truly experience it?

A. Ha! Yes, it’s true that footfall is a major cause of erosion at our ancient sites, especially at the more popular sites. For instance, the banks at Avebury have often been fenced off to allow the soil to recover from visitors.

There is no simple answer to this question. one way to minimise impact would be to only view sites from a distance (as enforced at Stonehenge), but I can see that this is unsatisfactory in many ways. Limiting your visits to sites that are much less popular with tourists would allow you to gain the interaction you seek. But remember that many of the lesser known sites are on private land where permission may be needed to visit them, or may be off the beaten track with the safety issues that that implies.

Ensuring that you only visit in periods of suitable weather will also reduce the impact of your visit, as fragile sub-surface archaeology can be unwittingly damaged when the ground is sodden. But beware if the weather has been too dry, as the ground underfoot may then crumble and erode, and again, archaeological evidence could be destroyed.

Of course, when visiting any ancient or historical site, you should always attempt to remove any rubbish left behind by others less considerate than yourself, and of course, ensure you do not leave any detritus of your own.

In short, enjoy your visit, and leave the site as you would hope to find it – in its natural state.


Rain is forecast that will significantly add to the standing water on Byway 12 at Stonehenge today – the stretch south of the A303 can be seen in the accompanying photographs taken during April.

It may dry off soon enough but everything the Wiltshire Council cabinet member for highways, transport, and waste, Bridget Wayman, stated about the Ridgeway at Avebury, when closing the route to motorised traffic for a further 21 days, also applies to Byway 12 south of the A303 at Stonehenge:

“The weather in recent weeks has left the surface of the byway severely rutted, and it is still holding water in numerous locations. There are globally important archaeological features on and immediately below the surface and they need to be protected from further damage.”

We might then recall that Highways England adopted Byway 12 in September 2016 as an access route for digging machinery in connection with the now abandoned western portal location for the Stonehenge tunnel, and in the coming weeks a repeat performance is expected, in the name of the Stonehenge tunnel scheme now totally discredited by ICOMOS UK.

Standing water on byway 12

Why then is Wiltshire Council rightly protecting the Ridgeway at Avebury, but failing to extend protection to Byway 12 in the Stonehenge half of the WHS (World Heritage Site)? Keep the diggers off Byway 12 please!

Like many places, the Ridgeway as it passes through Wiltshire has suffered from the intense periods of snow and ice in 2018 that has left precious archaeology vulnerable in the wet conditions. A section of this route near Avebury has though a knight in shining armour: Wiltshire Council has extended the annual prohibition of public motor vehicles which usually runs from 1 October to 30 April, for a further 21 days to protect the surface and archaeology from further damage. It has even been stated that if need be this prohibition of motorised vehicles could be extended further for another 21 days whilst remaining open for walkers, horses, and cyclists.

Bridget Wayman, Wiltshire Council cabinet member for highways, transport, and waste said:

“The weather in recent weeks has left the surface of the byway severely rutted, and it is still holding water in numerous locations.
“There are globally important archaeological features on and immediately below the surface and they need to be protected from further damage.
“We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause and would like to thank the public for their understanding and co-operation.”

Credit: Wilts CC

Well done Wiltshire Council, credit where due and all that.

Source: http://www.wiltshire.gov.uk/news/articles/byway-closed-to-aid-ridgeway-recovery

Like many places Cockfield Fell, near Bishop Auckland, has suffered from the intense periods of snow and ice in 2018 that has left precious archaeology vulnerable in the wet conditions. This Scheduled Monument has though a knight in shining armour. Lee McFarlane, an Inspector of Ancient Monuments at Historic England, has been quoted as saying that:

“Cockfield Fell contains archaeological remains from the prehistoric period through to the 19th century and is a very important scheduled monument, which is protected by law.

“We are very concerned about the damage by 4×4 vehicles to the archaeology on the site and will be working with the landowner and the police to restrict vehicle access to ensure Cockfield Fell can be enjoyed by future generations.”

Image credit: Sarah Caldecott

Well done Historic England, credit where due and all that.

The Northern Echo

 

We note with some surprise that English Heritage have launched a £50,000 appeal for remedial work to four cannon, two 18th-Century nine-pounder guns at Etal Castle Northumberland, and World War Two anti-aircraft guns at Dover Castle in Kent and Pendennis Castle, near Falmouth.

This appeal comes on top of their existing £20million budget. English Heritage (EH) has a duty to care for the nation’s collection of historic places and artefacts, and says it needs the funding to keep up with the rate of deterioration of not only the four mentioned cannon, but also many others at risk from weather erosion.

But it occurs to us here at the Journal that, given that duty of care and the need for funds for restoration work, that EH would be better off reviewing (and cancelling) their plans for work that no-one really wants and that does not fit the duty of care criteria.

The planned ‘bridge’ at Tintagel Castle is a case in point – it certainly cannot be considered to come under the duty of care heading for the site, being something that is out of keeping with the origins of the site. Indeed the bridge (planned costs of £4million) can only be seen as an unwelcome intrusion, designed purely to increase visitor numbers with no concern for the heritage of the site in question.

…and that £4million could pay for an awful lot of cannon to be restored and protected for future generations, with no need for a special appeal.

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