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The Oswestry carve-up of the public’s heritage (courtesy of the developers, Shropshire Council and English Heritage/Historic England) continues apace. The latest reminder of just why development shouldn’t be happening near the hill fort comes here, a list of no less than 14 reasons its setting should be sacrosanct. Each of them is compelling but we thought we should highlight one in particular. Dirty tricks are well known chez Shropshire but this one doesn’t even try to hide itself.
….. A “hub for artefact finds” with “over 100 findspots reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme” yet here’s a photograph of a man from the BBC and the leader of HOOOH and the Director General of the Council for British Archaeology contemplating a sign that now ensures no further finds will be unearthed until permission has been well and truly secured. How is that different from telling the police you’d rather they didn’t dig up your patio? Answers to Historic England.
A design consultant has just been appointed to develop “a preferred option” at Stonehenge. That sounds innocuous but it’s the opposite. Their remit is limited to examining which short tunnel would be best not which option would cause no damage (and who in their right mind wouldn’t say that was preferable?)
So it’s beyond dispute that to establish the term “preferred option” in respect of a limited number of options all of which will be massively damaging, is to mislead the public, to put it politely. It cannot be “preferable” to flout the World Heritage Convention, especially with the aid of cheap linguistic tricks worthy of a banana republic.
It is to be hoped that this attempt to manipulate the debate so as to confine discussions to unacceptable options not options that are best for the World Heritage Site will be seen for what it is. In particular, let ICOMOS UK and UNESCO stand fast in support of the Convention and the whole WHS and let the public understand that although they will hear the phrase “the preferred option” many thousands of times in the coming years it’s literal meaning is “the preferred unacceptable option”.
From a distance, British Camp is just one of many peaks comprising the Malvern Hills and tends to go unnoticed amongst the others.
Closer up it becomes clear that it’s a monument to be reckoned with, a series of two thousand year old ramparts surmounted by a Norman motte and commanding extraordinary views to Wales in one direction and the Cotswolds in the other, described by 17th Century diarist John Evelyn as “one of the godliest vistas in England”.
According to folklore it was the place where the ancient British chieftan Caractacus made his last stand against the Romans – although historians think it more likely to have been a few miles away on Caradoc in Shropshire. Still, it was probably built by him and was an auspicious location and home to thousands of people for a number of centuries.
A ringwork and bailey castle was built within the camp, possibly by the last Anglo Saxon monarch, the future King Harold II a few years before he met his end at Hastings. 200 years later the Earl of Gloucester (prompted by a boundary dispute with the Bishop of Hereford) built the Shire Ditch to the North and South of British Camp (possible on the line of a prehistoric trackway).
In modern times composer Elgar became closely associated with the Malverns and was inspired by the folklore to compose his cantata Caractacus. The status of Malvern as a spa town and literary centre and particularly Elgar’s friendships have meant that a host of famous figures have visited the hills and British Camp, including JRR Tolkein (who may have based the White Mountains of Gondor on the hills) and CS Lewis (who is said to have been inspired by a Malvern lampost he saw while walking back from the pub with Tolkein to write about the lampost in Narnia!) So if you want to experience “one of the godliest vistas in England” and follow in the footsteps of many famous people you’d better get up there!
The development is to go ahead. You can take part in a Consultation – but only about the “modifications” suggested by the Inspector, not about the development itself. The document is at pains to make that extremely clear:
“Please note that the Inspector is only inviting comments on the suggested Main Modifications. Comments that do not relate to a suggested Main Modification will not be considered.”
To give you an idea how hard the door has been slammed and how ineffectual and almost insulting are the modifications, here are some of them……
Development should demonstrate appropriate regard to the significance and setting of the Old Oswestry Hill Fort……
Full archaeological assessment will be required to enhance the understanding and interpretation of the significance of the Hillfort and its wider setting …….
Ensuring long distance views to and from the Hillfort within its wider setting are conserved ……..
Development should be designed to allow views and glimpses of the Hillfort from within the site …….
The layout of development ……will be designed to minimise the landscape impact ……..
But not in the way either of them expected?
Greenpeace activists have been criticised for setting up an enormous climate change banner next to the Nazca Lines in Peru and allegedly causing damage. They strongly deny any harm, saying “We can assure you that absolutely NO damage was done. The message was written in cloth letters that laid on the ground without touching the Nazca lines”…. which may or may not be true (not, actually, since apparently their footsteps will stay for centuries and Peru intends to sue them!) but it sounds very, very familiar to British ears and particularly to those who have followed the endless succession of officially authorised stunts at the Uffington White Horse and other monuments over the years.
Even more familiar to British ears was this additional assurance: “It was assessed by an experienced archaeologist, ensuring not even a trace was left behind.” People might wonder what sort of “experienced archaeologist” would have got involved in the stunt, just as many of us keep asking why The National Trust and other guardians allow this sort of “good cause” brandalism to happen at places in their care. The bottom line is the more it is done the more there’s a risk of damaging copycatting.
Will this latest incident finally convince the National Trust to announce it is going to desist from allowing it? (Might it cross their minds that Greenpeace could have got the idea from the Trust’s “good cause brandalism factory” at Uffington?)
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!
They say conservation is about choices. We can’t save everything and we can’t turn the country into a museum. It’s sadly true. So how do we decide?
There are lots of formal methods. EH has criteria for inclusion on The Heritage at Risk Register and for Scheduling and has published guidance such as The Settings of Heritage Assets [October 2011], Seeing the History in the View [May 2011} and Conservation Principles – Policies and Guidance  that Planning Committees, Inspectors and they themselves can follow. There’s even Section 7.2 of the November minutes of the English Heritage Advisory Committee, which covers “settings”, just released. And yet and yet …. some things that just about everyone feels should be protected are sometimes lost. Why?
It doesn’t help that the conservation pendulum has been hijacked lately by those who benefit from building stuff. Nor is it exactly good news that the official definition of conservation has consequently morphed into “the process of maintaining and managing change to a heritage asset”. (See here).
But even so. Some things just shouldn’t have happened. Digging up gravel in the setting of Thornborough? Building an estate of houses close to Avebury’s henge? And currently: allowing someone to target Oswestry Hill Fort’s setting without throttling the plan the moment it was hatched? Come on! It’s hard to see how bad some plans and some consequences are without holding them up against comparable decisions that went the other way and in the case of Oswestry we’ve already done that several times recently – see here for instance.
When decisions ARE held up and compared with others they are sometimes revealed as eccentric – bizarre even. What are the people of Oswestry to make of this for instance, news of a recent case tweeted with justified satisfaction by EH’s Legal Director: “Public benefits of wind turbine does not outweigh harm to setting and significance of hill fort. Appeal dismissed.” http://ow.ly/d/2aDM Would they say “Public benefit of the proposed development does not outweigh the public harm to the monument, eh? Lucky for some!”
Meanwhile, elsewhere, more decisions that look bizarre when one is compared with another – a comment on Rescue’s Facebook page: “They want to (substantially damage) a 1830 railway station in Manchester (the first in the whole world) but in London they want to keep 1960’s Elephant and Castle shopping centre because it was the first American style shopping centre in Europe.” I have no knowledge of the relative merits of those two cases but there is surely an argument for usefully holding one against the other in some way? All the public ever wants is consistency. Is there a way to tweak EH’s database of planning decisions to further promote it? Have they the nerve to set up a classification marked: “awful decisions, please don’t use as evidence” ?
The CPRE has issued “a wake up call for the Government”…..
“We are saying loud and clear that whatever their original intentions, the reformed planning system is not working. Local people are being disregarded, open countryside is being developed while suitable brownfield land is left unused, and still too few homes are being built. We have evidence from across England that the effects of current policies on the countryside are devastating, with the Green Belt, protected areas and, above all, our ‘ordinary’ but hugely valued countryside, destroyed or threatened with destruction. Our latest research into adopted and emerging Local Plans shows at least 500,000 new homes planned for greenfield sites. This could result in the loss of 150sq Km of irreplaceable countryside. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Destruction on this scale is totally unnecessary when there are enough suitable brownfield sites for around 1.5 million homes.” More here.
The National Trust concurs…..
“Councils are being “hustled” into allowing development on greenfield land by central Government” (their Director) and “the green belt is no longer sacrosanct …. At the present moment 150,000 applications are in for the green belt…. This should be absolutely inconceivable.” (their Chairman). More here .
Depending on who you believe you may wish to sign the CPRE’s Charter to Save our Countryside HERE
People often say “I rather like wind farms, they look sort of majestic”.
Indeed. But presumably it’s all a matter of personal taste and also where and how many. So here’s a perfectly genuine current proposal for a wind farm in an area that contains at least thirty scheduled ancient monuments. (Can you count how many turbines there are and work out the location?).
Does “where” matter? Are developments on that scale acceptable in some places? Which places? Please nominate specific areas or landscapes in Britain or Ireland where developments on the above scale would be reasonable!
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?