by David McGlade, Chairman and Trustee

The Offa’s Dyke Association (ODA) turns 50 in 2019. A membership-based charity the ODA operates a visitor centre complete with interpretive displays, tea room and a library, named after Frank Noble, the ODA’s founder. It also publishes a full colour newsletter three times year, an annual accommodation guide to the National Trail, organises talks and walks and will soon have a new website rebuilt entirely from scratch.

The classic view of Offa's Dyke, curving across Llanfair Hill in south Shropshire © jimsaunders.co.uk

The classic view of Offa’s Dyke, curving across Llanfair Hill, South  Shropshire     © jimsaunders.co.uk.

In 2016 the ODA launched its own Conservation Fund with the simple aim of financially assisting maintenance works and projects that promote the long-term conservation of Offa’s Dyke, other scheduled and non-scheduled archaeological features along the line of the National Trail, also areas with a nature conservation interest. Anyone, for example, a farmer or a local authority, can apply to the fund as long as the proposed works have a long-term conservation aim and are deliverable. The first grant was awarded to Shropshire Council towards the cost of a small drainage scheme in the Shropshire Hills AONB designed to reduce walker and livestock pressure. The ODA has since agreed in principle to provide a matching funding contribution for a conservation scheme designed by the National Trail Officer for works to the Dyke and Trail in the Wye Valley near to the Devil’s Pulpit.

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Shropshire County Council conservation works to the Dyke and National Trail at a site called ‘Scotland’ in the Shropshire Hills AONB to rectify a drainage issue. (Photo copyright Andrew Lipa, Shropshire County Council.

Shropshire County Council conservation works to the Dyke and National Trail at a site called ‘Scotland’ in the Shropshire Hills AONB to rectify a drainage issue. (Photo copyright Andrew Lipa, Shropshire County Council.

The ODA sees the Conservation Fund as being crucial to its own future survival. It meets perfectly its charitable aim and establishes a direct link between an individual membership subscription and the wellbeing of the monument. Trail walkers, other visitors and locals alike will hopefully see this as a tangible benefit of joining the ODA. The fund’s most significant involvement to date is an on-going collaboration with Cadw and Historic England towards a strategic conservation management plan approach for the full length of the Dyke. As an equal partner in this project the ODA’s status as a serious conservation focused organisation in both countries is firmly established.

Not everything in the past two years, however, has been plain sailing for the ODA. The writing had been on the wall for some time but 12 months ago the Association was hit with the news that its long-standing contract with Powys County Council to provide tourism information functions at the Offa’s Dyke Centre would cease at the end of 2016. The financial realities of the day meant that the Offa’s Dyke Centre, together with all of Powys’ other community supported Tourism Information Centres, would lose their funding. This only speeded up the root and branch review of every activity undertaken by both the charity and within the Offa’s Dyke Centre with the aim of making good the loss of direct funding support. The tea room, library/second meeting room, improved newsletter, plans for the website, improved financial and management systems, and the conservation fund, are facets of a strategy that is starting to pay off.

View of the display in the Offa’s Dyke Centre (Photo copyright Jim Saunders).

View of the display in the Offa’s Dyke Centre (Photo copyright Jim Saunders).

The ODA hopes to broaden its appeal and give potential members more reasons to join the Association, pay a visit to the Centre to view the interpretive display, buy a souvenir or a coffee and cake, browse the library, (it has an unrivalled collection of books on the Dyke and Welsh Marches), hire a meeting room or perhaps make a donation. Offers of help at the Offa’s Dyke Centre are always welcome. We are likewise always on the lookout for contributors willing to write original content for the newsletter and website and also currently need people with skills in marketing, fundraising, as well as website management. The ODA is now financially on its own but it will strive to both maintain its existing functions at the ODC as well as be innovative and start conversations with anyone willing to collaborate.

The Association’s AGM is always a highlight of the year and 2017 is no exception. The guest speaker is Pieta Greaves, Staffordshire Hoard Conservation Coordinator for Birmingham Museums Trust who is talking about ‘The Conservation and Research of the Staffordshire Hoard’. (Talk at 4pm, 29th April 2017. Free to ODA members, £3 to non-members).

For membership information, opening hours, room hire, library, conservation fund, tickets to AGM talk: contact the Offa’s Dyke Centre on 01547 528753. Email: oda@offasdyke.org.uk  Website: www.offasdyke.org.uk

It has to be a lie because there are lots of things which the British Government is spending vastly more money on, including tunnels – one that is 3.3 times longer through the Chilterns, another that is 4.4 times longer through South Manchester and a possible one between Manchester and Sheffield that is 10 times longer!

In addition, how come neither the Government nor Highways England nor English Heritage nor Historic England nor the National Trust are facing up to the fact our country has signed up to this:

Article 4
Each State Party to this Convention recognizes that the duty of ensuring the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generations of the cultural and natural heritage referred to in Articles 1 and 2 and situated on its territory, belongs primarily to that State. It will do all it can to this end, to the utmost of its own resources and, where appropriate, with any international assistance and co-operation, in particular, financial, artistic, scientific and technical, which it may be able to obtain.”

 

The UNESCO mission is at Stonehenge this week. It is to be hoped they aren’t diverted from those two fundamental realities.

Following recent changes to the heritage legislation in Wales, plans now appear to be afoot to “evaluate whether the structures underpinning the sector are fit for purpose” (Ken Skates, Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure).

Pentre Ifan in Pembrokeshire

Regular readers of the Heritage Journal will be aware of the various concerns raised over the years regarding the existing medieval feudal structure and hope that the Committee set up to look into the matter will take the opportunity to modernise the archaic structures that currently riddle the Welsh heritage sector. Providing genuine positive changes are made with protection and sensitive management of the heritage at its core, this would seem to be a long overdue step.

If on the other hand it’s just another excuse to wield the axe, or tinker with job titles then almost certainly the result will be another lost opportunity. Apparently the heritage sector in Wales contributes more to the economy than agriculture and it would therefore seem sensible to treat it with the respect it deserves and fully recognise its importance.

A policeman-detectorist has been convicted of theft. He secretly sold dug up coins for £15,000 to a dealer and kept the entire amount, despite having a contract with the landowner to split the proceeds of any find.

police-detectorist.

“No big deal, there are crooks in all walks of life”, as detectorists say every time there’s some nighthawking. Maybe. But it does illustrate that “finds agreements” are no protection for landlords. Indeed, they’re a crook’s best friend for most of them authorise the detectorist to take home items of “low” value (commonly £300 but £2,000 at Central Searchers rallies) as his own without showing the farmer – and that’s as good as carte blanche since it is the detectorist alone who determines “low value”. As the notional but wise Farmer Silas Brown has said to farmers ad nauseam:

NO good can come from you signing a finds agreement. The official Responsibility Code (for detectorists, not for you!) says signing a finds agreement avoids future ownership disputes. But it categorically doesn’t, it’s a lie as by law they’re already our artefacts or the State’s, no-one else’s. So don’t do it. Sign nothing, especially if it contains the word “share”. Why would a person who’s “only in it for the history” ask you for a share? Do history lovers or amateur archaeologists ask for a share? No. By all that’s logical, legal, practical, safe and just it should be YOU alone who decides what (if anything) you give away, and then only when you’ve seen everything the detectorist has found, not before. And only when you’ve been given the finds and had them independently examined and valued.

By not signing a finds agreement you’ll still get ripped off sometimes. More fool you for letting an “acquisitive historian” onto your land (what a horrible description, yet totally accurate) to do what archaeologists nearly all object to in private (ask them) but it will happen less often if it is made clear: nothing leaves my farm without me seeing it.

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On the subject of digging up the Stonehenge landscape (see yesterday), Friend of the Journal Jim Rayner has sent us this contribution to the ever-growing list:

English Heritage & the National Trust will not allow as much as a tent peg to be hammered down into the ground near Stonehenge in case it ‘damages any sensitive archaeology’. Yet, they are supporting the potential construction of two massive dual carriageway tunnel portals within the World Heritage Site which would do exactly that! A situation so contradictory, you couldn’t actually make it up!

tentpeg.

ok

done-deal

Relax. Highways England says it’s just “fact finding”! And anyway, there’s a Consultation going on, so nothing’s settled. Allegedly. Two things though:

  • Does that really look like they haven’t decided exactly where to start, irrespective of any consultation? Seriously?
  • And IS it a real Consultation? Rushed through in a couple of weeks following almost no notice and. apart from one exhibition at the Society of Antiquaries. all held locally within Wiltshire! There isn’t even one at Avebury, the other half of the World Heritage Site. Why? This is our national icon and it’s WORLD heritage. Shouldn’t there be exhibitions elsewhere in Britain – and maybe in New York and Paris? Those people beyond Wiltshire and beyond Britain are entitled, are they not, especially as it is mostly foreigners who visit and pay oodles. This is an international issue isn’t it?

Could it possibly be that the Government, the Highways Agency, English Heritage, Historic England and The National Trust are ashamed of what they are doing and are frit that the rest of the world will be appalled? We think so. Why else would the press have been given the line that UNESCO are supportive when it’s untrue? There’s one way to find out. Let the exhibition go on the road! And stop “fact finding” in the meantime else people will think the process is a complete farce.

#notasnowballschanceinhell

We’d just like to say how much we agree with Professor Dan Hicks’ contribution to the short tunnel debate:

“Another old idea is being revived hand-in-hand with the tunnel – heritage restoration. The focus is the stones, not their landscape. Stonehenge is reimagined as a Stone Age exhibit untouched by modernity. The A303 would be grassed over at the stones while a new road twice as wide is cut across the World Heritage Site, but tunnelled within the paying visitors’ view. The aesthetics of this “Stonehenge Restored” are determinedly Georgian. A stately monument within rolling lawns from which shuttles run along a new coaching-road between Bath and London. That carriageway hidden from the monument, so customers can stroll an “authentic” landscape of the past, never glimpsing the present.

Hiding the road from the stones would hide the stones from the public. Some 1.3 m people will pass through the Stonehenge giftshop this year, but perhaps ten times that number will witness the monument from a passing vehicle. Those thrilling, often unexpected views may not be celebrated among the iconic experiences of global prehistory, but they are surely among the most democratic. Through these encounters, Stonehenge lives on as a public space. “

On the other hand we’d like to say how strongly we disagree with the alternative being served up to the public…….

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Never mind the massive new damage, a short tunnel will ENHANCE the Stonehenge landscape.

Never mind the massive new damage and the fact the stones will be hidden from general view for the first time ever, we offer an alternative fact: the short tunnel will ENHANCE the Stonehenge landscape. Bigly.

Last week saw a new commemorative stamp issue from the Royal Mail in the UK, this time celebrating our ancient past.

The eight special stamps feature iconic sites and exceptional artefacts. The lineup is as follows:

* 1st Class – Skara Brae and the Battersea shield.
* £1.05 – Maiden Castle and the Star Carr headdress.
* £1.33 – Avebury and the Drumbest horns.
* £1.52 – Grimes Graves and the Mold cape.

prehistoric-stamps
The stamps are all enhanced with illustrations that reveal how our ancient forebears lived and worked. I plumped for the First Day Cover (postmarked Avebury) and the Presentation Pack. A useful and informative sheet gives details about each of the subjects. More information and ordering details can be found on the Royal Mail website.

Have you got yours yet?

Remember the Polish Detecting Club which runs detecting rallies for Polish people in Britain?

.polish-detecting.

And the recent European Gold rally held by a French  manufacturer for 1000 people (300 French, 30 German, many more from Italy, Ireland, Austria, Portugal, Holland, USA, Belgium and Australia) in the Cotswolds?

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Well now the North American market (already served by England Detecting Adventures, Norfolk Detecting Tours, Colchester Treasure Hunting  and others) has a new player. If you’re American and have 4200 dollars and (almost certainly) you’re a Trump voter, “US to UK” now offers you a new opportunity to help yourself to Britain’s history: seven full days detecting on “some of England’s richest and most desirable land”, all “guaranteed to be previously undetected”.

us2uk.

Needless to say, no other country on earth throws its cultural heritage open to naked commercial exploitation in this way. The Prime Minister is keen to assert that Britain is open for business and wants it to be “a global leader in free trade”. Out in the fields it already is.

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Chances are you have never visited this stone circle or even heard of it. It is tucked away in a secluded spot in Mid Wales (NGR SH 9993 0010). For thousands of years it has stood within an unspoilt rural setting. This may be about to change.

Plan of the Y Capel stone circle (After Butler and Butler, 1978).

Plan of the Y Capel stone circle (After Butler and Butler, 1978).

Windfarm developers have set their sights on the hillside on which it stands and have drawn up plans to surround it in 130m high wind turbines. The developer’s archaeologists acknowledge that these industrial scale monsters “will certainly result in harm to the overall value of the monument”, but conclude that “the fundamental value of the monument, the heart of its significance will be unaffected”. Essentially what they are saying is that because the scheduled ancient monument is not going to actually host a turbine that everything will be fine. Acceptance of this position opens the doors to development right up to the edge of every scheduled monument in the country.

Visual setting for prehistoric monuments is particularly important and to dismiss it as insignificant betrays a lack of understanding of these so ever special monuments. In this instance it certainly ignores the crucial views towards the impressive Breidden Hill near Welshpool, betraying in the process a total lack of understanding of the sites significance and place within the landscape.  Furthermore, the transformation of this rural landscape into an industrial one will inevitably also impact on associated physical remains. If this proposal proceeds, damage will result and no amount of mitigation or clever words will prevent this.

Map showing the proposed position of the turbines around Y Capel stone circle. The map is to scale and the turbines are shown at actual size in plan view. They would tower over the stone circle.

Map showing the proposed position of the turbines around Y Capel stone circle. The map is to scale and the turbines are shown at actual size in plan view. They would tower over the stone circle.

References

Butler, F. and Butler, J., 1978, ‘Y Capel: A stone circle near Cefn Coch, Llanllugan’, Archaeologia Cambrensis, CXXVII, 122-3.

Further Information
Archwilio
Coflein
Megalithic Portal
Modern Antiquarian

Details of the proposal can be found here.

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