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Newsletter of the Friends of thornborough Henges, 9.7.04



The beautiful, historic and distinctive landscape around the Thornborough Henges is under threat of destruction from ongoing, imminent, and long-term open-cast quarrying of aggregates. Tarmac Northern has applied to extend Nosterfield Quarry eastwards on to Ladybridge Farm. Within that application, the company expresses its intention to progressively mine all the commercially viable deposits from the farmland on Thornborough Moor, at Upsland and north of the Ings Goit. Thus, Sutton Howgrave, Kirklington, Carthorpe, Burneston, Well and Snape are in danger of suffering the same fate as the village of Nosterfield, which has had 70% of its hinterland destroyed by quarrying.

With landowners happy to pocket the mining company’s quick bucks, NIMBY-type objections from the “little people” will carry no weight at a County Hall bedazzled by Tarmac’s promise to “improve this low-grade landscape” by turning our open farmland into an alien imitation of the Norfolk Broads over the next 50 years. For the county council to stop the quarrying, it needs to be convinced by a vision of a better long-term strategy for the area. Fortunately, the work of Newcastle University archaeologist Dr Jan Harding has offered us an alternative to quarrying by demonstrating that we are the inheritors of something of much more long-term value than sand and gravel.

Because the threatened landscape contains ancient monuments and buried archaeology left by our ancestors, English Heritage is having a Conservation Plan drawn up by consultants overseen by the Thornborough Henges Conservation & Working Group. The latter is made up of representatives of the county, district and parish councils, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Friends of Thornborough Henges, Dr Harding, English Nature, and English Heritage itself.

The consultants will be required to undertake an in-depth study of the designated landscape’s history and cultural significance, taking into account what it means to local residents, and to produce a plan for the future that is acceptable to local people. This democratic, consultative approach is the complete opposite of the way in which just one option ~ open-cast quarrying succeeded by water-filled pits for bird-watchers, fishermen and boating enthusiasts ~ has been imposed upon the area to date. Supporting the Conservation Plan is your best chance of stopping further quarrying.

To supplement the Conservation Plan, English Heritage and the Friends of Thornborough Henges will be encouraging local people to contribute ideas and inputs to an ABC ~ a compendium of the characteristics that make this a unique and important place.

This is a deceptively simple tool that will enable you to express what is important to you about your community and that can be used as supplementary local planning information for combatting unsuitable development. It prompts us to look at our environment with fresh eyes and to creatively record what makes us care about it in a way that will make other people care too.

Participation will be open to anyone who cares for the future of their landscape ~ individuals, families, groups of friends, schools, churches, organisations of all kinds, etc. Early this Autumn, English Heritage will be arranging meetings in the area to explain the Conservation Plan and to seek support for the ABC.

Stop the quarrying!

Your Heritage
If you live anywhere in the broad tract of countryside between Scorton in the north and the Devil’s Arrows at Boroughbridge, then your home is situated in a landscape that was sacred to our prehistoric ancestors.
It contains the remains of dozens of monuments that, taken together, constitute an archaeological record dating back to the dawn of agriculture 5,500 years ago and now recognised as being of international importance. The centrepiece of this impressive array is formed by three massive earth henges, each 240 metres in diameter, uniquely laid out in a straight line near the village of Thornborough and mirroring the celestial alignment of Orion’s Belt. They attest to an exceptional level of planning and a mobilisation of labour on a par with the construction of the pyramids.

Unlike the World Heritage Sites of Stonehenge, Avebury and Orkney, these Yorkshire monuments are located on private land and remain virtually unknown to the wider public. This is because they have the misfortune to be located on sand and gravel deposits that can be excavated cheaply by huge land dredgers and provide landowners with a more lucrative income than can be gained from farming.

Does Nature Conservation Justify Quarrying?
It is only by studying in detail the landscape in which henges are set, as is being done at Stonehenge, that archaeologists can gain an understanding of why these prehistoric “cathedrals” were built and how the early Britons used them. Yet more than 50% of the setting of the Thornborough Henges has already been lost to open-cast quarrying and the remainder is under threat of similar destruction. The Friends of Thornborough Henges are dedicated to stopping this wanton despoliation of our beautiful landscape’s heritage, but are confronted by powerful vested interests.

The mining companies, in partnership with the Environment Agency, English Nature and the county council, are promoting the “Washlands” concept for the gravel-bearing areas of the lower Swale and Ure valleys. This strategy is based on the model of the post-quarrying Nosterfield Nature Reserve and involves restoring future redundant quarries, not to agriculture, but to water-filled pits with reedbeds, wet grassland and trees that need damp conditions. Separate areas will be set aside for fishing, sailing and nature conservancy, creating a totally different landscape described portentously as “Yorkshire’s own Norfolk Broads”.

The latter is attractive to environmentalists because it follows the guidelines outlined in the local Biodiversity Action Plan, which is designed to increase the number of plant and animal species. But that tunnel-vision plan was designed by a trust funded by the mining companies specifically to promote quarry “restoration” on the cheap, and will result in the loss forever of vast tracts of farmland with its buried archaeology and the rural way of life that shaped our landscape over many centuries.

The Norfolk Broads are a wonderful resource ~ but they represent several hundred years of naturally regenerated flooded peat diggings originally excavated in the Middle Ages close to the sea. The creation of a machine-made modern equivalent in Yorkshire far from the coast would be a social and ecological disaster. The Friends of Thornborough Henges, along with English Heritage and the CPRE, believe that implementation of the Biodiversity Action Plan should not be used as the justification for quarrying in areas where permission would otherwise have been denied.

A Better Alternative
The Friends have their own vision of a better future for our landscape and want to share it with you. This is to protect our beautiful and historic landscape, with its ancient monuments and archaeological remains, from unsuitable and damaging “development” for the long-term benefit of its inhabitants and the nation. We want to preserve our gentle, rural way of life and to promote it sensitively in order to make its historic value more attractive to caring visitors and new small businesses. We would encourage the type of nature conservation that, by not damaging the existing land surface, complements the protection of delicate archaeological sites.

This objective can be achieved by promoting the significance of the area, incorporating our vision in the new Conservation Plan (see overleaf), and working with other organisations to ensure that the planning authority puts our heritage before the mining companies’ profits.

Help us to help you by supporting the Conservation Plan, attending parish council meetings, adding your name to our petition, and joining our letter-writing campaign (see

If you do not have access to the web, send a stamped addressed envelope for printed material to Dick Lonsdale, Kiln Farm, Nosterfield, Bedale, DL8 2QX.

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