FRIENDS OF THORNBOROUGH HENGES
OPEN MEETING, 4 MARCH 2004,
Featuring Presentations by Three Stakeholders
BOB NICHOLSON, ESTATES MANAGER, TARMAC NORTHERN
Company policy has been consistent since its public presentation in November, 2002. The Nosterfield Quarry supplies about 25% of North Yorkshire’s demand for sand and gravel. It employs 15 people directly, plus 25 private hauliers, and contributes £85,000 pa in business rates. The Aggregates Levy contribution to the Treasury by buyers at £1.60 per ton is £880,000 [ie. 550,000 tons output pa].
Quarrying is undertaken in distinct phases. Topsoil removal is observed by an archaeologist who inspects, records and removes any finds. A JCB then quarries the aggregates and a dumper truck conveys them to the works. When the water table is reached, a dredger takes over, the excess water is pumped away, and the aggregates transported to the washing and sorting plant. Trucks deliver the product to the mainly local markets via the A1 to avoid villages. ["The quarry serves mainly markets in the south of the county and adjacent areas of West Yorkshire." S6.17 of Minerals Officer’s report, 19/7/94]
The approved restoration plan includes amenity lakes, hard landscaping, footpaths and reconstituted agricultural land for grazing by returning topsoil reserved in a bund. The Restoration Advisory Committee, like the Local Liaison group, involves local representatives and stakeholders. This committee can revamp the restoration plan without lengthy reference to NYCC, as when adding two hectares of reed beds.
Nosterfield reserves will last about 3 years at the current rate of production. Due to the lengthy planning lead time, Tarmac will shortly apply to extend quarrying on to Ladybridge Farm, using a field conveyor to transport aggregates under the lane separating it from the existing quarry. The limited distribution of high quality aggregates on these fluvio-glacial terraces mean that, in this area, after Ladybridge, Tarmac could profitably move only on to Thornborough Moor.
The Ladybridge application will include an Environmental Impact Assessment covering geology, hydrology, landscape, archaeology, ecology, noise, dust and traffic. A long-reach excavator is necessary only because the deposits are thinner. A working site involves protection and conservation, advance landscaping works, and progressive restoration. The restoration must incorporate a good landscape fit, increased biodiversity and recreational amenity, leaving Ladybridge as a lake of varying depths.
Tarmac recognises that the henges are nationally important monuments and will not submit any application for the Moor until it knows the findings of the Conservation Management Strategy prepared by consultants and overseen by the stakeholders.
MIKE GRIFFITHS, TARMAC’S ARCHAEOLOGIST
He was North Yorkshire’s County Archaeologist from 1975 to 1990, when he set up in private practice. In 1991, Tilcon employed him to report on the area to the north of the B6267, which was occupied by reed beds and open water as late as the Iron Age. Trial trenches produced very little indeed and NYCC granted consent for quarrying subject to a watching brief. The first area quarried, in the south-east corner of Nosterfield Quarry, found shallow Neolithic pits stuffed with pottery and flints, indicating occupation of an area of dried-out peat. There were 30-40 archaeological features in an area of about 15 acres. Accordingly, the next area to be quarried was tested first with trial pits, which found pit alignments not indicated by geophysics, to discover if this would be an easier management technique. As that did not prove to be the case, the inspection method reverted to topsoil stripping, with this then being carried out in controlled managed strips more akin to that used in normal excavatory archaeology.
Neolithic finds since that first year have been very sparse ~ mainly small and scattered pottery shards. These would probably not survive after being brought up to the topsoil by ploughing, which has probably already destroyed much more. By comparison, flint is nearly indestructible but, over 40 hectares, relatively little has been found. What has was in association with other archaeological material. There were half a dozen human burials from the Bronze Age, which survived well at depth but were destroyed at plough depth, one horse burial, and two square barrows. With the techniques used, 90% of the finds have not provided any archaeological evidence They are simply cut features, making dating difficult because the remains are in such poor condition.
He could now suggest how the site developed. In the north east of the central area, a large post-glacial lake probably survived into the Mesolithic period, and Neolithic occupation was concentrated around its edges. All relics elsewhere are later in date. He has examined Ladybridge farm by a desk-top study which has identified minor linear features, by field-walking to recover everything visible, and by a magnetometer and resistivity survey. He will soon start digging test trenches. Flints are concentrated in the south-west corner, showing that Neolithic occupation is running out away from there.
Although quarrying is totally destructive of archaeology, it is yet one of the few economic activities that requires investigation. More has been learned as a direct result of quarrying than from any other source. It is ploughing that destroys archaeology without record ~ while quarrying reveals, records and saves important finds.
He has worked on this site for 14 years. A major study will be undertaken by English Heritage to decide what to do [with the remaining setting of the henges]. If nothing is done, the archaeology will be destroyed by ploughing within 20 years. Either everything must be protected, or the destruction must be managed sensitively.
Comment: Tarmac is holding the sword of Damocles over the surviving setting of the henges. It owns Ladybridge Farm and most of Thornborough Moor and so can control the land management system used by its tenant farmers. That it chooses not to forbid ploughing on its archaeology-rich land proves that this company is prepared to pursue profits at the expense of our national heritage.
DR KEITH EMERICK
INSPECTOR OF ANCIENT MONUMENTS FOR NORTH YORKSHIRE, ENGLISH HERITAGE
Dr Emerick (i) polices the statutory consent procedures relating to scheduled ancient monuments, and (ii) supports the County Archaeologist by giving overviews and advice on "the cultural environment".
In September, 2003, Tarmac approached EH regarding its potential Ladybridge application, obliging him to write a paper to solicit instructions. It suggested a 3-stage conservation plan process to understand the significance of the landscape. Following the Australian model, the plan has to be endorsed by all stakeholders, who will be asked what they regard as important about the landscape, rather than external specialists making the decisions. Conservation and development are no longer mutually exclusive [which implies compromise]. This is a way of judging and balancing stakeholders’ views.
EH will not agree to any further quarrying until recent archaeological finds are excavated and the "setting" is defined [but this objection may not prevent the county council giving consent]. He displayed maps showing [a] heritage monuments and quarrying superimposed on geology of North Yorkshire, and [b] the defined setting of Stonehenge. The "Designation Review" now being considered may replace the present system of designating individual monuments by some form of blanket coverage for clusters of sites.
There are two threats to this landscape. Defra is prepared to offer better incentives to landowners to take land out of the plough ~ but farmers can’t be forced to participate. A conservation plan will ensure that the future use of the landscape will not have a detrimental effect on the archaeology.
Comment: Dr Emerick will shortly be meeting the Friends’ committee, who have questions concerning the potential effectiveness of this promising initiative.
SIMON SMALES, HEAD OF PLANNING, NYCC
The consultation process for the Ladybridge application will take at least a year. The new Thornborough Henges Consultation & Working Group set up by NYCC meets in private every six weeks. It is designed as a forum for the exchange of information between stakeholders in an effort to take the arguments out of the public domain and improve the clarity and understanding of different points of view. Minutes will be public, participants can submit papers, and Tarmac is to be co-opted. The objective is to ensure the most acceptable management scheme for the henges and the associated area, including access and information provision.
Comment: The Friends are represented on the Consultation & Working Group, but are concerned that no archaeological organisation is involved and that the minutes of the meetings, the first of which took place in January, have not yet reached the public domain.