Imminent: Key event: Public Inquiry re Chaucer Fields Village Green App

Note re photographs in this Blog: The most exciting  pictures are courtesy of Canterbury Archaeological Trust – please see the last section of the Blog for more details. There are also some images of the Cathedral seen from the fields after dark, swathed in natural night time darkness and relatively unpolluted by artificial light. 

Village Green Application: Public Inquiry Process about to begin

A key purpose of this 44th Chaucer Fields Picnic Society Blog is to act as a reminder that a key moment in the Village Green Application (VGA) – which, if successful, would protect the fields from despoilation for the forseeable future – is now imminent. As mentioned in November’s Blog, the Public Inquiry begins this coming Monday 23rd February, and will last for 5 days.If needed, a further week has been reserved for evidence gathering next month (week beginning 16th march).

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Late Bronze Age pottery from water hole, Keynes III/Turing dig (see below). Reproduced courtesy of Canterbury Archaeological Trust

This Kent County Council (KCC) Inquiry will be conducted in Canterbury’s newly refurbished Westgate Hall and begins at 10.00am. This is an excellent and resonant choice of venue – resonant, because, like the fields, this has in recent years  been a much loved public space under threat of destruction. But as a result of an enormous community effort spearheaded energetically and with great skill by the Westgate Community Trust, that threat was challenged and successfully deflected. Let’s hope a similar fate awaits the fields.  Here, there is also a great breadth of support, and those wanting “development” find themselves isolated and way out on a limb. After all, let’s recall the obvious and almost ubiquitous support throughout the local geographical community – to which Canterbury City Council has commendably responded by proposing ‘green gap’ status for the fields in the draft District Plan (see First CFPS Blog of 2014).  But also let’s not forget the views articulated from within the university community itself: recall the decisive votes taken in favour of protecting the fields by both the staff union, the UCU, and the students’ union, Kent Union, earlier this decade.

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Cathedral from Dover Down field, chaucer fields, January 2015

While not everything depends upon a successful VGA, it would be an especially robust form of protection. So all who wish to see the natural beauty, breathtaking views, and wonderful health, leisure and social benefits associated with the existence of the unspoilt Southern Slopes safeguarded will want to follow the Public Inquiry process and its eventual outcome. It would be especially valuable if supporters who live locally and have the opportunity to attend the Inquiry express their commitment by coming along to some or all of the proceedings at Westgate Hall next week.

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Iron age charcoal pit used to produce charcoal & possibly used for culinary smoking purposes on a large scale.  Excavated at Keynes III/Turing dig in 2013, reproduced courtesy of Canterbury Archaeological Trust

SCF Facebook and Fundraising Quiz Night 7th March

For more  information and details on the Inquiry, please do follow the Save Chaucer Fields group’s Facebook page. You’ll also find there details of an important social event taking place between the two weeks of the Inquiry: there will be a Fundraising Quiz Night at the hall of St Dunstan’s church, Canterbury on Saturday 7th March from 7pm onwards. Again, please do come along to this too if you possibly can. These nights are always great fun, and allow supporters the chance to catch up socially, as well as hear the latest news about the campaign. But they also generate much needed financial resources for the SCF group, which relies on fundraising in order to cover legal costs and other expenses, which are high because of the complexity and depth of the Inquiry.

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Cathedral from Dover Down field, chaucer fields, January 2015

League Tables – mixed results for environmental issues:  a time for reflection

The University of Kent is rightly proud of the impressive record in research and teaching of its its academic staff.  A sense of the achievements, albeit somewhat mechanistically gauged, is communicated by its repeatedly strong showing in national “league tables”, and these results are reasonably used in efforts to persuade potential students, staff, funders and other stakeholders of the University’s significance. In recent years, such metrics have begun to be applied to other areas of higher educational life. The environmental dimension is an important one here. And although there is no equivalent to the routinised Government measures of performance in teaching and research, comparative yardsticks do seem to be beginning to come through.

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Late Iron Age Belgic slater. Excavated at Keynes III/Turing dig in 2013, reproduced courtesy of Canterbury Archaeological Trust

Accordingly, the University has recently been keen to point to an evaluative exercise suggesting this is also an area where has also done well, referring in various media to how its ‘green credentials‘ have been underscored by a study by the University of Singapore. However, is the picture quite this straightforward? The answer is no. Unlike the case of research and teaching, where all the evidence tends to point in the same direction (towards remarkably high achievement) this is in fact not the case in relation to environmental policy and practice when these results are put in context. In particular, an apparently longer established and much more wide ranging exercise, conducted annually by the highly reputable and locally rooted environmental charity People & Planet, has consistently found the University of Kent  stubbornly languishing with only a mediocre track record for some years- including the latest results released last month

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Cathedral from Dover Down field, chaucer fields, January 2015

People & Planet’s findings  do not seem to have received a great deal of attention, at least in the public domain, from University authorities as yet. But it will be important to scrutinise both sets of results in the months ahead to ascertain why these results are so dramatically different. It likely partly reflects differences in methodology and focus, including the apparently wider evaluative horizons of the People & Planet studies. But are there other considerations?  Presumably, both studies have strengths – but also weaknesses and flaws?  Whatever the situation, it would  surely be sensible to pause before rushing to celebratory conclusions. It would be healthy from the perspective of balanced communication, and working in the interests of transparency, for the University to engage with the results emerging from both exercises. so let us hope that the full range of evidence will be explicitly acknowledged and considered and debated in the months ahead.

Keynes III/Turing College – archaeological results

Finally, to add colour and interest to this Blog, with kind permission I have included images of late Bronze Age and Iron age artefacts found during Canterbury Archaelogical Trust’s  excavations of the land just north of Chaucer Fields (above Beverley Farm and the western segment of University Road). That’s because I know many of you are keenly interested not only in the visible aesthetic and environmental and recreational value of our cherished local landscape, but also how the land connects with our heritage: the historical and pre-historical patterns that  contribute to its sense of ‘specialness’.  For substantive details, I would like to refer you to the excellent interim report prepared by Ross Lane Some of you heard Ross speak about the findings during the ‘open day’ on the site for the dig last summer, as reported in a CFPS Blog in summer 2013.

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Loom weights, probably early Iron Age.Excavated at Keynes III/Turing dig in 2013, reproduced courtesy of Canterbury Archaeological Trust

Ross, whose modesty veils a remarkable level of expertise  especially on this period of our history,  has kindly offered to  talk at one of the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society events we will be holding this summer. I would be very grateful if you would let me know if you would be interested in hearing Ross share his knowledge in this area? Please email me at: chaucerfieldspicnicsociety@gmail.com if you would like to attend an informal talk at one of our picnics, and I’ll have a better sense of the basis for proceeding.

That’s it for now. I hope to see you at Westgate Hall for the Inquiry and at St Dunstan’s church hall for the quiz!

Chaucer  Fielder

Chaucer  Fields Picnic Society

 

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Next picnic date (21 Sept), District Plan deadline (30 Aug) & CAT Open Day

Dear all

I hope you are having  a good august. As you’ll have seen first hand, or may have picked up from the SCF Facebook site, the grass has now been cut, and the hay has been made!  So the fields are very much in late summer mode – for example, see image of Dover Down field below. This Blog will pick  up some of the threads of the last one, and is interspersed with some recent snaps from the fields:

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Southern part of Dover Down field looking north, Chaucer Fields, late August 2013

Draft District Plan consultation deadline looms

A reminder:  The deadline for sending in your responses to Canterbury City Council (CCC) in relation to the proposed local plan, which has enormous implications for the character of our landscape and environment for years to come, is the end this month (5pm Friday 30 August). In an earlier Blog I included a link to the relevant website. However, it is clear that some people have found understanding and navigating the specific route for responding presented via this portal to be  opaque and excessively complicated.

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Cathedral framed by Cade’s carvet hedge, southwards view from recently restored bench close to Innovation centre bus stop, august 2013

I was pleased to learn earlier this week that local community groups are sensibly suggesting that people  can respond in a much simpler and less time consuming way:  CCC should still take your feedback into account to the same extent as if you had followed the tortuous portal approach.

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Unspoilt  Southern Slopes, between Bushy Acres and Eliot pathway, August 2013

What is this simpler approach? In what follows I have drawn upon and supplemented the guidance of one of the leading community groups the material relating most obviously to the situation regarding chaucer fields, the unspoilt southern slopes and the University. They rightly emphasise you shouldn’t feel the need  to make a detailed or complicated response: a simple snail mail  letter or e-mail will do. But it’s a good idea to say which particular enumerated and named policies you’re referring to, where this is possible:

  • ·         Write to or email CCC if you agree with the proposal that the University of Kent should be required to produce a Masterplan for its campus, which maintains its campus character, respects the setting of the site in the wider countryside, and includes a landscape strategy, write to say that you support policy EMP7.
  • ·        Write to or email CCC If you agree with the proposals to protect the environment, including views across the city from the University slopes, and protecting open spaces, write to say that you support policies HE2, LB2 and OS8
  •        Write to or email CCC if you welcome  the provisional decision not to consider the Southern Slopes as a potential site for housing development (200-300 houses) because this would dramatically violate Sustainability Objectives (Evidence base:  the  SHLAA-sites-Analysis conducted by AMEC for CCC in 2012)

 You can send your comments by post to Planning Policy Team, Planning and Regeneration, Canterbury City Council, Military Road, Canterbury, CT11YW; or by e-mailing planning.policy@canterbury.gov.uk

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A juvenile jay foraging in apple tree dating back to Mount’s nursery days, southern part of Bushy Acres, august 2013

CAT Open Day, archaeological excavations

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Ross from CAT discusses evidence of burial at the Keynes III/Turing excavation

I attended this fascinating event in the morning. Expert CAT staff were on hand to share their wealth of knowledge about how what is being found on the Keynes III/Turing college site adds to our understanding of how our ancestors were living 2-3 millenia ago. A highly informative guided tour of the site was provided.  Amongst the highlights for me on the day were:

  • learning that the place was a local centre for our ancestors throughout the entire iron age, although there was also modest evidence of settlement as early as the bronze age. It would have been a hive of activity  at the same time that Bigbury camp, just a few miles away near Harbledown (well known internationally as the place for a key military struggle between local people and the invading forces of emperor Claudius in 54 AD) was also famously flourishing
  • finding out that the site hosted differentiated areas for habitation (evidenced, for example, by pottery and charcoal from fire pits) and working life (including textiles: in particular numerous loom weights have been found). There is also ample evidence of burial and material relating to  funeral pyres, suggesting  that sacramental ceremonies would also have been performed here
  • confirming that the people who inhabited the site were involved in trade and transactions with others from outside the area, and even beyond England. Kent has long been proud of its role as a vanguard of civilisation in the British Isles from before the common era, a status documented by contemporary Roman writers. A beautiful horse-design coin originating from the North West of continental Europe, then part of the Roman empire (perhaps from what is now Belgium or France), probably about two thousand years old,has been unearthed  on the Keynes III/Turing site (see image).  Our iron age ancestors in this place were apparently systematically engaging in monetized commerce with our continental neighbours when other parts of the country were still relatively insular and isolated!
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Pre-Roman invasion coin from continental Europe found at Keynes III/Turing excavation

Please see the CAT project site for more on this project in general. At the time of writing information on the success of  the open day has not yet been posted, but  hopefully an update will appear soon.

Next CFPS Picnic: Date confirmed

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Meadow Brown  basks in mid day sunshine, Bushy Acres, August 2013

I am delighted to announce that discussions on the timing of the collaborative picnic involving CFPS with local civil society groups has progressed, and we have now agreed a date: PM SATURDAY 21st September. Please put the date in your diaries now. I’ll report more detail on the plans in a future blog in terms of timing and content, but it’ll include all the usual CFPS activities (socialising, formal  games, informal play, musical  entertainment etc) and more besides.

Enjoy the rest  of your week!

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

July CFPS Blog – from prehistoric ancestors to UKC alumni

Dear all

Midsummer time

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Bushy Acres Field midsummer view, July 2013

I hope you are  enjoying the summer. Chaucer Fields and the Unspoilt Southern Slopes are now in midsummer mode, albeit looking a bit parched. Luxurious long grass playing host to numerous bees, damselflies and butterflies.

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Speckled Wood, Pararge Aegeria [Lennaeus, 1758],  “Beverley Boughs”, early July 2013

The butterfly population has included the ‘usual suspects’ – such as  Dusky Meadow Browns, Small Coppers, Small Whites and Small Tortoiseshells, but interesting to come  across a new one (to me) recently – the Speckled Wood (see photo above). This butterfly thrives in unpolluted and unspoilt wooded glades and tranquil settings. So finding plenty of then in ‘Beverley Boughs’ (see map below) shouldn’t  have come  as a surprise!

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CFPS Heritage map from 2012: especially good place to see butterflies is ‘Beverley Boughs’

CAT Open Day, Keynes III site

The main purpose of this Blog is to remind you of the upcoming open day at the Canterbury Archaeological Trust (CAT) dig currently underway just north of the fields – above University Road and Beverley Farm. You may recall that the University has been required to facilitate the dig as a condition for  obtaining planning permission to proceed with the Keynes III development. This  development is now being referred to as the ‘Turing college’ development although the rationale for this has not been discussed or debated as far as I know. Anyway, please see the map below.

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Source: Adapted from Canterbury Archaeological Trust official map to show site proximity to unspoilt Southern Slopes (including Chaucer Fields)

As mentioned in the last Blog, the open day will take place this thursday 25th July. It’s a great  opportunity to find out about the fascinating evidence for a middle iron age settlement (that means dating from the period 300 – 150 years BC) established here. This builds on what had already emerged in recent work at the St Edmund’s school campus close by.  Presumably this extraordinary site will have been flourishing alongside Bigbury Camp just a few miles away (near to Harbledown). This was a settlement which seems to have been more significant than Canterbury itself, long prior to the Roman invasion, only after which that city became the dominant population centre locally. The event will be opened by the Lord Mayor at 10.30am, although the gates will open to visitors at 9.30am and the event will continue until 4pm. There will be regular site tours and displays of finds. CAT say all are welcome to attend. For more hints on what is being discovered, please refer to the relevant CAT project site here

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source: Image provided by CAT. Note roof of Beverley farmhouse in middle distance in front of Cathedral

Other notes

A couple of  other reminders and information points:

  • Please recall that the Canterbury City Council District Plan consultation period is currently ongoing. We (as individuals, voluntary groups, or other organisations) have until the end of August to respond. Please refer back to the previous Blog for more information.
  • Following the enormously successful May event on Chaucer  Fields – combining a picnic with the ‘Beating the Bounds’ by local church parishioners – another picnic is currently being planned for later next month, or early september, with local environmental and social groups. This  will be another exciting collaboration. Please watch this space for more details of date, time and the arrangements for participation!
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The parochial bounds-beaters who met with Chaucer Fields picnickers in may 2013 were following an ancient local tradition. This image shows St Stephens parish bounds beaters from a century ago at the St Stephen’s level crossing. The tradition was already several centuries  old then. They  will have also walked through Chaucer Fields if they did their job thoroughly!  Source: “Canterbury in Old Picture Postcards” by the late Terry Hougham, European Library, reproduced with kind permission of his grandson Max Apps

To finish: more on UKC alumni Ed Quast’s photographs

Finally, you may notice that after a couple of years, it seemed to right to ‘refresh’ the Header image used for the Blog. It occurred to me that it is crucial that the images we use communicate the  point that the Unspoilt Southern Slopes are a fabulous asset for all local communities and all ages: the local geographical community that hosts the university campus; the university community itself, including current staff and students, as well as alumni; and people of all ages, with whichever communities they associate.

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Ed Quast’s prize -winning iconic Chaucer Fields photograph from 2011

The new CFPS Header Image is provided courtesy of Ed Quast, a former  UKC student with whom I’ve kept  in touch. His evocative photo of the fields from 2011 caught the imagination of local people and was voted one of the most popular of all local photographs that year (see above). Another previously unpublished photo from Ed appears below!

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Hope to see you on thursday!

All best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Late coming June 2013 CFPS Blog

Dear all

A CFPS Blog hasn’t been published for some time – nearly 2 months in fact! Sorry about that. I’ll focus on one main issue: the draft District Plan; but also at the bottom is an update on the opportunity to find out more about the archaeological dig now ongoing to prepare the ground for the Keynes III development. I’ll intersperse with some pictures mainly from the last picnic, beating of the bounds; but also how the fields have looked recently; and the repaired bench, where some of the best views over  the landscape can be had.  The weather has been a bit gloomy today, hopefully the images  will add a bit of brightness to a drab and grey day!

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May blossom on an old Southern Slopes apple tree, presumably dating from Mount’s Nursery days in the mid 20th century (long before the University existed)

Local (District) Plan: Consultation, University Master Plan draft policy, SHLAA sites

Today is the day on which the consultation over Canterbury City Council (CCC)’s District Plan and associated policy formally begins, please click on CCC Planning Consultation Page for more . Most readers will be aware that this is the most significant policy document in relation to planning, place, landscape and environment to emerge at local government for Canterbury, Whitstable, Herne Bay, and all the villages for years, and will be the main frame of reference for decision making  for the next two decades. Accordingly, its substantive content and priorities are absolutely crucial for the quality of life and environment of local communities well into the future  (and long beyond the timeframe of local and national elections).It is good to know that local people and interested parties have a  relatively generous timeframe for responding to the plan – until the end of August. This seems proportionate, given the significance of the document.

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Picknickers on Dover Down field, Chaucer fields ,5th may 2013

This process of engagement  is very much needed. That’s because, in general, the Local Plan is highly controversial, not least because  the claims made within it about the scale of housing need are contested by many informed observers. It also provides an opportunity for anyone who believes the cases for concentrated house building on several key greenfield sites have not been sufficiently  made, and that the deleterious potential consequences of proceeding with them have not been recognised, to express their views (individually, and through local groups, including residents’ associations, and environmental and heritage groups).

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Richard Navarro and fellow musicians of all ages, Dover down field, Chaucer fields, 5th may 2013

I have my own provisional views on these general issues, and will submit a representation to the process in due course, But for now, I simply feel the need to be much better informed. If you are in the same boat, you may consider attending an upcoming event: the Canterbury Society is organising  a “Local Plan Open Meeting” at the United Reformed Church Hall in Watling Street at 7.30 pm on Tuesday 25 June. Attenders will have the chance to pose questions to both the political and delivery leadership of CCC (John Gilbey and Colin Carmichael). This is an open meeting, all are welcome. please do try  to come if  you can.

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Impromptu football game on Dover  Down field, Chaucer fields, at picnic, 5th may 2013

How are Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes treated in the draft Local Plan? In my opinion, there’s one very sensible but under-reported policy proposal in the Plan, which goes with the grain of a suggestion made on this Blog last year, in turn picking up on an idea long promoted by the Canterbury Society and other knowledgeable local groups. CCC is proposing that the University be required to develop and publicly present a Master Plan for campus development.(see draft policy EMP7 UKC masterplan. for the precise wording used at present ).

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Climbing an oak tree, Dover down field, picnic 5th may 2013

This is good news for both the host and university communities, because it would mean the piecemeal, ad hoc and disjointed approach taken in recent years, shying away from rational comparison of alternative options, and eschewing systematic critical scrutiny, would in future be considered unacceptable. Indeed, it is very difficult  to see how the original  2011 Chaucer Fields proposals, and arguably even the 2012 Keynes III proposals, could  have been countenanced if such a strategic framework document had existed. In my view, it is just a shame that it may take the strong arm of local government mandate, rather than the University’s  own responsible voluntary initiative, to ensure this level of transparency and accountability is set in place for the future (for the benefit of both communities).

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Bounds-beating St Dunstan’s parishioners, lead by Reverend Mark Ball,  trying to clarify location of ancient boundary with St Stephen’s parish , 5th may 2013

Various other aspects of the District Plan and the associated appraisals are clearly potentially relevant for the future of Southern Slopes too. But the single most obvious and direct implication is how CCC have responded to the University’s suggestion that the land could be used for extensive residential housing development, a proposal in the system from several years ago, even while the Chaucer Conference Centre etc proposals were also being mooted (this is confused and confusing; see CFPS discusson of  the SHLAA for an earlier attempt to clarify). Despite the University of Kent’s offer, for now at least it seems that CCCare intending to rule out this proposal.

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Young picnic enthusiast explaining significance of picnic to passing dog-walker, 5th may

Why the provisional rejection?  This seems to be because CCC have affirmed their recognition, following a ‘technical’ analysis by AMEC consultants (see SHLAA-sites-Analysis), that the unspoilt land here is of real landscape and environmental  significance for the District (an analysis consistent also with the values implicit in the draft landscape appraisal documents accompanying the District Plan)

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English bagpipes, Dover down field, Chaucer fields, 5th may

This can be contrasted with the submission written by the heads of the University Estates department, and submitted to CCC last  year, as part of the earlier round of intelligence gathering to inform the District Plan. This bizarrely inward looking document (which was not considered or signed off by the University Council prior to submission) finds no room at all to account for landscape, environmental or social considerations. It is framed entirely as if the ‘business case’ of the University,  narrowly construed in reductionist terms, is all that matters (Click Submission to the CCC Local Plan 131112 REDACTED for the publicly available version of the Estates department’s submission, obtained  by Chaucer Fielder through a Freedom of Information request, ).

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Young picnic enthusiast still explaining picnic to passing dog-walker, 5th may

Coming back to the AMECreport, personally I would have liked to see more recognition given  to the benefits of the unspoilt land here as local green open space with demonstrably very high amenity, recreational and leisure value for both the host and University communities. However,  the fact that CCC does give significant weight at least to landscape and environmental considerations in this context  is encouraging.

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Picnickers and St Dunstan’s bounds-beaters cross paths, Dover Down field, Chaucer fields, 5th may 2013

Moreover, if these characteristics are considered important in deciding about whether development is permissible for residential housing proposals, they would also need to be recognised as important if any future planning application for a conference centre/hotel or student accommodation does materialise in the months ahead. (This is also hinted at in the material elsewhere in the draft Local Plan on tourism). Otherwise, the policy in relation to the character and value of this land could be characterised as inconsistent and incoherent.

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Buttercups, and may flower (hawthorn) in Jack Cade’s carvet, Bushy Acres, Chaucer fields, early June 2013

Indeed, it could be speculated that the expected planning application for a University conference centre/hotel etc has itself failed to materialise as forecast because of how the residential housing suggestion is dealt with in the draft Local Plan. That’s to say, perhaps we have seen no application because the pro-development group in the University has itself finally understood that decision making in this setting is now demonstrably not  just about their narrowly construed ‘the business case’, but must also factor in other, broader criteria which relate to the public interest. (Although it is the future rather than the current local plan which we are considering, it is relevant because it send a clear message about CCC’s general ‘direction of policy travel’ to both current and future developers).

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Cathedral view with Southern Slopes, prior to recent bench repair, early spring 2013

We could also expect that the situation could be evolving internally in terms of the balance of power between leading individual figures in the University’s power structures.The views of the main public champion of the Chaucer Conference Centre proposal and co-author of the aforementioned Estates Department submission, Professor Keith Mander, are becoming less relevant as he is soon to be replaced.

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Cathedral view and Southern Slopes, with new bench, later in  spring 2013 (with thanks to the front line staff of the Estates Department for the repair, and looking after the place)

However, for now this must all remain speculation. It is still quite possible that the University will still submit a planning application for  the Chaucer Conference Centre in the months ahead:its track record is not encouraging, after all.  Moreover, it is also still possible that the Southern Slopes, while rejected provisionally as a site for mass residential housing development at this stage, could come back onto the agenda in a later, revised version of the plan.

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Cathedral and Marlowe theatre viewed from Dover Down field, Chaucer fields, June 2013

It needs to be remembered that this is still a draft, and further development sites could theoretically be added between now and the finalisation of the Plan. It may well be that a coalition of developer and pro-developer interests in the University could seek to  exert  pressure  on CCC to reconsider, even though it has already articulated clear reasons for rejecting the site for development. Those of us who wish to see the Southern Slopes continue to be respected and protected as unspoilt space,will need to be vigilant,continuing to monitor planning applications and the trajectory of the Local Plan as it moves from its current draft status towards the finalised version in the month ahead.

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Chilling and climbing trees, Dover Down field, Chaucer fields picnic 5th may 2013

Archaeological Developments at Keynes III: Date for your Diaries

In the last Blog, I alerted readers to the significance of the ongoing excavations of the  Canterbury Archeaological Trust (CAT) on the Keynes III site, which seem likely to be running for a good deal of the summer period.  I am pleased to report that CAT are arranging for an open day on Thursday 25th July.  This will be an exciting opportunity to learn more about our local pre-history. There will be tours of the site, and a chance to look at the finds. CAT want as many people as possible to attend. Please do get in touch by emailing chaucerfieldspicnicsociety@gmail.com if you would like to participate.  .

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Blackcap at bottom of Bushy Acres field, southern part of Chaucer Fields, June 2013

All best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic society

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Favourite climbing oak in sea of buttercups, Dover Down field, Chaucer fields, June 2013

Postscript: Some of you attended and enjoyed the Roystercatcher’s ceilidh, raising funds for the Save Chaucer Fields group, last november. I am pleased to let you know there’ll be an informal Roystercatchers ceilidh this saturday 22 June, 7pm-9pm, St Dunstans church hall. Entry is only £3, and although not an SCF-CFPS fundraising event, it will be a chance to meet friends from the fields and catch up on news. Please find here a practice ceilidh poster june 2013. Please email roystercatchers@gmail.com  if you would like to come along.

From Bulldozers, bees and bounds….to pre-history,presidents and picnics

One White Sugar University Road view

source: One White Sugar, Faversham (see Blog text below )

This Blog is admittedly something of a rag-bag of information and observations. If it is the chaucer fields ‘picnic’ aspect that you are here to find out about, Sunday 5th May is the key date for your diary. Please scroll down to the end of the Blog. But I hope there are other points of interest in what follows.

No news: expected Chaucer Conference Centre planning application

The nearest thing to news here is what  hasn’t happened. The University’s Chaucer Conference Centre planning application, expected to have materialised by now (on the basis of what University authorities chose to tell us last year), has not done so. Unfortunately, no news is not necessarily good news in this case. Although there are ongoing and imminent changes of personnel at the most senior level at the University which we might hope could lead to fresh thinking on this matter, there is as yet no evidence of policy change. So we’ve no obvious reason to believe the University has abandoned its plans to replace fields, trees and beautiful vistas with tarmac, multi-storey buildings and high rise blocks. It seems most likely that delays beyond its control, or deliberate stalling, explain this latest episode of policy drift.

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One of the  favourite oak trees amongst climbers, with the cathedral and marlowe theatre in the background. Southern part of Dover down field, chaucer fields, april 2013

Unspoilt Southern  Slopes Imagery 

Happily, spring in with us in earnest at last. The unspoilt Southern Slopes, including chaucer fields, are now coming to life with verdant fresh foliage, the hum of bees and other insects, and resonant birdsong. This includes the melodious singing of robins, wrens, blackbirds and thrushes; the chirping of house sparrows and dunnocks; the cackling of the several members of the crow family that frequent the fields; the repetitive calls of chiff-chaffs, tits and  finches; and the drumming and characteristic laugh-like cries of great spotted and green woodpeckers.

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Honey bee, Bushy Acres field, middle part of chaucer fields, April 2013

No new photos from Mark Kilner this time, I’m afraid (see previous Blog and Blogroll, right). But I did stumble across the image at the top of  the Blog. This is a striking artistic representation from Nigel Wallace, founder of the Faversham business White One Sugar, which specialise in posters and cards capturing iconic Kentish and national scenes. The style is inspired by mid twentieth century railway advertising posters. They have developed a number of Canterbury images. You’ll notice the one here captures the Cathedral framed by the unspoilt landscape. This is famously  part of the remarkable panoramic views whose integrity would  be undermined forever if building south of University  road and east of Chaucer College were to proceed. Nigel tells me that this is  one of their best selling representations of Canterbury.

A Pesticide Free Zone

In what follows, I’ll revert to interweaving some more of my own amateur photographic efforts into the  text this time round. I have paid  some attention this time to life which is able to flourish by virtue of the fact that this land has never been subjected  to pesticides, chemical sprays or other contaminants over the years, unlike much other proximate land. This is a topical international issue at the moment, with the ongoing debate on whether or not to control much more tightly at European level the use of the pesticides with wildlife in mind  – especially  in the light  of the dramatic decline in bee numbers in recent years.

XXX Dover Down Field, late may

Small Copper,  Dover Down Field, late may 2012

To underscore the value  of the fields in their  unspoilt state from this perspective, I’ve included photos from the last few days,and last summer, of the commonest types of  bees and  the butterflies which are in evidence here at these  times of year.  A less well know manifestation of the fields’ spray-free past is  the existence of a wide range of fungi. A friend of mine who was studying botany some years ago, told me that in a single morning of mycology field work, he catalogued at least 35 varieties of fungi on the Southern Slopes. The combination of trees and uncontaminated open space on the slopes is especially conducive to their flourishing.   

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small tortoiseshell, south western part of Dover Down field, chaucer fields, april 2013

CAT excavations beginning: Keynes III site north of unspoilt Southern Slopes

Anyone expecting to experience the wonderful tranquillity which has been a signature feature of the fields for so many years will have been struck by the uncharacteristic temporary intrusion of noise during the day time this month. As people who venture to the northern part of the fields, or University Road users will have witnessed, the reason is that the diggers and bull dozers have been active to the north and east of Beverley Farm. They are clearing the ground in historic Saw Pett field for the ‘Keynes  III development’ student accommodation blocks. As a condition of giving planning permission, Canterbury City Council required that Canterbury Archeaological Trust (CAT) conduct excavations on the site.

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Initial trench at Keynes III site, east of Beverley farm and north of University Road,            4 april 2013

Seeing the fields close to Beverley Farmhouse being dug up in this way is a troubling sight – in my opinion, especially sad in the context of the University never having demonstrated convincingly that other, alternative sites –  including Park Wood and Giles Lane car park (with compensatory underground parking) –  could not have been developed. However, unlike land further south, this part of campus was already earmarked for commercial development several years ago.

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Digger for Keynes III site close to Beverley Farm, april 2013

Moreover, encountering this ‘development’  so close by will, for sure, harden the resolve of the many people already committed to preserving the unspoilt  fields further south, below University road, to do everything possible to ensure this can never happen there. Witnessing the digging will also surely raise awareness of the threatened status of the proximate area amongst regular and routine University road  users who, up until now, may not have given the issue much attention.

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Working on the Keynes III site, mid April 2013

There’s also something positive to report on how the process will unfold. Regular readers of this Blog will be aware how important CAT’s work has already been in drawing on historical documentary evidence on the heritage value of the setting of Beverley Farm – both north and south. But the ongoing archeological work seems set to systematically evidence, for the first time, that the significance of this place for human settlement  long pre-dates the medieval origins of the farmhouse over half a millenium ago. As expected given the ancient impact of man on the shape of the land and character of the place, CAT have advised me that some Pre-Historic finds are already in evidence.

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Honey bee, Dover Down field, mid april 2013

This  is hardly surprising, since in very local terms the Beverley Farm setting  is obviously nearby to  the iron age centres of Canterbury and Bigbury Camp. Indeed from a county-wide perspective, this part of Kent is especially rich in prehistoric settlements (see Alan Ward’s chapter ‘Overall Distribution of Prehistoric Settlement sites’ in Lawson and Killinggray’s Historical Atlas of Kent, Phillimore, 2004). Perhaps this will remind University authorities that the campus’s presence here accounts for just a fleeting moment of historical time: It should be approaching its land stewardship responsibilities with great care and humility.

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Male chaffinch, southern part of Chaucer Fields, mid april 2013

Indeed, I think this is a good chance for people from both communities to work together for a common heritage interest, and the dig is going to be ongoing for several months. So please watch do continue to watch this space for .

  • updates on finds as the excavation unfolds; and
  • opportunities for the local and university communities to get actively involved as volunteers in the process of revealing our past.
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Buds on one of the apple trees presumably dating back to Mount’s nursery days earlier in the 20th century. Central southern part of  chaucer fields, april 2013

Kent Union election for sabbatical officers 2013/14

I have written to congratulate the President-elect of Kent Union, Chelsea Moore, on her electoral success last month. She’ll take up the sabbatical position as head of the University of Kent’s students’ union, covering the academic year 2013/14, in the autumn. What has this got to do with the fields? For now, Kent Union’s adoption of a policy to ‘campaign to save chaucer fields’ in response to the all student vote (ASV) last year has not really generated any visible results under the current leadership, despite suggestions  reported in an earlier Blog that these might be pending. But we can I suppose assume that it has helped shaped the approach taken in handling the issue in behind-the-scenes discussions with the University authorities. And there is of course still ample time for the existing leadership to take a more publicly apparent contribution.

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Spring growth inside one of  Chaucer Fields’ many hedges, april 2013

But looking further into the future let’s hope that Kent Union’s approach will become bolder and more transparent. In a pre election statement, Chelsea chose to emphasise how “Research highlighted that students feel there is a lack of social areas on campus where they are not prompted to spend money. I would lobby the University for more communal areas on campus for people to relax and socialise in comfort.” ( see About Chelsea Moore).

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Blue tit glimpsed through Jack Cade’s carvet, central part of chaucer fields, april 2013

Protection of the currently unspoilt Southern Slopes clearly goes hand in hand with this aspiration: it is indeed precisely a communal area which allows for relaxation (as well as much else besides, of course). Combining this with the policy commitment she will inherit from the 2012 ASV, we can hope that the protection of chaucer fields  will be an important priority for Kent Union in 2013/14

Bee, Dover Down field

Honey Bee, Dover Down field, end of may 2012

5th May: Beating the Bounds… and a picnicking invitation

The historical fascination of Beverley Farmhouse and  the Southern Slopes are not just to do with pre-history or the medieval period. One of the most fascinating documents to be turned up by CAT in their 2011 research was an early eighteenth century map. (See Hill’s map, with the proposed 2011 ‘development’ plan boundary incongruously superimposed. This is a bit confusing to the modern observer, because north and south are inverted!)   The resonant historical field names on this 1706 map (which I have resurrected and used in this Blog over the past year) are striking. But one thing also in evidence is that the cartographer is unable to give a clear parochial boundary! This is because the land close to where the double hedge (“Roper’s twitchell”) is now prominent was then clearly not part of either St Stephens or St Dunstans parish. The issue was only resolved by magistrates, with the parish boundary unambiguously defined in law some years later.

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Bell Harry tower and Bushy Acres field trees, Chaucer fields, April 2013

Against  this backdrop, the continuation of the ‘beating the bounds‘ tradition, to demarcate where the St Stephens-St Dunstans boundary was finally situated, is especially interesting. Two years ago, Reverend Justin Lewis-Anthony led his parishioners over these fields as part of the process of beating the bounds of St Stephens. This year on sunday 5 May Reverend Mark Ball will be doing the same for neighbouring St Dunstans, including walking through Chaucer Fields. By so doing, he will also be drawing attention to the importance attached by the church to land with which it is historically deeply associated, and which is currently highly valued and widely used by the local community.  If  you are free on that day , please come to witness this tradition.

Unspoilt view of St Dunstan's church, June 2012

Unspoilt view of St Dunstan’s church from close to University road, from June 2012

We will be holding a  picnic which aims to coincide with the presence of the St Dunstans parishioners on the field. It will involve the usual combination of music, recreation, relaxation and socialising. It will almost certainly be in the afternoon, but more details will be circulated by email, texts, tweets and on the Save Chaucer Fields Facebook page closer to the time.  Hope to see you there!

Beating bounds from Foxworthy

Source: Customs in Kent, Tony Foxworthy, 2008, Country books, reproduced with permission

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society