Chaucer fields – entry for Woodland Trust competition

Dear all

I hope you have had a good summer. There’s no major news to report –  one reason why this Blog hasn’t been active for a while. But do look at the Save Chaucer Field’s  group’s summary of the state of play from a couple of month’s back if you want to get up to speed. Its  here or go to their home page via the Blogroll, top right hand corner of this Blog.

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Common Blue butterfly, Polyommatus icarus, Bushy Acres, Chaucer Fields, August 2014

This lack of important news in recent weeks –  really since Canterbury City Council announced that the draft District Plan include green gap status for the fields –  doesn’t mean public interest has faded, however. Quite the opposite. For example, I am regularly asked where things stand, and a few days ago this website passed the 10,000 hits mark, with a readership which is not only local, as well as increasingly national and international.

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Azure Damselfly, Coenagrion puella, Dover Down field, Chaucer Fields, August 2014

One idea which might, however, be worth mentioning is that  this month I am putting forward one of our oak trees for national recognition! This is via  the Woodland Trust’s English Tree of the Year competition . (See also the Blogroll link for more information on the trust.)

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The excellent Woodland Trust, like many other national and local  green groups, has long been supportive of our cause, and this seemed like a natural thing to do. Many of you will instantly recognise the tree in question as the young to middle aged Oak tree in the southern section of  Dover Down field, close to Roper’s twitchell,next to one of the many pathways that criss cross the Southern Slopes, and often chosen by picnickers.

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I am sure it will not be an ancient, knarled, or historically significant as some other trees entered for this event! But I think we’ve got a case. Its exceptional character stems from its surroundings and the way it is appreciated by so very many people, all the time.

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The tree is striking, somewhat set part from other  around the field, and visible from many angles across the fields. Viewed from the north east  over Dover down field it foregrounds some of the best views of Canterbury Cathedral and its world heritage site. From the north west, in Bushy Acres,  it sits between Roper’s Twitchell (the double hedge) in front, with St Dunstan’s church behind.  And situated in what is now being  recognised  as the Southern Slopes ‘green buffer’, it is close enough to large numbers of people – students and staff on the University campus, and those living in the residential area to the south – to be enjoyed by the many who walk, run or ride past it every single day.

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And its not an oak everyone just passes by! It has acted as a social focal point  for organising picnics, providing shade in hot weather and cover when wet. It has clearly witnessed many a story and many a song!

Whitstable's Mark Lawson in storytelling action

Students and friends at June picnic

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But most importantly to my mind, is its use by local children – not to mention adults – as convenient and accessible for climbing. The branches are positioned just right for any tentative 4 year old trying to get the hang of it, while more adventorous older people can and do climb 20 or even 30 feet up to gain excellent views across the landscape!

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Long may it continue – to use the cliche, for generations to come.  And I will let you know how we get on in this year’s competition!

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Chaucer Fielder

 

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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.

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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

Belated welcome – 2013

Dear all

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A belated Happy ‘New’ Year!  There’s one important, and perhaps under-reported development to note with the first Blog of 2013. We learned this week that Canterbury City Council officers are  recommending  to the Development Management Committee that the Keynes III development be granted planning permission. More on that below. Other than that, there’s nothing dramatic to pick up on: in a sense the “waiting game” continues in the run-up to March. However, there are some healthy signs that the momentum is steadily gathering in terms of actions and planning on the part of those seeking to protect the Fields as unspoilt shared green space. I’ll intersperse the text relating to the unspoilt slopes with images from last weekend’s snow on the Southern Slopes, including Chaucer Fields. As ever when it snows, many families and students were out and about enjoying the scenic beauty, and making the most of the opportunities to have fun that the weather presented!

1. Keynes III: Councillors likely to approve planning permission on 5 February 2013

A report has been written by officials for the Councillors who sit on the Development Management Committee of Canterbury City Council recommending the proposed development –  west of the existing Keynes II extension, and north of the Innovation centre (between Giles Lane and University  Road) –  be granted planning permission. Typically, Councillors vote in line with recommendations, so it is very likely that permission will be given. The report (download here) affirms the development is potentially positive both in terms of dealing with currently unmet accommodation needs for students (for the benefit of the University and city/District alike), as well as being on balance conducive to implementing existing business park plans.  (This is argued to follow especially from the construction of a new access road which would service both sets of needs).

As discussed in earlier Blogs, this was not a foregone conclusion. While the overwhelming majority of local opinion was in favour of the development – not least simply out of relief that it is less appalling than the Chaucer Fields megasite alternative originally mooted in 2011 – there were reasons for questioning the plans. Some of these perspectives were expressed in feedback received from expert bodies inside and outside the Council, and also by lay people too.

In a Chaucer Fields Picnic Society Blog written when the application was submitted in November, you may recall that four considerations were highlighted. However, since then, new information  has surfaced, much of it reported clearly in the officer’s report, which has lead to a revision in my position in respect of three of these issues.

  • Playing Fields: The objection has been withdrawn in the light of belated clarification by the University, following an internvention by Sports England, on the temporary nature of the playing fields in the context of its overall playing field provision;
  • Pre-existing Development Policies: The original objection, on the grounds of lack of clarity relating to the business park, has been withdrawn. That’s because a clear account on how the plans relate positively to long established policies (the District Plan, Supplementary Planning Guidance and linked Briefings), covering development of the land north of University Road, is included in the officer’s report.. (The University’s own material on this issue had been vague and incoherent, hence my initial objection);
  • New evidence on the Resilience of demand for University places (not in the officer’s report) suggests the absolute number of students seeking residential accommodation may be stable (even if, as a proportion of all students, the number seeking residential accommodation may fall in response to the new financial environment). The related objection has been withdrawn.

Accordingly, I have written to the  Council (download here) to say that  the earlier representation should be adapted. The view is expressed that planning permission should not be unconditionally withheld.  While the impact on the landscape north of Beverley farm (and the University Road) it problematic, the officer’s report does seem to put forward a balanced justification for allowing development there, in terms of policies and priorities which are democratically determined, and already in place.

However, it is suggested that the other point made in the original letter – that the alternative site analyses have been wholly inadequate – still stands, and it is noted that the Council’s report does highlight  ‘reservations’ on this point. Accordingly, the view is expressed that planning permission might reasonably be given, but given more conditionally: It is suggested it could be forthcoming  if and only if the University is now able to demonstrate conclusively that other sites are not appropriate (including especially the obvious options of Park Wood and Giles Lane car park (with compensatory underground parking)). Its failure to do so convincingly to date, given the importance of the issue, is frankly unacceptable. So, this basic requirement is still outstanding, and has not gone away. And the Council is always going to be haunted by ‘reservations’ and doubts about avoidable loss of green space, albeit of relatively modest amenity value,  unless this condition is attached and demonstrably and unambiguously met.     .

2.  Southern Slopes Forum (SoS Forum) initiated January 2013

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So evidently Council officials have been hard at work in recent weeks in drawing together the evidence needed by Councillors to make an informed decision. For their part, the promoters of the ‘development’ at the University  have been publicly silent for around 3 months now, although no doubt further work has been undertaken behind closed doors, especially in preparation for March’s public enquiry and potential planning application on Chaucer Fields themselves (see previous Blog).

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Elsewhere, those who embrace a positive vision for the Southern Slopes as unspoilt space have been preparing the ground for the future. Most importantly perhaps, the Save Chaucer Fields (SCF) group, the coalition of residents associations which has been central in driving the grass roots campaign against  ‘development’ on the unspoilt fields since 2011, have  prioritised working with relevant parties in preparing for the Village Green public inquiry. With the University conspicously choosing to be incommunicado, focussing on this crucial groundwork has made good sense. Please do refer to the ‘refreshed’ SCF homepage,and the SCF village green sub-page, which contains very important information about the pending public inquiry (see also the January newsletter, below).  Week beginning 18 march is the key moment, with hearings taking place on campus, but at an institution which is constitutionally separate from the University: the venue is the  Franciscan International Study Centre, Giles Lane, Canterbury CT2 7NA.

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It is significant too that a Southern Slopes Forum (SoS Forum) was initiated this month to facilitate communication and co-operation in defending the unspoilt Southern Slopes in the months ahead. The Forum is informal but will meet regularly, and includes CFPS, the Save Chaucer Fields group; participation from Kent Union, the students’ union, with community zone and environmental interests coming forward (now with a clear mandate to defend the Fields in the aftermath of last term’s decisive all student vote requiring the Union to campaign to Save Chaucer Fields); and involvement by the University and Colleges Union, the University of Kent staff union, whose members voted in favour of protection for the Fields last year.

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The SoS Forum intends to liaise with and potentially involve the many other sympathetic parties who share  commitment to the fields – including local church groups (especially the Church of England, with its historic stewardship role in relation to community land); the Canterbury Society, Greenpeace, local recreation groups, individual student-led societies, and a number of local businesses and local and national charities, including those who were mentioned in CFPS Blogs in 2012. The idea is to make sure that the collective voice of civil society on this matter cannot be marginalised. Not only will this voice be heard, but it will necessarily be heard with increasing volume and persistence!

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3. Upcoming Social and Fundraising Events March – May 2013

In its latest newsletter (see below) SCF report that they have set a target of £4,800 for the weeks ahead – especially to cover the costs of legal advice in pursuing the Village Green Application, and the costs associated with contesting the Chaucer Conference Centre Planning Application expected in March.Chaucer fields newsletter 2013 (fundraising) .

The SoS Forum are keen to build on the success of previous fundraising community events to support the campaign. And I am pleased to say that the joint SCF-CFPS Ceilidh, featuring traditional English dance music from Roystercatchers, at the end of  last year raised over £500, as well as bringing people together for a great – and different, for many – night out. Attendees included not only local people without University connections, but UKC staff and UKC students currently studying here with origins as far afield as the Middle East, China and the Caribbean!  We’ll need more events like this to keep the momentum going.

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Indeed, as mentioned in the newsletter above – and you’ll be aware of this if you follow Save Chaucer Fields on Facebook – a further fundraising quiz on the evening of 9th March in St Dunstans church hall is also planned. These events are indeed great fun, good for community morale, and strongly recommended. And: this is  an especially important event, happening as it does at the beginning of  March. Please do try to go if you can, or if you are unable to do so, please consider making a donation to the cause (see above).

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Aside from further quizzes, other collaborative events currently being  planned for 2013, with guidance form the SoS Forum,  include::

  • A further Roystercatcher English Ceilidh, and related  acoustic musical happenings on the University campus and beyond
  • As weather permits in the Spring, a series of picnics involving play and recreation
  • A gathering on the Southern Slopes focussed on the ‘Jack-in-the-Green’ constructed by Whitstable’s Dead Horse Morris, to mark the arrival of May, as happened in 2012
  • A celebration of  “Beating of the Bounds”  – also in May. In collaboration  with  local church authorities, this will be based around the parish boundary (between St Dunstans and St Stephens) that has across the Southern Slopes for centuries –  as well, of course as other places in Canterbury further south where the boundary lies. This ancient tradition has long been enacted in and around our city (see photo below), and has a fascinating history in this particular place. The Blog will have more to say about this tradition in the months ahead!
Beating bounds from Foxworthy

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

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

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