Resident Mistle thrush, late may 2014, later nested successfully,
chaucer fields ©Mark Kilner.
Whitethroat , late may 2014, thought to be in transit,
chaucer fields ©Mark Kilner
The fields have been incomparably enchanting on several days this month. The combination of ample rain and periods of warm unbroken sunshine, as summer turns to autumn, have produced a spectacular combination of active wildlife, luxuriously verdant grass, and infinite gradations of green, yellow and orange in foliage. Especially earlier in the mornings and as dusk approaches, the light has been spectacular, and it has been a privilege and pleasure to walk, cycle or run amidst the meadows and hedgerows.
I’ve got some recent photos interspersed in this blog in the usual way, although doubtless they can’t even begin to do justice to the scenery – you have to be there to experience the extraordinary semi-natural beauty of the landscape, and to witness all that it offers for people and wildlife. On the latter front – its great to know that dragonflies have been in abundance well into late october, and the fields have been frequented by a bird of prey, apparently breeding on the Eastern part of the Slopes in summer. I’ve been guided by Mark Kilner, the local wildlife photographer and expert, in identifying the types of dragonfly (they’re hawkers) and confirming the persistent presence of the sparrowhawk on the fields (we don’t yet have photos of these particular birds, but in the meantime see some of Mark’s sparrowhawk images from other places on his flickr site here)
This blog will also provide an update on the timing some of the key local government decision processes which are going to be critical in determining the future of this place in the years ahead. It looks like early 2014-early 2015 will be the time period during which the destiny of the fields will begin to come clearer. I’ll finish with a further foraging note and draw your attention to a new musical tribute to the fields which will be going public next month for the first time!
Waiting Games: Village Green Application and Local District Plan
We have been experiencing ‘waiting games’ for some months in relation to the pending decisions by Kent County Council (KCC) and Canterbury City Council (CCC) regarding how the fields will be treated in the future in local public policy terms. And we know the University has been publicly silent on the issue for some months. This now seems set to continue: It therefore seems very unlikely that the University would choose to submit any further Chaucer Fields planning application over the next few months (for example, along the lines of the proposed “Chaucer Conference” hotel complex and accommodation blocks presented at their ‘consultation’ in 2012 – see the CFPS Blog of a year ago).
In relation to KCC, the Village Green Application – which, if successful, would protect the fields from predatory ‘development’ in perpetuity – has now been subjected to a further delay. As reported by the Save Chaucer Fields Group (SCF), a preliminary report on the scope of legitimate evidence – needed by KCC’s regulation committee as a prior step to conducting a public inquiry – is to be published later than originally hoped. And this is still at the ground clearing stage, meaning that the public inquiry itself is unlikely to begin until March or April 2014.
SCF also report that they are seeking to recruit further witnesses to strengthen the already powerful pro-protection case, and are seeking further donations, especially to cover legal costs relating to the inquiry. Please refer to their locally distributed Newletters or access the SCF Facebook page for fuller details, and offer as much support as you can.
The other local government policy decisions – or more accurately, set of decisions – which will be crucial to the future of the fields is the ongoing process of determining the contents of the CCC Local (District) Plan. This could, if policy makers choose, potentially protect this place for decades ahead, whatever the result of the Village Green Application. That’ll be the case if the final version ends up retaining or strengthening some of the proposed priorities in the existing consultation draft. Amongst the relevant considerations are:
As mentioned above, these are still draft policy proposals, although encouragingly, recognising the relevance of the the first two sets of priorities is in line with CCC’s provisional decision to reject the University’s application for the Southern Slopes to be considered as a site for mass residential housing development.. We don’t yet know whether these commitments will be carried over into the final adopted policy framework or not. Each could in theory potentially be strengthened, weakened, or remain unchanged as the plan is finalised (and presumably, a range of vested interests have been, and will continue, to lobby vigorously to have any such constraints on a ‘development’ free-for-all diluted or abandoned).
What’s the timetable here? Like the Village Green at KCC level, 2014 will potentially be a key year. CCC have confirmed this in specifing a timeline earlier in the summer in their document Canterbury District Local Development Scheme which sets out the transition from draft LDP status to adopted LDP. December 2014 is specified there as the formal target date for LDP adoption, but in correspondence this month, the Planning Department have clarified there may be some slippage: There seems to be some uncertainty, although not nearly as much as in the Village Green Application process. They have indicated that they are currently working through all the comments received in the latest consultation round which closed at the end of August. The actual timeline next year partly depends on the national Planning Inspectorate itself (which must sign off all LDPs as appropriate and robust before they can be adopted). So it could be that early 2015, rather than december 2014, is the moment when the content of the final adopted LDP is actually settled.
Foraging Update: chestnut time
Meanwhile, life goes on at the fields. The opportunities for members of the host and university community to harvest blackberries and apples from the unspoilt Southern Slopes have now passed, but others have come round. As thoughts turn to cold winter nights, for people relying on open fires or stoves for heating at home, plenty of kindling can be had from the wooded sections of the slopes. The two other obviously traditional ways in which nature’s bounty is still just about at a productive moment is in relation to chestnuts. Chaucer Fields and the broader Southern Slopes include some fine examples of both sweet chestnuts and horse chestnuts.
Sweet chestnuts can be simply roasted in said fires, or cooked using other methods as part of recipes. Personally, I have used them for beef casseroles in the past, although haven’t yet got round to that this year! Drop me an email if you’d like the recipe! By contrast, the horse chestnut provide us with conkers, used by generations of children for conker fights. As this game may be quite specific to the UK and Ireland, and this Blog now has a growing following of overseas readers, I thought I had better give a bit more information about this.
In “Conkers” a hole is drilled in a large, hard horse chestnut – “conker” – using a nail, gimletor small screwdriver. A piece of string is threaded through it about 25 cm (10 inches) long and large knot at one or both ends of the string secures the conker.
So, warmth, food and fun can currently all be had by taking advantage of what the Slopes currently have to offer…
And finally…. musical endnote
Music has long been an integral part of the efforts to raise awareness about the beauty and value of Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes as unspoilt shared green space. Informal playing and jamming have been an important feature of many picnics; Richard Navarro and Brendan Power’s version of “Big Yellow Taxi” focussing on the fields received attention in the local media, and a huge hit rate on youtube; and at the end of last year local acoustic group Roystercatchers helped raise funds for SCF by running a ceilidh
Roystercatchers are now running their own regular ceilidhs in Whitstable and Canterbury (click here to see one of the dances). I mention this here because the next one – at 7pm, saturday 23rd November, St Stephens church hall, Hales Drive, Canterbury – potentially may feature the first even public performance of a “Southern Slopes Song”. This has been written to pay homage to the beauty of the fields, and seeks to raise awareness of its threatened status. If you would like more information, to hear the song, and to join the ceilidh (no traditional dance experience required), simply email email@example.com. They’ll be pleased to answer your questions, and tickets (£6 each) can be reserved for you in advance (the capacity of the hall is modest, this is advised to avoid disappointment). If the song isn’t ready for this particular event, it’ll be performed at another roystercatchers event in the near future instead.
Chaucer Fields Picnic Society
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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!
Chaucer Fields Picnic Society
CFPS First Anniversary
This month its the one year anniversary Blog of the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society! Because this is a subject about which many people feel so strongly, I think the CFPS Blog was always going to be ‘pushing at an open door’ in terms of levels of interest. But I have been taken aback by quite how extensive this interest has been. The site’s had over 6,700 views, with people appearing to find it especially useful when there are significant news items to report. Interestingly, though, its not just being used by locally based people to keep a tab on events they can attend, or developments which potentially directly affect the environment in which they work and live. Its also now read in other parts of the world, including (in descending order of significance) the United States, Russia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, India, Australia, Italy, Singapore, Spain, and in other countries too in more modest numbers. On reflection, this is not so surprising: Canterbury is a proud World Heritage city, and threats to its setting should therefore be expected to concern people from across the globe Furthermore the University itself rightly prides itself on the cosmopolitan character if its ‘community’ extending all over the world, and some of this interest reflects the extent to which people with UKC links are keen to follow developments from many different places.
I’ve also had feedback that people appreciate the seasonal and historical imagery the Blog has sought to disseminate. With ‘home grown’ snaps I have made my own efforts throughout the year to communicate something of the natural beauty and charm of this place, and give a sense of how it is enjoyed throughout the year. But I have also been able to draw on the work of others, a rewarding, intriguing and a great learning experience. I want to take this chance to thank all the people who have generously shared their pictures and thoughts with me in the past year, all united by recognition of the urgency and importance of the cause.
What better way to underscore the importance of this co-operative effort that to showcase here very high quality images from the past and present? First, the image above was taken nearly two years ago (April 2011) by a University of Kent student, Edwin Quast. But its appeal is surely enduring. It captures so well the magical light and sense of tranquility that pervades the unspoilt fields around dusk and dawn in the spring . It is no surprise that it went on to win an award last year, as part of the “365 Projects” supported through Kent Creative Art. This remarkable community initiative has successfully captured with meaningful and resonant photography the places, people and situations which matter to local people.
Second, the specialness of the Southern Slopes is not only to do with its character as a historically significant beautiful and peaceful landscape. Its also about the wildlife which can be found there. I was delighted to find out recently that the university community has in its midst a very gifted wildlife photographer, Mark Kilner, who has kindly given me permission to mark the CFPS anniversary with some of his recent Southern Slopes photographs. His wonderful picture of a treecreeper, below is an example of a bird I had long expected to find here (given the character of the habitat), but have never actually succeeded in spotting! .Further Southern Slopes photographs from Mark follow below (please also take a moment to visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/markkilner/ ) .
Since the last CFPS Blog at the beginning of the month, the following developments are worth reporting:
In addition,the Village Green preliminary hearing took place this week at the International Franciscan Studies Centre. There was good attendance from the public. The need for this hearing, prior to the long awaited public inquiry, had arisen out of a disagreement between the village green applicants (local people who have used the fields freely for decades) and the objector (the University authorities) about the time frame relating to which evidence may be considered relevant at the inquiry. Basically, the former would now prefer to be able to draw upon evidence over more than four decades, whereas the University authoriities are seeking to limit the evidence to the period 1991 – 2011. This is a complex legal issue, and the barristers for each party presented their cases to an expert Inspector from Kent County Council.
The KCC Inspector will now review their arguments, and recommend a decision concerning the legally appropriate time frame to the relevant KCC committee (the regulation committee). It is only once that committee has taken the decision that the public inquiry itself can begin with a clear frame of reference. Since the May 2013 KCC elections will need to have taken place for the regulation committee to be properly constituted, the public inquiry itself can not take place before later in the summer, months later than originally planned. Further time will then be needed for the inquiry report to be written and a recommendation made to the KCC regulation committee concerning whether or not Village Green status should be granted. The overall result is that the outcome of the Village Green Application will not be known for many months.
These legal twists and turns were unforseeable when this Blog began.My view is that the delays which follow from them are on balance a good thing for friends of the unspoilt Southern Slopes. That’s because while frustratingly complex, it affords more time for awareness of the true value of this beautiful place to continue to heighten, and allows the University a further opportunity to reconsider its position. It now faces a mass of compelling evidence and argument from an enormous number of people currently collaborating to protect the fields for the future,and committed to continue to do so in the years ahead.
Chaucer Fields Picnic Society