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).

10. LBA-EIA pottery from water hole

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.

19. charcoal pit

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.


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.

15. Loom wieghts-1

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: 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


Guest Blog – an American student’s perspective


Welcome to the first “Guest Blog” from the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society!  We start with a contribution from Justinian Dispenza, an American student who was studying for a year in Canterbury in  2010-11. Justinian was one of a group of  students, from Britain and abroad, who took the initiative in efforts to highlight the environmental value of unspoilt Chaucer Fields. A Film Studies student here for a year from Indiana University, Justinian applied his skills in two ways to draw attention to the situation. His Hedgerow Havoc video, when posted on YouTube, secured hundreds of hits,  bringing humour and a sense of fun to the campaign, and helped catalyse large numbers of students to take part in the Chinese Lantern Event of February 2011. If you haven’t seen this clip, you can it now  by clicking here: Hedgerow Havoc . Second, Justinian went on to capture the event itself on video, another YouTube film which has meant that people who were not there at the time have been made aware of what happened that evening  [see Blog Roll, right].


Justinian being serious, Roper’s Twitchell, August 2012


Justinian  developed  an interest in environmental issues at school through involvement in recycling projects. He has subsequently worked with several British and US-based international environmental NGOs as volunteer and paid staff, including the Sierra Club student’s coalition, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and People & Planet. In relation to Chaucer Fields, as the Blog captures, he is committed to the cause for the long term, and is spreading the word amongst peers in Indiana, and other Universities. He is hoping to work in Environmental media in the UK or elsewhere in Europe when he graduates in 2013.   Justinian is currently visiting Canterbury again – including Chaucer Fields of course (see photos). He is using the city as a base for wider European forays, combining visits to old friends, touristic travelling and  the  take up of volunteering opportunities in organic agriculture. He sees these efforts as part and parcel of his commitment to environmental respect and social justice.

Justinian not being serious, Roper’s Twitchell, August 2012


Chaucer fields. They are home to dog walkers, runners, cyclists, frisbee players, picnic makers, amateur photographers, tree climbers of all ages, and everything in between.  But, is it even more than that: It is so much more.  These fields, and the Southern Slopes of which they are part, are in my experience one of the major reasons for international students choosing to study at the Universiy of Kent.

As an international student, I had many options to study all over the world and had a list of 5 or so programs that accepted me.  I come from a small town in the USA and I grew up around parks, picnics, and the great outdoors although Indiana’s great outdoors are significantly flatter than the natural beauty you have in the UK! So  when I got the brochure from the University of Kent and saw the aerial shots of the University, its massive “green belt”  – clearly seperating it from the city, yet with Canterbury at the same time within easy reach –  I instantly knew that this place was going right up near the top on my list.  Universities in the US tend not to  have green belts: concrete and tarmac usually dominate.

I have always felt that the UK is at least five years ahead of the United States on progressive thinking and environmental responsibility and foresight.  And this thinking, of which the British should be proud, is bound up with real actions and practices. I am constantly telling my friends back in the USA how amazing it to witness people of all ages banding together here protect something they believe to be worth fighting for.

To make this post even more topical, I found out recently that my favourite spot of small woodland left on Indiana’s campus had been bulldozed without warning to expand our University’s School of Business. This last bit of unspoilt forest was taken and destroyed without so much as a blink of an eye from the general student population. Unfortunately, those of us who would like to have tried to stop it were either out of town, or too few to stop the bulldozers.  In the USA, we have been so quick to pave everything, cut ourselves off from  our natural suroundings and turn them into sterile short grass parks, interspersed with  Mcdonalds-style catering and consumption opportunities.   For those of you who don’t know, “managing nature” in America often means putting a fence around a piece of land and spraying it with pesticide every couple weeks.

Since England isn’t much bigger than my home state of Indiana and has 6 times the population –  and the South East is especially densely populated – I am convinced that the effects of losing a green space such as this would so much more devastating. It would hit hard wildlife, local nature lovers, and have knock on effects on the health and well being of locals, University staff and students alike.

Here in Canterbury, you have already fought with more vigour and strength than I have ever seen back home and it has been an inspiration to me and my Indiana friends  who have been following the development of this campaign. There is no danger of the passivity I reported in Indiana in your part of the world. The momentum behind the Chaucer Fields campaign just seems to keep on gathering. But – if  Chaucer Fields were to be been turned into a concrete revenue generation opportunity for the University in spite of this, what would have been done?  There is simply no going back. You never hear of someone tearing down a hotel to plant a garden.  Fight for this green space with everything you have.  I only wish as many of my American colleagues were as passionate about saving green space!!

PLEASE DON’T GIVE UP THE FIELDS AND SLOPES.  This thriving expanse of green space shared by so many really, really must be kept so that future generations from Britain, the USA and all over the world may share in its beauty. Ideally, the University of Kent should have a re-think on the matter, and recognise it is in its own interests to nurture and respect this wonderful place. It should develop ways to meet student accommodation needs, on or off campus, which don’t do so much damage, and  which do not severely erode its environmental reputation, and undermine its green credentials. This is counter productive, since it will obviously discourage environmentally aware students like me from choosing to study here.

Table: People & Planet’s Universities Green League table, People & Planet

Year University of Kent Christ Church University
2007 50th 93rd
2008 48th 81st
2009 21st 70th
2010 89th 56th
2011 94th 31st
2012 107 th 33rd

Source: data from subpages for relevant years at

Where am I coming from with this? As the data of well respected NGO People & Planet –  with whom I have been involved for a couple of years now –  show, the University of Kent’s lack of  green sensibility  has already demonstrably lead to a collapse in its national environmental management &  performance rating. This has unfolded especially over the past four years. There are also devils in the detail. It may be significant that its relative position has also dramatically weakened locally, as other institutions close by have improved their positions. For example, see the Table above comparing the University of Kent with Christ Church University. It now seems to me its green reputation is going to deteriorate fast at international level too, and adverse knock-on effects in terms of recruitment will follow.  That is, unless it listens to its students, staff, and local people and withdraws the ‘development’ plans in the interests of all.