Magazine article History Today

Archaeology's Ill Wind

Magazine article History Today

Archaeology's Ill Wind

Article excerpt

* Wind farms -- groups of high-tech windmills generating electricity without depleting oil, coal or other non-renewable resources, and without the hazards of nuclear power -- are obviously environmentally friendly. Or are they? Countryside conservationists are not so sure -- and nor these days are archaeologists -- as this tale from the wilds of West Wales demonstrates.

Mynydd y Gwair is a large tract of wild, uninhabited moorland ten miles north of Swansea. Just the place to put a wind farm, you might have thought. So, at first glance, did Ecogen, a small Welsh-based company who are in business to choose sites and obtain planning permissions before stepping aside to let other, larger companies do the actual development.

Less sure was Independent councillor loan Richard who lives on the edge of Mynydd y Gwair. He has been pointing out to anyone who would listen (and some who would not) that the actual site of the wind turbines contained seven archaeologically important sites including prehistoric and Roman roads and a Bronze Age cairn; within 1km of it were ten more, including the remains of medieval building, in particular a medieval motte castle, Penlle'r Castell.

The impact of 300ft high wind turbines on this historic landscape would have been devastating, says Richard, not to speak of the very real risk that two Bronze Age cairns might have been destroyed along with two sites recently discovered but not yet examined. He was therefore taken aback to receive a letter from Glamorgan -- Gwent Archaeological Trust Ltd. |We are confident', it said, 'that the proposal will have no adverse effect on archaeological sites'.

The threat to Mynydd y Gwair has now, in fact, receded. Perhaps deterred by local opposition, Ecogen withdrew its application and now appears to be concentrating on wind farms set among conifer forests. But Richard remains concerned about a wider issue. He points out what many laymen might not realise: that the |Ltd' in the title distinguishes the contractual wing of an archaeological trust (which in this case was acting as paid consultant to Ecogen) as distinct from its curatorial side, which has the duty of caring for the region's archaeological heritage.

The split between the curatorial and the contractual results from the (generally welcomed) Planning Policy Guidance 16, which obliges a developer to pay for an archaeological dig when the planning authority considers this necessary. …

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