Campaigners fighting housing development by a Shropshire hillfort have spoken out over plans for an archaeological dig at the Iron Age site.
English Heritage has chosen Old Oswestry hillfort for a major commemorative project in 2016 to explore the story of its military role during World War I.
Details were outlined at a recent meeting of Selattyn and Gobowen Parish Council during a talk on the hillfort’s history by Dr Heather Sabire of English Heritage.
She explained that the project aims to investigate the remains of the hillfort’s military use and wartime connection with the nearby Park Hall Camp, with opportunities for community involvement. It will also address evidence uncovered of its prehistory at the same time. Activities will include the excavation of sections of practice trenches dug on top of the hillfort during World War I.
However, while welcoming the project, campaign group HOOOH (Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort) has accused the heritage guardian of double standards.
Campaigner Kate Clarke said: “How can English Heritage be investing in archaeological research that reinforces Old Oswestry’s heritage significance while allowing proposed housing in its shadow to progress in county plans?”
Shropshire Council has earmarked land integral to the hillfort’s military and earlier history for an estate of 117 houses to meet 5 year housing supply. Despite international opposition, the site (OSW004) remains in Shropshire’s SAMDev strategic development plan which goes to the Planning Inspectorate this summer.
English Heritage has been criticised for not defending the monument robustly enough against OSW004 which could open up its green farmstead setting to on-going development.
Ms Clarke said: “OSW004 could set a dangerous precedent for similar planning bids, devaluing many more historic assets across the country. English Heritage could be facilitating this in failing to provide Old Oswestry with a defence commensurate with its acknowledged national importance as a unique type site for the archaeological understanding of Iron Age Britain. It raises serious questions over their integrity as Guardians of England’s heritage.”
Information held within the Shropshire Historic Environment Record shows that land in and around OSW004 was used as a mortar range, amongst other things. Oswestry-born war poet, Wilfred Owen, spent time at Park Hall Camp in 1916 training troops in rifle use as a Second Lieutenant with the Manchester Regiment. Some of the training was likely to have been carried out on the fields surrounding Old Oswestry.
Ms Clarke said: “The landscape they want to build on carried the feet of the fighting men and women of World War I. Housing would effectively stamp out the memory of their actions as well as other vital evidence of the hillfort’s 3000+ year story.”