PAUL STAINTON: Much heated debate on the show yesterday about this new proposed solar and wind energy farm at Newborough, and development of it on that land North of Peterborough could spoil archeological remains of international significance, unless proper work to preserve them is carried out. That’s according to a letter from Professor Charles French, Head of the Division of Archeology at Cambridge University. It was read out at a meeting on Wednesday, which urged City Council to conduct archeological investigations before beginning any building work. To recap, Peterborough City Council wants to put solar panels and wind turbines on 900 acres of farmland they own at a cost of about £400 million. Well Dr Francis Pryor of course is the archeologist to Flag Fen, worked with Professor French in the past. Morning.
FRANCIS PRYOR: Morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: Do we know yet what the significance of this site could be?
FRANCIS PRYOR: Well it’s a huge site of course, 900 acres. And I think the general significance, as Charly French’s letter made clear, is quite evident. It’s a .. basically it’s a Fen Edge site, and these are the crucially important sites, because that’s where people would have been living in pre-history. And you lived on the edge of the dry land, because that way you can take advantage of the many riches of the wetlands. We take winter protein for granted. You go out to the supermarket and you buy the stuff. But in pre-historic times, you were very short of protein during the winter, because you didn’t want to kill off your livestock. You’d done that in the autumn. And your cereals could be running a bit short, if it’s a thin year. And so you were desperate for protein. In the Middle Ages people used to keep doves, and the doves used to go out and feed on people’s land, so it was a sort of indirect form of taxation, because the land owners and the landlords owned the doves, and they fed on the peasants’ land.
PAUL STAINTON: But why would any of this stop us putting solar panels and wind farms on that particular site?
FRANCIS PRIOR: Because people have always been living there, because they could exploit the Fens, because of the fish and the eels and the wildfowl. In the Middle Ages, that part of the Fens was sending tens of thousands of ducks and things like that down to the London markets. It is a very naturally rich area.
PAUL STAINTON: So just because people have always lived there, we mustn’t do this? Is that what you’re saying?
FRANCIS PRYOR: No of course I’m not. What I’m saying is that there is evidence on the edge of the Fens, and we know because we did a survey in Northborough and Newborough in 1982 I think it was, and there is abundant evidence for people settling there from very early times, from about 6,000 BC in large numbers. And what’s worrying Charly, and it’s worrying me too intensely, is that this isn’t just any old settlement. This is settlement in wetlands, and in wetland you get wood, you get fabrics, you get all sorts of organic material pickled and preserved for posterity.
PAUL STAINTON: So you think undernath the ground there could be ..
FRANCIS PRYOR: Underneath the ground. The point is it’s not easy to spot, because it’s buried under layers and layers of peat. So you’ve really got to know what you’re doing to find it. Flag Fen wasn’t found easily. That took us a lot of work to find that.
PAUL STAINTON: Just remind people of what you found there. Are you saying you could find similar things in Newborough? Is that what you’re saying?
FRANCIS PRYOR: I think you’ll more likely find different things, which is even more exciting. I think there’s a very good chance you’ll get much earlier stuff than Flag Fen. We could find another Flag Fen. I see no reason why you shouldn’t. But I would have thought the evidence that we have got already suggests there’s going to be quite a lot of very early stuff. Some of the very first settlers in this area are going to be found there, because we know there were some. The point is that if you put a wind turbine, you have to have a deep root going down into the ground, rather like a dandelion root. It goes straight down, a sort of taproot, because you’ve got so much on top. If it isn’t going to tip over, you’ve got to have a lot at the bottom. And this deep root is going to completely smash through not just the archeology, but the water table. And that’s the crucial thing. If you drain this fen by putting in lots of these holes, then goodbye archeology. It will be gone in ten years.
PAUL STAINTON: Are the Council legally obliged to excavate first?
FRANCIS PRYOR: I don’t think the excavation is going to be what’s really necessary. We’ve done less than 2% at Flag Fen, and it’s taken us twenty years. Flag Fen is a similar sized problem.
PAUL STAINTON: Have the Council asked for your opinion?
FRANCIS PRYOR: No. Nor have they asked for Charly’s opinion. There are probably half a dozen people in the country with the necessary expertise to excavate that site, or to investigate that site. It’s taken Charly and me as I say decades to get that experience, and no-one has asked us.
PAUL STAINTON: What’s your message to Peterborough City Council this morning?
FRANCIS PRYOR: Think very very very carefully before you go ahead with this scheme, because I think it’s very very ill-advised.
PAUL STAINTON: Dr Francis Pryor, archeologist at Flag Fen, who’s worked with Professor French in the past, and Professor French saying that Peterborough City Council need to conduct archeological investigations before beginning any building work on this solar powered wind park that’s proposed for Newborough. Peterborough City Council say the project of course is a very exciting opportunity for Peterborough, could lead to lower council tax bills, and will make the city quite a bit of money.