military history: a one man concrete pill box at Chattenden (c) Miles King
I am naturally rather depressed that Medway Council unanimously voted in favour of the planning application to build 5000 houses on Lodge Hill and Chattenden Barracks, on the Hoo Peninsula in Kent.
Reading the articles on the BBC, in the telegraph and the guardian, hasn’t really helped. At least the Guardian mentioned the grassland. The BBC and Telegraph didnt even bother to mention it. It’s as if somehow magically species like Nightingales can exist without the habitats or landscapes which they depend on. The Telegraph mentions that deer have reduced the density of shrubs they inhabit, as if they lived in the park amongst the Photinias and Cotoneasters.
It’s Scrub! Scrub is why there are so many Nightingales at Lodge Hill – SCRUB! Scrub which if left to its own devices becomes trees and woodland, and Nightingales no longer live in it.
Land Securities own Consultants now recognise 26 ha of valuable grassland at Lodge Hill – I am sure this is an underestimate. I reckon there is over 30ha of unimproved mildly calcareous unimproved grassland there. This would make it one of the largest surviving contiguous areas of unimproved “lowland meadows and pastures” habitat in England. It’s astonishing that such a large area of unimproved grassland lay undiscovered for so long. It makes me wonder what other undiscovered wildlife gems are still out there in the military estate.
The value of Lodge Hill lies not only in its unimproved grassland, or its Nightingales. It partly lies in the dynamic mosaic of different habitats that Lodge Hill’s fascinating military history has created. There are intimate mosaics of scrub (SCRUB not shrubs) and flower-rich grassland that are rich in birds plants and invertebrates.
But its value also lies entirely outside the realms of nature.
Lodge Hill and Chattenden are awash with military history. And military history is social history, especially in an area like the Hoo Peninsula, which has played such a critical role in defending Britain over the past several hundred years.
The Chattenden Magazines alone are extraordinary. Surrounded by a 12 foot wall, still entered through a locked security gate, it houses a series of magazines, or bunkers built into the hillside within a blast proof casemate (is that the right word?).
Built in 1875/6 by convicts living on prison hulks in the Thames Estuary (that’s another story) the bunkers were used to store massive amounts of gunpowder for the guns of battleships; and later, torpedoes. The ordnance was loaded onto a military narrow gauge railway to be delivered down to the ships. Within this walled garden of ordnance, lies more unimproved grassland, of quite a different nature from the areas within Lodge Hill.
The Royal Naval Armament Depot Lodge Hill itself also holds the remains of other Magazines that were used to store cordite and guncotton – the massive charges that propelled shells up to 18 inches diameter over distances as great as 17 miles. Sadly these magazines are all in a state of advanced disrepair now and will likely demolish themselves if the developers don’t get there first.
As the home of the Royal Engineers training school, Lodge Hill also shows evidence of having been the place where the first attempts at trench warfare were trialled. In this of all years, it is incumbent on us all to remember the sacrifices of the generation that died of suffered during the first world war; and to remember those places which still hold the evidence of that conflict.
It’s not just about the Nightingales, the Dyer’s Greenweed, The Duke of Burgundy, the scrub or the Magazines. It’s not about birds versus houses as some would like it to be seen.
This is about what values are important to us as a society.
Are we prepared to forego the short term economic gain from selling off this public asset for private profit – and a minuscule contribution to the public coffers; or are we prepared to decide that we want to put public resources into protecting our wildlife and our history, recognising these things as vital elements of our common wealth;
Are we prepared to say that sites like Lodge Hill should remain in public hands and not be seen as merely economic assets to be traded on the market like apples or ipads?