Quiz of the week: what connects The collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly, John Keats and The Large Gold Case-bearer?
The answer lies in these pictures.
Yes, it’s Lodge Hill on the Hoo Peninsula in Kent.
What are the connections? The photos show Lodge Hill’s “PIRA village”. PIRA stands for the Provisional IRA and, as the second photo shows, the Army went to great lengths to make the village as realistic as possible for the soldiers training to defuse booby traps, including painting a wall mural; the kind you will still see in Belfast today. The story is that the Provisional IRA are in action again, causing the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Keats wrote Ode to a Nightingale, and despite it being a hot day in July when I visited with author Julian Hoffman, we were still granted a short burst of Nightingale song, from within a thicket created specifically to train soldiers in mine detection.
The Large Gold Case-bearer is a very rare micro-moth, found almost always on Dyer’s Greenweed, a low shrub now so threatened with extinction in England that it is listed on the Red Data List. In the Lodge Hill PIRA village, Dyer’s Greenweed was the main plant of the back lawns, which havent been mown by their phantom inhabitants for quite a few years.
Land Securities, who were so keen to promote the development of this unique site into a new town, walked away from it in the Summer, returning it to its owners the Ministry of Defence. One can only assume that is because they think the chances of the development going ahead are zero. Press reports today suggest they have suffered an £11M loss.
Changes at the top of Medway Council may also swing in favour of Lodge Hill being saved: Rodney Chambers, who was almost obsessively enthusiastic about developing Lodge Hill, is no longer leader. He was replaced after the council elections with new leader Alan Jarrett. Jarrett is very keen on his birds: he is chairman of the British Assocation of Shooting and Conservation, chair of the Kent Wildfowlers and chair of a local Kent conservation charity, the Wildspace Fund, which purchases land for bird conservation in Kent.
Now I’m not suggesting that Jarrett gets the Wildspace Fund to purchase Lodge Hill so it can shoot the Nightingales, though I imagine some of his chums on the Council might encourage him to do that.
But it does seem as though Medway may now have a Leader who recognises the importance of nature to his constituents. One of Jarrett’s fellow tory councillors is new Medway MP Kelly Tolhurst (yes she is a Councillor and an MP). Tolhurst is adamantly against the Lodge Hill development.
Preparations for the Public Inquiry into the proposed development continue, costing charities like RSPB and Kent Wildlife Trust a lot of money, which could be put to much better use.
While the MoD might cling onto a false hope they can sell Lodge Hill at development value, it’s high time Medway announced that it was abandoning plans for housing at Lodge Hill and that they will not be wasting council tax payer’s money in fighting the Inquiry.