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Monmouthshire, Wales UK: Archaeologist says council is destroying historic site

Archaeologist says council is destroying historic site

Sep 24 2010 by Sam Malone, Western Mail

A RARE Norman site is being irreparably damaged and is in danger of being destroyed, according to a respected archaeologist.

Stephen Clarke, the head of a professional Archaeological unit and chairman of Monmouth Archaeological Society, insisted the remains of a defensive ditch which once lined the ancient town of Clawdd Du in Monmouthshire could soon be lost forever.

Mr Clarke, who was made an MBE for services to archaeology, claims Monmouthshire council had “ignorantly” excavated a trench several feet deep along the Overmonnow site and had cut through the thin archaeological levels into the underlying natural shales.

He also insists the council had ignored warnings that digging without proper consent is breaking the law.

“I am absolutely appalled. I cannot understand what the council is thinking of as it is fully aware it’s a scheduled monument,” he said.

“The council are meant to be the ones who you go to for protection, they are the guardians of the listed buildings and historically sensitive areas so it’s astonishing what it’s doing.

“It’s dug this trench, which is a couple of feet deep, almost a quarter of a mile long and in doing so it’s done irreparable damage to an important historic site.”

Mr Clarke said both professional and amateur archaeologists throughout the town had been outraged by the council’s actions and have called for an inquiry by the Assembly Government’s heritage body Cadw.

He added if the council was found to have broken the law then he believed it should be prosecuted for criminal damage under Ancient Monument legislation.

“Everyone knows if you take a metal detector down there or start digging it up you’ll end up in jail – why should it be any different for the council?” he said.

“It looks as if it’s done without any planning consent and without scheduled ancient monument consent. It’s a peculiar set up and personally I don’t think anyone knows what they are doing.”

Mr Clarke said that he expected Cadw to take a strong line over what he called “irresponsible activity” which seemed to serve no real purpose.

“As far as I know it’s meant to be something to do with boosting biodiversity and to make it a more tidy town,” he added.

“But it’s strange considering the fact the council is meant to be hard up that it can find the money to do things like this.”

According to Monmouth town councillor Susan Chivers, its environment committee was informed in June by the county council’s Tidy Towns initiative that it would be creating ponds in the ditch.

She said: “I just cannot believe the council can be so crass as to go ahead with something which it was told would be against the law.

“As far as we are concerned this is a criminal act and we would like to see Monmouthshire County Council prosecuted.”

After being alerted to the digging, a Cadw spokesman said its officers visited the site and found a linear trench had been excavated along most of the length of the ditch.

“Cadw officers asked that the works be stopped and are now carrying out a more detailed assessment of the impact of the works on archaeology, which will inform decisions on how to proceed.

“Carrying out unauthorised works or causing damage to a scheduled ancient monument is potentially a criminal offence. Cadw does not itself have powers to prosecute but can report cases to the police for further investigation.”

Rick Longford, Monmouthshire council’s economic development manager, refuted it had acted irresponsibly, but admitted a “regrettable oversight” meant the council had not gone through the proper channels.

He said: “We place a high value on Monmouthshire’s antiquities and we have been working for some time to remove fly tipping and waste thrown into the ditch.

“The intention is to look at the site within the ethos of the Tidy Towns initiative and develop a community-based project which will not only clean up the area but also assist in the reduction of dumping at the site in the future.

“A shallow watercourse had been excavated as part of the approach, and due to a regrettable oversight, the necessary consent from Cadw had not been obtained.

“We are now working closely with Cadw to resolve any issues relating to the works, to reduce future fly tipping and develop a scheme to enable the local community to look after the site in the future.”

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