In East Yorkshire, wind farms are not only blighting views across the Wolds, but could well be destroying the ancient remains which lie beneath the hills. Phil Booth reports.
IT might not have the breathtaking drama of the Dales, or the rugged beauty of the North York Moors.
But East Yorkshire has its own jewel in the county’s countryside crown. The Wolds is a broad crescent of rolling chalk hills and valleys, stretching south from the moors down to the Humber, and arcing inland from the coast at Flamborough towards Malton.
Within its stunning scenery lie several towns, including Driffield and Beverley, plus a host of tranquil, unspoilt villages whose residents treasure their surroundings. And that has long been the case. Early Neolithic settlers took full advantage of the fertile chalk soils and availability of stone for making tools. The Romans, too, found the area attractive. From a base at Brough they created road networks, one heading towards York, another to Malton, and both crossing the Wolds.
However, after centuries of contented settlement, the winds of change have blown in a modern, green and clean phenomenon, which isn’t just causing concern to those living there now. It is also threatening to uproot the records of those who were there before.
East Yorkshire has the highest density of wind turbines in England. There are 226 turbines, over 50 metres high, which have been built, approved or are pending a decision, along with numerous agricultural turbines.
Earlier this month, they joined forces, residents of more than 20 villages coming together to march in protest from Beverley Westwood to the town centre where they highlighted their concerns. They told of residents who now feel like prisoners in their own homes, or who are on anti-depressants because of the effects of the turbines in their neighbourhoods.
Others spoke of how initially they were in favour, as efforts to tackle climate change led to the rush for clean power, but how areas have been blighted by the turbines which in some cases seem to stretch for miles.
They also fear that a recent Government announcement, acknowledging concerns across the country and saying new developments approved between now and the next general election will not get UK cash, could backfire in the short term, with companies rushing in with applications before subsidies run dry.
While they protest loudly about the threat to the current landscape, they have an ally who is equally concerned, but whose misgivings also take in the past.
“The landscape of East Yorkshire is varied and subtle. It possesses a beauty of its own,”says Dr Peter Halkon is an archaeolog ist, and a lecturer at the University of Hull. “There are very few parts of our region which have not been shaped by human activity since the first farmers some 6,000 years ago. Most of these changes however were in keeping with a landscape created by centuries of settlement and agriculture.
“Despite intensive use many monuments still survive making this one of the most important archaeological regions in the UK, a heritage which includes the Rudston monolith, Britain’s tallest standing stone, great prehistoric burial grounds and the network of massive linear earthworks.”
He said one of the most important archaeological landscapes in the region is between Market Weighton and Sancton, now home to one of the area’s largest windfarms.
“Here the fist farmers of the Neolithic period buried their dead in a long barrow around five and a half thousand years ago. At the time the stones of Stonehenge were erected, a dozen burial mounds were built on the dip-slope overlooking the Vale of York. At Arras, a large cemetery was excavated in the early 1800s with some burials containing the remains of chariots. This discovery gave its name to the Iron Age Arras culture, known by archaeologists worldwide.”
He said the landscape’s significance was recognised by the Anglo-Saxons who buried their dead in a large cremation cemetery near Sancton Grange.
“The views down valleys like this are very important. Now all one sees looking down them towards the Humber are the massive blades of wind turbines. No amount of predevelopment archaeological prospection or excavation can make up for the loss of the visual and symbolic connection between the wider landscape and these significant monuments to past human activities.”
He said such archaeological features can only be appreciated within a wider setting, a situation being “severely marred” by wind turbines. And he said wetland deposits in the region show that climate change is not just the result of human activity but part of a natural cycle.
“Between 800 and 500 BC a massive tidal surge created an inlet extending almost as far north as Market Weighton, with a sea level nearly a metre higher than present. Today, as sea levels rise once more, it seems an act of folly to build windfarms along one of the few large areas of peat left in the East Riding – as peat is recognised as both a carbon reservoir and can play an essential part in floodwater management.”
He said he has no objection to small scale, carefully sited single turbines on farms, but said any more large developments “will wreck this beautiful historic landscape”.
East Riding Council has, like many authorities, often found itself in an awkward position over turbine applications.
It deals with each on its own merits but has, on a number of occasions, rejected an application only for the decision to be overturned on appeal.
After an appeal against refusal for a development near Bridlington was thrown out in May, Coun Symon Fraser, the council’s planning portfolio holder, said it gave “a glimmer of hope” that local opinion would begin to carry more weight in the future.
Another glimmer of hope could come from the huge off shore developments.
Down the road in Hull, Siemens, Associated British Ports plus Hull and East Riding Councils have put together ambitious plans for a green energy hub which will see a wind turbine assembly and export facility created. The key difference is the turbines will be sited out at sea.
It seems the tide may have turned on wind turbines, and the growing anger, not just in the East Riding but mirrored around many parts of the country, may sound the death knell for large on shore developments.
Dr Halkon hopes so. He is one of more than 600,000 visitors to David Hockney’s ‘A Bigger Picture’ exhibition, which showed people what East Yorkshire has to offer in terms of its stunning scenery.
“It seems incredible,” said Dr Halkon, “that rather than capitalising on this, the landscape is becoming increasingly industrialised by the construction of windfarms.”