White Horse of Kilburn: Forestry England's spending on repainting questioned as it emerges local businessman offered to pay

Local supporters of the White Horse of Kilburn have questioned Forestry England's handling of its recent repainting.

After taking over the famous Yorkshire limestone sculpture's maintenance from the volunteers of the Kilburn White Horse Association in 2018, Forestry England applied for a grant towards 'repainting and reshaping' the Victorian landmark, which had not received any 'grooming' since 2014, when it was rejuvenated prior to the Tour de France Grand Depart.

Yet it has since emerged that a businessman offered to fund the White Horse's restoration from his own pocket and a local tree surgeon volunteered to carry out the work for free if the paint was provided - but both pledges were not pursued by Forestry England, who instead decided to fund the contract themselves.

The White Horse of Kilburn as repainting began earlier this monthThe White Horse of Kilburn as repainting began earlier this month
The White Horse of Kilburn as repainting began earlier this month
Hide Ad
Hide Ad

£20,000 was spent hiring Scottish specialists Storr Access, whose employees abseiled down the face of Sutton Bank to carry out a job that had previously been undertaken by volunteers using a tractor winch or soldiers on military training exercises before they were banned from the site for health and safety reasons. Thirsk Decorating Centre were subcontracted to supply 2,000 litres of advanced carbon neutral white paint.

Retired engineering consultant Philip Shaw, of Thirsk, helped to facilitate the offers of assistance from MyLockUp.com storage entrepreneur Kevin Doyle, who has sites in Topcliffe, Scarborough and Northallerton, and Top Cut Tree Services and passed their contact details to Forestry England's site warden.

"When the local society lost the contract to paint the White Horse, there was a lot of moaning about the state of it down the cattle market. We could barely see it! Kevin Doyle was visiting the area and rang me asking what was up with the Horse and said he would pay for it to be painted," said Mr Shaw.

"I spoke to the warden and she told me they had applied for this £100,000 grant for painting, reshaping and replacing the steps. It used to be painted every five years when the volunteers did it, and we are all anxious that it is properly maintained. It's a local tourist attraction and essential for the area.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"Three months later, Kevin had offered £10,000 for painting and yet nothing had happened, he hadn't heard anything from Forestry England. The tree surgeon, Greg, went up there and said he was happy to paint it in his own time and he's covered by his business insurance. The offers were there but were never followed up - and the next thing we saw those contractors up there painting it. It's bureaucracy gone mad."

Forestry England claimed that they could no longer use volunteers for weeding and other upkeep tasks because access to the steep slope where the Horse lies needs to be by 'rope and anchor' and undertaken by trained specialists.

The Kilburn White Horse Association disbanded and deregistered its charitable status following the 2014 row over access.

A spokesman for Forestry England said: "The Kilburn White Horse is now in a good state of repair with a fresh coat of paint, and the work on it was done safely and to a high standard.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Forestry England have a responsibility to ensure that any work conducted under its control is delivered in a technically competent and safe manner. To ensure this, work is put out to tender. The contract was awarded after a fair and transparent process which was open to anyone who could evidence that they met the criteria.

"Maintaining monuments such as the White Horse can be expensive and need technical and safety expertise. Many people do not realise that Forestry England receives relatively little tax-payer funding, and we generate most of our income from timber sales, recreation, and other commercial activities. That said we are always open to discussions on legacies, donations, or other support, and welcome any offers that would eventually need to be agreed and finalised in writing."

Could the White Horse of Kilburn become a Scheduled Monument - and why isn't it already?

Another supporter who has scrutinised treatment of the White Horse, which was first etched into the landscape in 1857 by a local schoolmaster and his pupils, is Andrew Suter, of Ampleforth.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Mr Suter became so concerned by the Horse's dilapidated condition that he applied to Historic England to have it listed as a Scheduled Monument, like three other chalk horses across Britain.

"They spent all this money on it but it was done for free back in 2014. We were all worried about it - there were a lot of weeds and we feared the landowner would eventually say it was not worth the cost of repairing it. Having it listed will mean it has to be reinstated and maintained.

"Back in the day, the army used it to teach soldiers how to abseil and the gliding club loaned a tractor to the volunteer painters, who anchored people to it. There are no records of any accidents of injuries during the painting."

A spokesperson for Historic England said: "We have received an application for scheduling of the Kilburn White Horse on Sutton Bank and it is currently being processed.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"Scheduling does not imply that monuments are being poorly managed or that they are under threat; nor does it impose any legal obligation to undertake any additional management of the monument. However, we encourage owners and occupiers to maintain their scheduled monuments in good condition so that the remains survive for future generations.

"Scheduling is applied only if it is the best means of protection. The vast majority of archaeology is managed at local level through the planning system.

"Owners of a scheduled monument have to apply for prior written permission from the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to be able to carry out any work to it. The procedure is known as Scheduled Monument Consent or SMC.

"Scheduling is applied only to sites of national importance, and even then only if it is the best means of protection. Sometimes, the most practical way to protect sites is to use the system of local authority control over planning applications. The planners can make sure that development proposals take archaeology fully into account.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"There are almost 20,000 scheduled monuments on the national list. There are 12 scheduled hill figures: five are war/military memorials from 1916-22, and the rest are prehistoric or 18th-century."

Forestry England added: "The decision to schedule rests with Historic England and it is worth knowing that there are currently 968 scheduled ancient monuments in the nation’s forests we manage and so we are very familiar with looking after them. We have clearly outlined our maintenance commitment to this much-loved local landmark."

There are also several white horse figures in Wiltshire and one in Aberdeenshire which date from the 18th and 19th centuries but which are not listed.

Related topics: