Archaeology and the Bypass
Remember the 'Rotherwas Ribbon', which hit the headlines when discovered in 2007? It was a unique Stonehenge-period (c.4150 year old) structure of countless fire-scorched stones which snaked across the landscape between Dinedor and the Wye. Thousands flocked to visit. Dr Keith Ray suggested a ritual use for it, analogous perhaps to paths used by some of the Great Lakes people for initiation ceremonies.
The importance of the site was downplayed and a road was built across it; the little-used Rotherwas link, between the A49 and the Hereford Enterprise Zone.
Fast forward to the proposed western bypass and here we are again; only now the Council has learned a lesson. Archaeology has been airbrushed from the public consultation. It was not mentioned in the glossy brochure nor were sites marked on the exhibited constraints map. This map has significant flaws in its lack of recognition for Hereford Community Farm, the Humphrey Repton parkland at Belmont, the Woodland Trust's Drovers' Wood and Pippin Orchard of heritage cider apple trees. However, the omission of an entire category looks more like intent than carelessness.
Herefordshire Council holds 'desk top' archaeological data on its Historic Environment Record and some of this is available on-line. It notes for example the medieval settlement earthworks at Warham (No. 25886), a brick kiln at Little Breinton (23046), a boundary stone at Green Lane Wood (31515) and a couple of dozen other sites which may be adversely affected by the scheme.
On the other hand, field evaluation data for the proposed bypass is not open-access; yet the techniques of geophysical prospection and LIDAR analysis are fast, accurate and inexpensive, and the results seldom commercially sensitive. The picture they provide of ancient landscapes, including those hidden in woodland, is transforming our understanding of the past even without archaeological excavation. So the lessons Herefordshire Council actually needs to learn, as it spend our money, are those of openness and timeliness. Information about archaeology - as with wildlife, landscape, trees, woods and watercourses - should be appropriately shared, for without it the consultation is fatally deficient. A repeat of the Rotherwas Ribbon experience whereby knowledge of important archaeological sites is shared only when it is too late, would be unforgivable.