Where butterflies and archaeology meet

It’s difficult not to be distracted by the wildlife at this time of year, as I visit Trust sites to check their condition and to look for any potential visitor safety issues. Last week at St Benet’s Abbey I was accompanied by clouds of Meadow Brown and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies, and – memorably – a beautiful Swallowtail which, very accommodatingly, sat on a nettle for me while I found my camera, scrambled out of the car, and took this photograph on the track to the site.

The wildlife at the Abbey is particularly rich, as we know from the regular monthly dawn surveys carried out by a dedicated group of TFOSBA volunteers – last week they recorded 41 different bird species during their visit including a kingfisher, cuckoo, three marsh harriers and a bittern. But our other sites also support special wildlife, such as skylarks at Bloodgate Hill Fort, South Creake; chalk-loving flowers on the walls of Caistor Roman Town; and a colony of White-letter Hairstreak butterflies at Burgh Castle Fort.

These sites are all managed under agri-environmental agreements, funded through the EU, which pay grants to farmers for implementing measures to support biodiversity - and to protect historic sites from the plough. As the Trust’s former Director, Dr Peter Wade-Martin has written, this has not always been the case: ‘For those of us with an interest in archaeology who were growing up in the Norfolk countryside [in the 1950s and 1960s], watching old meadows, often with earthworks in them, being levelled with government grants, was a very distressing experience; 73% of grassland in 1946 had gone by 1973.' 1

As well as describing the painful experience of watching grant-aided destruction of archaeology, this quote also highlights the inter-dependence of environmental and archaeological conservation – if you protect a meadow you protect the below ground archaeology as well. Concerns about the future of agri-environmental schemes, and the looming threat of grassland being returned to the plough, serve to emphasise the importance of the Trust’s role in this county -  at our sites both the archaeology and the wildlife will remain undisturbed. As I carry out my regular inspections, this thought puts a bit of a skip in my step.

(1)  P.Wade-Martins ‘An experiment in conservation: The early years of the Norfolk Archaeological Trust' in Landscapes and Artefacts: Studies in East Anglian Archaeology' eds Steven Ashley and Adrian Marsden (2014) Archaeopress  p248

News in brief

Imagined Land events

  • Wednesday, July 12, 6.00-8.00pm Exhibition and Creative Programme Launch, Preston Primary School Hall, Tasburgh.

Come and discover what the research volunteers have found out so far, what the school has been up to, and sign up to the exciting programme of creative workshops: writing, performing, singing, making...ALL WELCOME

Keep up to date on the project website at https://sites.google.com/site/imaginedlandprojectnorfolk

or visit us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/imaginedland/

  • Sunday 16th July 2017: Festival of Archaeology GUIDED TOURS Caistor Roman Town 14.00 and 15.00. Meet your tour guide by the shelter in the Roman Town Car Park. No booking required. CREAM TEAS: 14.00 – 17.00 available in the church. [Cream Teas will be available at the church EVERY Sunday, 14.00 – 17.00 during July & August]
  • Sunday 6th August. TFOSBA Boat trip to Bishops’ Service at St Benet’s Abbey: Book this year’s riverboat trip to St Benet’s Abbey for the open-air service led by the Bishop of Norwich. Boarding will be from Swan Green Horning at 1.15pm. Tickets still available: £10.00. Email tfosba@gmail.com to request tickets and more details.