Flag Fen visitor centre was opened in 2002. Courtesy Toby Fox.
Plans to build a huge waste and energy complex next to a Bronze Age site near Peterborough have raised serious concerns among locals, archaeologists and staff.
Flag Fen is acknowledged to be one of the most important Bronze Age sites in Europe and draws 20,000 visitors each year. If the proposed £250 million waste plant goes ahead, staff fear for the viability of the visitor centre and the fabric of the site itself.
“It’s absolutely on top of us,” Toby Fox, who manages Flag Fen, told the 24 Hour Museum. “We are very concerned – it will affect the archaeological remains right next door.”
Bronze Age timbers, preserved by the fen soil, in situ. Courtesy Toby Fox.
When Dr Francis Pryor, later a star of TV's Time Team, found a piece of timber in the ground at Fengate, Cambridgeshire in 1982, it was just the first part of a massive Bronze Age causeway that is still being unearthed. Hundreds of artefacts have since been excavated from Flag Fen and much is still excellently preserved in the damp soil.
One of the chief concerns about the proposed 29-acre waste plant is that it will absorb rainfall vital for keeping the Bronze Age fenland wet. Archaeologists are already racing against time as the fenland deteriorates and the preserving effect of mud diminishes.
“On a 30-acre site, the amount of rainfall that will hit a concrete slab and be used in the cooling towers will have a direct effect on the surrounding land,” explained Toby. “It won’t be keeping the archaeological remains wet. We’re trying desperately to protect our heritage and we feel that this will compromise that. Our main concern is the archaeology.”
Reconstructed roundhouses: Flag Fen is a visitor attraction as well as an archaeological site. Courtesy Toby Fox.
The Museum of the Bronze Age at Flag Fen has lots on display, including the oldest wheel in England and other artefacts preserved in situ. However, in future, visitors could be put off by the traffic, noise, emissions and smells produced by the waste plant, which would be the largest of its type in Europe.
Toby stressed that Flag Fen is more than an archaeological site: “It’s not just ‘Come and have a look at a hole in the ground’ – there are rare fen plants, kestrels, owls and kingfishers. If the plant gets consent, it’s going to have a big impact on the wildlife.” Events held at Flag Fen, like outdoor theatre, would also have to compete with years of noisy construction.
The Global Olivine plant would use technology that would reduce the amount of rubbish (both domestic and industrial) put in landfills. Moreover, the plant would produce energy from recycled waste.
“It could be fantastic,” admitted Toby, “it’s just not in a good location.”
"We're very concerned about the new development," said Jon Pratty, Editor of the 24 Hour Museum website. "Watch this space. We'll be following up this story by getting the official picture from planners of the plant and also more local views."