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Veteran campaigner appears at opencast Inquiry

Pitch Wilson Pitch Wilson Graeme Anderson

Ancient 'rigg and furrow' farmland sitting on a proposed opencast mining site at Druridge Bay...

...has been note by the Inspector looking into whether the controversial proposals should get the go-ahead. The Inquiry, into an application by the Banks group to extract three million tonnes of coal  from the Highthorn site was listening to evidence from the veteran environmental campaigner George 'Pitch' Wilson. The 87-year old, representing CPRE North East, submitted a detailed dossier giving numerous environmental and economic reasons why the planning application should not go ahead.

But he found that the part of his evidence the Inspector was most interested in was the presence of the 'rigg and furrow' field system from mediaeval times on the site. Pitch, who is fighting his 40th opencast inquiry in the north-east, said, 'I expected to be cross-examined on the document which I submitted which argued that the proposal would cause huge environmental damage, potentially blighting Druridge Bay for a generation, and also questioned the economic claims being made by the mining company. Instead that was all accepted and the Inspector's questions to me were all about the rigg and furrow on the eastern section of the site, which he asked me to mark out on the map.

Rigg (known as 'ridge' elsewhere in England) is easily spotted from aerial photographs and was once commonplace all over the country - a legacy of the open field system of farming where individuals were allocated a piece of land and 'ploughed their own furrow'. The amount still left visible in modern farmland has dropped dramatically in recent years and English Heritage, with other agencies, are now looking for ways to protect the little that is left as there is currently no legal protection for the formation.

Pitch went on to say, 'The distinctive furrows are part of the character of the landscape and a link with the country's ancient past. It is sad how much of it has gone in my lifetime. I have been to so many of these public inquiries before because I am passionate about the need to prevent opencast mining in the North-east and protect the beauty of our rural countryside. You go in there with all the evidence you can possibly muster and hope that the Inspector gives you a fair hearing.'

'What was interesting to me in my interview was that the Inquiry took such an interest in the rigg and furrow element of my submission - it may be that this inspector was unaware of it previously. All I can hope is that it is yet another thing to be taken into consideration, alongside a whole host of good evidence submitted by environmental groups against this hugely intrusive, environmentally damaging application, for it not to go ahead.' 

by Graeme Anderson

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