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Rebellion over wind turbine plan for 320 year old battlefield

Campaigners are fighting plans to build a wind turbine overlooking the site of the last pitched battle on English soil

Three centuries ago, it saw the last pitched battle to take place on English soil, the result ending the so-called “Pitchfork Rebellion” and securing the ruling dynasty, at least for a time.

Now, dividing lines are once again being drawn at the site of the Battle of Sedgemoor, on the Somerset Levels, where locals, heritage groups and the area’s MP are resisting attempts to build a 250ft wind turbine overlooking the battlefield.

Opponents argue the structure would ruin the setting of what is one of England’s best preserved battlefields.

It is one of only 46 registered battlefields in the country and, according to experts, is in the top ten in the country, in terms of significance and preservation, being largely undeveloped since the action was fought, in 1685.

The clash was the culmination of the Monmouth Rebellion, an attempt to usurp the crown of England by James Scott, the Protestant Duke of Monmouth, from the Catholic King James II of England and VII of Scotland.

The rebel, an illegitimate son of the previous king, Charles II, landed in Dorset on June 11 1685 and had gathered around him an army of 7,000 men by the time he was faced by the royal army near the village of Westonzoyland, almost a month later.

A significant proportion of them were nonconformists who had suffered increasing persecution under Charles II, the king’s brother and predecessor.

Others were artisans and peasants disaffected by an economic climate which had hit the south west particularly hard, and the rising became known as the Pitchfork Rebellion.

The rebels included amongst their number Daniel Defoe, later to become famous as an author.

Monmouth decided to chance all upon a night attack. The battle began during the evening of 5/6 July, but a counter attack at dawn by the King’s men, commanded by John Churchill – who later, as Duke of Marlborough, would be responsible for some of Britain’s most famous victories – forced the rebels to flee.

Experts believe this chaotic retreat, during which Monmouth’s men were cut down, occurred over the ground where the developers want to erect the structure.

Survivors were rounded up and locked in a local church which is now still the most prominent feature on the landscape.

Three days after his defeat, Monmouth was captured and later executed. Hundreds of his supporters suffered at the hands of Judge Jeffreys in what became known as the Bloody Assizes.

However, James II himself lasted only another three years on the throne before he was ousted by William III in the Glorious Revolution.

Part of the registered battlefield, as defined by English Heritage, is within a Special Landscape Area. It is also an Area of High Archaeological Potential and was featured in the BBC show Two Men in a Trench.

The proposed turbine is just outside the battlefield boundary, within around 80 yards, although the fields immediately to the north and east are both within the zone.

However, the Government’s National Planning Practice Guidance states when considering proposals for wind turbines near to “heritage assets”, officials should consider not just their “physical presence” but their “setting”.

It adds: “Depending on their scale, design and prominence a wind turbine within the setting of a heritage asset may cause substantial harm to the significance of the asset.”

The application comes at a time of intense debate over the efficiency of wind turbines and controversial subsidies offered to developers behind the schemes.

It was originally lodged with Sedgemoor Council in September by the local landowner, Edward Heal, and a renewable energy firm, Mi-Grid.

The council had to reopen the consultation period late last month after it realised English Heritage had not been invited to take part in the process. Its officials are due to conduct a site visit before proving a response.

However, others have already responded, with a local wildlife trust and nearby residents among those raising a variety of concerns, ranging from fears over the impact on birds, and property prices in the nearby village, to the historical significance of the site.

Julian Humphrys, from the Battlefields Trust, which has lodged an objection, said: “Sedgemoor is a jewel in the crown. It is the last pitched battle fought on English soil, and one of the most undeveloped battlefields left in the country. Without doubt, it is one of the most evocative and putting in something like a turbine over it, changes the character of the area.

“We’re not involved in the debate over wind power itself. The point here is that even if you think they are the most beautiful and efficient structures, there are still appropriate places for them, and putting one here shows a lack of concern for the location and its historical significance. We’re not nimbys – this is England’s back yard”

Ian Liddell-Grainger, the local MP, added: “We’re proud of our history and it Sedgemoor. is an important part of who we are. In the Houses of Parliament, if you walk from the central lobby towards the chamber, the first painting you come to is one of the Battle of Sedgemoor. That is how important it is to us and I don’t agree at all with the idea that we should ruin the setting with a wind turbine.

“I am against onshore wind, in any case. We are about to build a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point, in my constituency, which will produce real power on a scale not seen before. These turbines produce diddly squat.”

An historical “Environmental Impact Assessment” carried out for the developers conceded the site was of “very high significance” and acknowledged that the impact would be “negative/moderate” on the nearby heritage.

A spokesman for Mi-Grid said: “The historic visual impact assessment identified that the only physical elements of the battle to survive are below-ground remains and that the landscape has changed dramatically since the battle. The assessment concluded that the landscape of the battlefield has changed a great deal and it is no longer possible to appreciate the experience of the battlefield as it once was. As there are no visible assets of the battlefield remaining its setting cannot be impacted.”