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Watching over The Weald of Kent

PUBLISHED: 09:57 21 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:13 20 February 2013

Watching over The Weald of Kent

Watching over The Weald of Kent

Founded in 1960, The Weald of Kent Protection Society began life as a preservation society because a group of local people cared: 50 years on and celebrating its Golden Jubilee this month, they still do

Watching over The Weald of Kent

Founded in 1960, The Weald of Kent Protection Society began life as a preservation society because a group of local people cared: 50 years on and celebrating its Golden Jubilee this month, they still do

The Weald of Kent Protection Society, which now numbers more than 1,000 loyal members, has published a lively newsletter, Watch on the Weald, three times a year since the 1960s. This month it will issue a fourth, very special Golden Jubilee edition, featuring warm wishes from Prince Charles for the Society.

WKPS began life as preservation society, rather than the present protection society. Back in 1960 there was nothing like todays equivalent strong green movement, but local people - distressed and infuriated by planning decisions which included demolition of old buildings in Tenterden and construction of the very badly sited Sterling Chick hatchery at Bounds Cross in Biddenden - decided quite simply that something must be done.

An inaugural meeting of just nine held in the Red Lion at Biddenden led to a public meeting attended by 250, with others turned away for lack of space. People were showing they cared.

The Weald which they chose to defend was the combination of Low and High Weald around the historic towns of Tenterden and Cranbrook. Ambitiously, it took in and indeed still takes in some 30 villages, spread over what are now three separate borough councils. The large working membership includes village representatives and scrutineers (of all planning applications), as well as a central structure for coordination, finance, publications and the website, among other responsibilities.

Over the course of 50 years, much has changed: population growth, new housing and vehicles everywhere have had inevitable suburbanising effects, while arable farming, horticulture and vineyards have largely replaced hop gardens and large tree cherry, apple and plum orchards.

But much that is precious remains, and the real improvements over time have included, above all, the general appreciation of the importance of our environment, both natural and built. Thanks in part to bodies such as WKPS, the worst planning decisions of the 1950s and 1960s would never be replicated in todays Weald.

WKPS has enjoyed some notable successes, including the securing of listing for the Archbishops Palace at Charing and for the Ferry Inn group of buildings at Stone, the early publication of guidelines on oasthouse and barn conversions, minor improvements to the High Speed Railway route, and important contributions to Appraisals of conservation areas.

But in my role as Planning Secretary, the main, unspectacular work has been the regular submission of level-headed, responsible comments, drafted by the WKPS scrutineers and vetted by the WKPS Planning Committee, upon literally thousands of planning applications affecting the Weald.

Borough councils nowadays are very different from the local authorities of the 1960s, who tended to think that any outside comment on their decision making was an impertinence. More often than not, WKPS today is supporting the planners within borough councils who generally favour development which is appropriate and seek to prevent that which is not.

Most of their decisions are guided by policy statements such as Local Development Frameworks and Development Planning Documents, and therefore WKPS studies and comments on these when they are originally issued for consultation. If WKPS thinks that borough (or County) council is getting something wrong, we always say so though it may not be popular.

In 2010 WKPS is celebrating its Golden Jubilee through a number of events, including financing a DVD being made by senior students at Cranbrook School about the Weald today, as seen by young people, and the presentation to all primary schools within its area of a wildlife book for the school library.

Protection of the Weald, where environment and rural and historic character are still always under threat, needs the vigour and enthusiasm of young and old alike

Cole Wood

In 1997 WKPS was bequeathed the 4.86 ha Cole Wood, ancient deciduous woodland on the scarp face of the North Downs. We manage it primarily for the benefit of wildlife, says Eira McIntosh, WKPS Secretary.

The habitat is ideal for woodland breeding birds, and our visitors have included woodcock, fieldfare, kestrel and great spotted woodpeckers. At the same time it is exciting to know that Cole Wood holds one of the densest concentrations of certain species of mollusc!

We have erected bird boxes and bat boxes, and our five-year management plan includes resumption of sycamore coppicing in order to increase overall biodiversity.

Now carpeted in springs bluebells and wood anemones, Cole Wood will continue to provide a haven for Wealden wildlife.

The Weald needs you!

It has been said that WKPS was born of love and rage love of the Wealds landscape, villages and towns, together with rage at what was then happening in and to the Weald.

While the situation is in some ways better than it was in 1960, very significant pressures on the Weald remain. The need for vigilance is as strong as ever.

Unlike many other organisations, WKPS has always relied on the efforts of its volunteer workforce to accomplish everything that has been achieved. Other than minute secretarial honoraria, there is no payment of staff, nor any office to pay for and run, so that WKPS income, derived almost wholly from its membership, is spent on the task of protecting the Weald.

Everyones help is needed. Those who love the Weald are warmly invited to find out more by logging on to the website, www.wkps.org.uk, where there are details of the very modest membership fee and how to join WKPS.

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