Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Fowlmead, a Model for Pegwell?

I have wondered for some time why here in Thanet the powers-that-be seem to think 'regeneration' means more houses crammed into smaller and smaller sites.

Can there be another way? This thought often strkes me where I visit a fine example of 'regeneration' without a single extra house being constructed.

The Betteshanger Colliery coal tip is a relic of our Kentish industrial past or rather it was until SEEDA (South East England development Agency) took over the derelict site in 2000 after it had been lying neglected and unused after the pit closed in 1989. For anyone interested in Kent's industrial heritage the pit opened in 1927, the year after the General Strike and was manned by those blacklisted by pit owners in the Midlands and Lanarkshire. Many in Thanet are the descendants of those 1500 miners, since the original miners were refused lodgings in Deal and had to travel to the area until the Mill Hill mining community was built. In 1946 the Betteshanger Training Centre for the newly-nationalised industry was opened by Manny Shinwell MP from the North East, the well-known trade unionist who was Minister of Fuel and Power.

SEEDA in 2000 asked local people what they wanted done with the site on the Sandwich to Deal road, and overwhelmingly the answer was not housing,nor a golf course, nor a heritage site but a facility for everyone from walkers, horseriders, cyclists, birdwatchers, and all able and less able. 'The past is the past, we want to look to the future' was their message.

This community-led scheme now known as Fowlmead Country Park, funded by the government opened in 2007 following the creation of ponds, the building of an observation platform for birdwatchers, the planting of 130,000 trees and shrubs, the creation of footpaths, bridleways and the piece de resistance - the European Championship cycle track that is so popular it gets booked up for competitions years in advance.

Walking round the site in beautiful early Autumn sunshine I saw bushes festooned with berries including from the top sloes for gin, rose hips for syrup, and sea buckthorn for vitmains. I spotted dragonflies swooping low over the ponds and could hear birds in the distance. I haven't managed to spot a kingfisher yet but remain hopeful.

It's possible to see some relics of the tip's past -the odd bit of rail; left from the railway that took the coal from the coveyor belt under the road to the junction near Sandwich. I think it should be left like this so children will acknowledge their industrial heritage. Shale forms some of the paths and it is possible to spot large lumps of coal at the sides of the paths.

Enjoying the views towards Ramsgate, Sandwich and then Deal it is hard to imagine the site in its heyday, but it is heartening to see how the trees and shrubs have prospered despite the generally poor soil. Planting on top of a coal heap can't be easy, but the vegetation has thrived.

A small group from a Thanet special school was able to complete a certificate-awarding scheme at the country park. Their teacher said what an achievement this was for this group with severe learning difficulties.

Wouldn't it be good to see the old hoverport site in Pegwell Bay developed in such a sympathetic and sustainable way?


  1. I agree totally with your comments, they've done an amazing job there & something similar would be ideal for Pegwell Bay. Also check out the site of the nearby former Betteshanger colliery, they've made a nice country park there too.

  2. Jenny Matterface20 October 2009 at 17:04

    Can I suggest readers look at the website for Fowlmead at www.fowlmead.co.uk and see what is on offer each week? It's only a short drive from Thanet and there's ample parking for a voluntary contribution of £1. If you have children on half-term next week take them to see what can be done with an old industrial site and show them via the displays in the Visitors' Centre our local industrial history.

    Keep an eye on the website as there is an annual fun run with a Christmas pudding for every entrant (a little one to be fair!!)

  3. Thank you Peter and Jenny, I have added a link to Fowlmead to the post.

  4. Jenny Matterface20 October 2009 at 18:56

    I forgot about the bike hire facility as well as all the other attractions.