Reprinted from Newsletter 119, dated 2006 June

World Heritage Site is about conservation, before tourism or economic growth

Anthony Ward

The Somerset Levels as a whole, rather than just Glastonbury, will be the focus of a bid to have the area listed as a World Heritage Site. A main theme is “the interaction of people and nature in an evolving wetland landscape”.

This was made clear at the first local consultation exercise organized by the county council’s heritage service about the World Heritage Site proposal.

The discussion seminar, for invited people from local organizations, took place at Glastonbury Town Hall on May 24 with representatives from organizations including the Levels and Moors Project (LAMP), a parish and district councillor from the Southern Moors group of parishes, Glastonbury Antiquarian Society, Glastonbury Chamber of Commerce, Wells Civic Society and Bridgwater Antiquarian Society. Glastonbury Conservation Society was represented by Anthony Ward and the chairman, John Brunsdon, though present in his role as Glastonbury town councillor.

This area, according to Tom Mayberry, the county heritage officer who led the SCC presentation team at the seminar, “contains a range of nationally and internationally important archaeological sites, sites of special scientific interest and wildlife areas. It is a landscape rich in history and local legend and contains some of the best wetland heritage sites in the UK, along with iconic landmarks such as Glastonbury Tor.”

County historian Richard Brunning suggested that “the wetland heritage of the Somerset Levels and the associated heritage settlements of Glastonbury and Wells make up a distinctive cultural landscape that should be considered for inclusion on the Unesco register as a World Heritage Site.” It includes more than 29,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land.

Participants were most concerned with the purpose of a bid. “What is it for?” said many. The answer seems to be that it is not primarily about tourism or economic development but rather about developing a management plan based on conservation and sustainability for the landscapes and communities covered by the proposal.

Concern was expressed by LAMP members about how the SCC’s impending withdrawal from funding LAMP and its village community network might adversely affect trust and participation in a World Heritage scheme as the Levels and moors.

At the end of the meeting there was agreement that the SCC team should be encouraged to continue consulting with other local and national agencies and report back in the next four to six weeks. No agreement was sought on the exact boundaries of any bid, but it was understood that preparations needed to be advanced to enable a local bid to become part of the government’s forthcoming review of the tentative list of World Heritage sites in the UK, which is to be reviewed in 2006-07 for the first time in seven years.