Government set to create massive new heritage charity to compete with National Trust, Wildlife Trusts

Today’s the day Chancellor George Osborne revealed the latest government spending cuts.

George Osborne (c) M. Holland
George Osborne

As usual, we were softened up by horror stories, and as it turned out, they were not far wrong. Others will have their say on whether, say, the loss of a further 144,000 public sector jobs is a good way to stimulate economic growth at this juncture. The news that made me sit up concerned English Heritage, the government body which manages the historic built environment of England.

The BBC reports today that “English Heritage has been given £80m in the government’s Spending Review”. Maria Miller, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said: “The new £80 million investment for English Heritage is fantastic news and recognises the vital importance of the historic environment to our national life.” Who can argue with that? Well, watch me try. This windfall is in fact a part of a process to transfer English Heritage to the charitable sector, and I have some big problems with that.

There’s a bit more detail available, although it’s all pretty new stuff. English Heritage is to become a charity by 2015. The new charity will manage the National Heritage Collection, which includes Osborne House, Stonehenge, and many other monuments and artefacts: as English Heritage does now.  Statutory English Heritage responsibilities such as listing buildings will remain government funded – it’s hard to see how they couldn’t be. The new English Heritage charity will have, in the words of the official EH statement: “more freedom to generate greater commercial and philanthropic income”. And the ultimate purpose of all this? The government currently contributes £22m annually towards this work. Government funding for the new “National Heritage Protection Service” will be be reduced after 2015, eventually to nothing.

Continue reading Government set to create massive new heritage charity to compete with National Trust, Wildlife Trusts

Why Queen Victoria’s secret beach should remain secret

Evicted from his office by the noisy Isle of Wight Festival today, the Ranger instead spent the day on a tour of the Osborne Estate, Queen Victoria’s island retreat, still lovingly maintained much as she left it. Just occasionally there are privileges associated with being a Ranger, and today was one of those rare moments. Although Osborne is a fantastic visit for the paying guest – highly recommended, if you’re wondering – much of the estate is not open to the public, and so this was the first time the Ranger had ever been around many of the quieter corners of this royal estate, including Queen Victoria’s own beach at Osborne Bay, one of the very few private beaches on the Solent. It was an extraordinary experience. A few images will perhaps serve to convey a little of the splendour of that isolated cove. Apologies to those who subscribe by email but if you want to see them you’re just going to have look at the webpage.

Sign at Osborne Bay
The public have no access here

Making footprints on Queen Victoria’s secret beach

Evicted from his office by the noisy Isle of Wight Festival today, the Ranger instead spent the day on a tour of the Osborne Estate, Queen Victoria’s island retreat, still lovingly maintained much as she left it. Just occasionally there are privileges associated with being a Ranger, and today was one of those rare moments. Although Osborne is a fantastic visit for the paying guest – highly recommended, if you’re wondering – much of the estate is not open to the public, and so this was the first time the Ranger had ever been around many of the quieter corners of this royal estate, including Queen Victoria’s own beach at Osborne Bay, one of the very few private beaches on the Solent. It was an extraordinary experience. A few images will perhaps serve to convey a little of the splendour of that isolated cove. Apologies to those who subscribe by email but if you want to see them you’re just going to have look at the webpage.

Sign at Osborne Bay
The public have no access here
Osborne Bay
The beautiful wooded bay has a little changing room looking out over the small, sandy beach
Yellow horned poppy
Unusual shoreline plants such as the yellow horned poppy thrive in the undisturbed shingle
Sand at Osborne bay
Dappled shade from the trees falls across the pristine sand

The Ranger was struck by this remarkable place. It was not so much what was there, as what was not there. It was no different to hundreds of other such little bays across the Solent, except for the lack of people. The sand was without footprints. The beach was without litter. There were no railings, no steps, no bins, no groynes and no vehicles. Wild plants were strewn across the sand and shingle as they chose, and tangles of fallen branches marked the edges of the woodland. Nobody needed to pass that way, and nobody had seen fit to tidy them away. We are so used to seeing a beach as a busy place, where we play, run, walk, and join the throng of others doing the same. Even if we find a beach deserted, someone else will have been there not that long before. When we sit, we check to see if any rubbish is there. When we comb the strand, we expect to pick through the plastic and glass detritus of previous visitors. When we walk, we walk in the footprints of thousands before us. Osborne is a tiny reminder that it does not have to be like that. The Ranger is, naturally enough, in favour of public access to the countryside. But, just once in a while, it’s also worth having a place where the public do not and should not go, to remind us of what we put aside when we allow access for all.

Osborne House
A glimpse of distant Osborne House from the beach