The Ministry of Defence establishment controls one per cent of the total land surface of the United Kingdom.
This was a statistic given to members and visitors at Glendale Local History Society’s latest meeting by the speaker for the evening, Philip Abramson.
Philip is the Defence Estates environmental advisor and in a fascinating talk entitled From Barrow to Bunker, he explained how the MoD takes its role as custodians of the land very seriously.
Parts of MoD land are farmed and provide a livelihood for those involved in its care.
The MoD estates have their own natural environments and provide a habitat for numerous flora and fauna including some rare and listed species.
It has its own archaeological, historical and cultural associations that the MoD is mindful of and takes great pride in.
Philip explained that a large part of his job is to liaise with other agencies that have an interest in documenting and recording what the land contains. He pointed out that being on MoD land is not a bad place for a plant or a feature to be.
The footfall in such places is low and consequently the chance of being left in peace is high. While rare plants or animals may not be able to stop a war they can modify an exercise and some features are “off limits” to troops.
A local example is a Roman camp on the Otterburn moors. Perhaps the only instance where second century soldiers have managed to bring their 21st century comrades to a halt.
Having such cultural gems under its care has a positive feedback for the MoD.
Operation Nightingale is a rehabilitation programme that uses archaeology to help soldiers injured both physically and mentally to come to terms with their situation and prepare them for further work in the military or a move into civilian life.
Archaeology and soldiering have a number of skills in common and the cross-over between the two disciplines is beneficial to both.
Archaeologists and soldiers survey and read ground, both professions have an interest in what is under the ground and soldiers actually seem to enjoy digging.
Philip cited how a dig at Hadrian’s Wall had been attended by injured soldiers from the UK, Germany and Cyprus and how Operation Nightingale had helped to restore the participants’ self-esteem and improve their social skills.
For their part, the civilian archaeologists involved had learned to appreciate the culinary delights of army rations and the luxury of standard issue sleeping bags.
Operation Nightingale has received recognition from Current Archaeology and Time Team, several participants have gone on to study archaeology at university and in 2012 Nightingale was awarded a special trophy by the British Archaeology Society for its outstanding conservation work on MoD land.
The next meeting of Glendale Local History Society will be held in the Cheviot Centre, Wooler on Wednesday, April 9, at 7.30pm. Alan Giles and Co, will present the History of the Press Gang in North East England. All are welcome.