On the 16th & 17th June 2016 I joined a group organised by the charity ‘People Need Nature‘ to visit Lodge Hill, Kent.
Our group was made up of Naturalists, Scientists, ecologists, writers, poets, visual artists, musicians, and often a mixture of the above.
These are all fairly meaningless titles through as what we really were was curious and keen to gain access to this endangered and abandoned ex-military base.
As Miles King, who arranged the visit explained “Access to Lodge Hill is restricted, partly because of its history as a place where the army trained bomb disposal experts (some of the ordnance is still there) and partly because it is still being used for training (the Police were training there on one day we visited). So we were fortunate to gain access; thanks to the Defense Infrastructure Organization for allowing us in.”
The feeling was that we would have to document and record what we found while access was possible. 5000 houses are planned to be built on the site
which would destroy the Nightingale habitat, as well as change forever the nature of this SSSI site.
There are a number of groups opposing these plans including this online action you can still get involved in from the RSPB.
For my part I spend the two days exploring with my notepad, camera and a digital recorder. The first day was beautifully sunny, with hours spent walking around the site, recording Nightingales, listening to and watching a Bee swarm (keeping a safe distance), photographing disused military training ghost towns, making new friends and discussing the options for the future of Lodge Hill.
The second day took on a different mood, the weather for one thing turned dramatically, thunderstorms, high winds, a morning of endless rain.
The company though was warm and enthusiastic, and a different side of Lodge Hill was encountered, like two distinct seasons, two very different perspectives displayed.
The houses we found were a mixture of replica streets from Ireland and re-purposed old fashioned council houses now dressed to somehow represent Basra.
It felt like being on a silently sinister film set after all the crew and actors had long departed.
There was something of 1970’s or 80’s science fiction going on with the way it made me feel, not remembered but an impression from the past, the merging of fact and fiction.
There was also a stark and honest beauty. Long have I dreamed and imagined of a world where nature takes over.
Long before reading Ballard, Jefferies, Wyndham or books on rewinding I had these childhood thoughts of weeds pushing through concrete, tree canopies obscuring pavements and roads, bricks crumbling and buildings becoming ruinous.
A sense of post-modernism crumbled to dust and the fecund hand of nature taking back it’s rightful place.
It is a strange feeling to find solitude in a place that would once have been so active and for ends that are so alien I know from my own personal experience.
The combination of beautiful dog roses, grasses and Oak trees lined up against razor wire and high fences, the omnipresent signs warning of danger and the simplicity of the plants and trees that had reclaimed the concrete, Instead of signs they give us oxygen and spend the days looking for the light, unaware of the meaning of the signs they strangled and obscured. Lichen moss and chlorophyll graffiti artfully replacing ‘Danger’, ‘Keep out’ and ‘No Access’.
The fate of Lodge Hill is still far from certain. The Nightingales will return as long as there is habitat to support them.
The site will of course change on it’s own volition should no site management be offered, this being the case the Nightingales will eventually no longer benefit from this window of time where their needs are met at lodge Hill.
Lodge Hill presents us with an example of the choices we have to make at this time.
Through human abandonment after such long human usage and the sheer size of the site make this a fascinating subject.
Which way to turn?
should we be aiming for preservation, rewilding, regeneration, a museum, a managed nature reserve, a park, housing to meet the local authorities targets, what to do? Which way would you turn?
Since June I have created two new pieces. A musical piece inspired by and using recordings made during the visit.
The second piece is a short film, again using field recordings as well as the voices of Miles King, Gill Moore from Friends of the North Kent Marshes and writer Jullian Hoffman.
All the images were captured over the two days last June.
Many thanks to Miles King, to People Need Nature for access and to my fellow explorers over these two days and their words, photographs and thoughts which are collected at the People Need Nature Website.
Matthew Shaw blogs at https://animalocusblog.wordpress.com