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Objectors fight to save site of Yorkist victory: An historic battlefield is under threat from gravel extraction. Oliver Gillie reports

THE LANCASTRIAN forces formed up behind a hedge on the top of a ridge overlooking Blore Heath, near Market Drayton in Staffordshire, where they could see the smaller Yorkist force across the valley. This same hedge, probably more than 1,000 years old, and other important landmarks of the bloody battle in 1459 will be destroyed if gravel extractors have their way.

Will Swynnerton, who has campaigned for the preservation of the site, climbed into a tree above the ancient elm hedge to point out the route taken by the Yorkist army as it feinted a retreat.

The inexperienced Lancastrian soldiers did not know there was a narrow gulley at the bottom of the valley as they pursued.

'As the Lancastrians clambered up the steep side of the gulley they were at the mercy of the Yorkists,' Mr Swynnerton said.

'The Yorkists had field artillery. It is believed to be the first time artillery was used in a large set piece battle in Britain. They fired stone cannon balls and grape shot which was probably the same gravel that the extractors are now selling for motorway construction. The ancient hedge is actually mentioned by the Burgundian chronicler, Jehan de Waurin, in a contemporary account. We are very fortunate that the medieval landscape has been preserved and we can see the exact positions of the forces.

'The medieval road to Market Drayton ran along the valley side of this hedge. Although there is no road here now, its position can be identified because the surface of the field on the valley side of the hedge is three feet lower than on the other side. And on the other side of the valley the exact spot is marked where Lord Audley, the 60-year-old leader of the Lancastrian forces, was cut down and killed.'

Mr Swynnerton, an antique car dealer, and his father, Brian, a school chaplin and parish councillor, are leading the campaign against gravel extraction at the site. An established gravel quarry at Almington, run by ARC Ltd, a subsidiary of Hanson plc, wants to extend so that it can extract material from the hill beneath the Lancastrian lines, drastically changing the topography and lowering the level of the ground by up to 40ft (12m).

Objectors oppose the extension because, apart from the destruction of local history, lorries from the quarry cause a major problem on the small country roads, the gravel tip is an eyesore, and the digging has diverted underground water so that springs and wells have dried up. They believe that the gravel is obtained at the expense of environmental devastation and is so cheap that much of it is being wasted as in- fill. A public inquiry into the future of the battlefield finished in March and its report is in preparation.

The Battlefield Trust, dedicated to the preservation of battlefields, is meeting at York University tomorrow to plan its campaign. Battlefields are not listed like old buildings and at present special pleading must be made for the preservation of each one. The trust has now persuaded English Heritage to register the battlefields of England and Wales and so far the list extends to some 42 sites.

The trust hopes to prevent the sort of destruction which occurred at the site of the battle of Naseby (1645), near Rugby, where a link between the M1 and A1, now nearing completion, passes across the centre of the Civil War site. Argument lasted for 20 years while objectors took the county council through two public inquiries, five court cases and two appeals to the European Environmental Commission.

Sir Charles Rowley, who lives nearby in Naseby Hall, said: 'It was all fruitless but we hope other battlefields may be preserved. The irony of it all is that the county council has now officially moved the site of the battlefield to a place one mile north of its true position.'

Leading article, page 19

(Photograph and map omitted)