LOCAL artists undertook a ‘paint-in’ protest at the White Horse last week, in a campaign to protect the iconic landmark and the surrounding area.
The artists fear the area is in danger of succumbing to a bypass scheme from Wiltshire Council, and are instead calling on the council to support the proposal to turn it into an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). This would give the White Horse statutory protection, prevent unsympathetic development and help preserve and enhance the natural beauty of its landscape.Although the eastern bypass was thrown out by the government in 2009, the plan is still included as a ‘saved policy’ in the council’s strategy for the coming years.
A group of artists held a ‘Paint-in’ last Thursday, led by Westbury artists Alex Prowse, Hazel O’Hara, Ian Hooper, and other members of Westbury Art Group.Alex said, “Hundreds of painters, including Eric Ravilious have painted here. I have been painting it for years from every angle and in every season.
“I cannot believe that the council wants to revive this destructive and discredited road. We are calling on them to support our proposal for the western escarpment of the Plain and the Wellhead Valley to be protected as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It could be added to the Cranborne Chase and West Wilts Downs AONB, extending it from Heytesbury to the Westbury White Horse, as envisaged by the National Parks Commission in 1950.”
Alex’s paintings, including a montage of the proposed road on the landscape, illustrate a leaflet that campaigners handed out to walkers on Thursday. The leaflet calls on Wiltshire Council to support the AONB proposal, and members of the public were asked to add pressure on the council by signing and sending a letter to Jane Scott, leader of the council.
Patrick Kinnersly, Secretary of the White Horse Alliance said, “Natural England has told us that support from the council will improve the prospects for this landscape being recognised as nationally important. The town council and the area board support the idea but the council won’t give it their blessing and we can only conclude that they do not want any further obstacles to their old dream of building a fast road right under the nose of the White Horse and through the Wellhead Valley.”
On Thursday, another group of artists also converged at the White Horse, under the ‘Freedom on my Doorstep’ project, setting off on the first leg of a five-day 100-mile walk visiting the county’s other white horses.
The ‘Freedom on my Doorstep’ walk is the culmination of a three-month arts project supported by Arts Council England, funded by the National Lottery and managed by Wiltshire Museum. The walk set off at 9.00am on Thursday from the Bratton Camp hill fort to walk the first 16.5 mile leg to Devizes.
Fight to obtain AONB
Natural England is considering extending the nearby AONB to include the escarpment, which includes the White Horse. But the idea needs the support of Wiltshire Council, which has been accused of dragging its feet in responding to the request.
The area is currently a Special Landscape Area. Further protection of the landscape via an AONB is one of the priorities for the town identified in the Westbury Area Community Plan.
An AONB is an area of high scenic quality, which has statutory protection in order to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the landscape.
Anne Dunderdale, who has been leading the campaign, said, “Natural England are seriously thinking about the designation, but we need to show we have the agreement of Wiltshire Council. We have asked and asked and nothing is forthcoming. Their agreement is vital to the next stage – we’ve got everything else in place.”