Rarely can an area so scarred by industrialisation be so rich in history – human and natural – as the Peters Village site.
It’s no wonder that many people regard it as ‘a special place’, one well-known to prehistoric tribes and communities as well as more famous residents such as the Romans, and where rare and unusual flora and fauna still thrive despite all the plundering of Man’s industries.
Once Trenport acquired the site in 2003 it not only started planning its re-development, but also initiated a programme of stewardship that would see an eyesore area cleaned up and its natural habitats revitalised: the all-new community at Peters Village has an amenity treat in store.
It had been a notorious dumping ground, populated by burnt out and wrecked cars and fly-tipping, and also scarred by motorcycle scramblers and ‘green-laning’ 4x4 drivers.
Hefty security gates were deployed to deny all such unwelcome vehicles and, as the mess was slowly cleared, areas of great natural beauty were revealed.
It also proved to be a haven for rarities such as the Great Crested Newt, several species of bat, the Adonis Blue butterfly, various orchids, and the Marsh Mallow Moth – it is one of just two UK sites where this moth, also known as the Giant Ear, is found.
Part of the land was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Trenport has adhered to a 1990s programme agreed with the Government-backed Natural England (and its predecessor English Nature) and Kent Wildlife Trust (KWT).
This programme and management by KWT - costing £20,000 a year and met by Trenport - is consistently reviewed and approved by Natural England, which recently made a special inspection and awarded another clean bill of health for the SSSI team's sterling work.
In addition, Trenport has guaranteed long term protection, management and enhancement of the SSSI during and after the Peters Village development.
But the SSSI is also just part of an ecological management programme to protect and encourage many plant and animal species, through partnership with appropriate specialists and relevant authorities.
This work has seen the creation of special habitats for different species, and even innovative ‘newt fences’ to prevent these reptiles wandering into areas where they might be at risk from traffic or construction work.
Any clearance of trees covered by Tree Preservation Orders has been carried out strictly according to approved landscaping under the Peters Village planning consent. Such losses will be compensated by extensive tree planting and landscaping – Trenport guarantees there will be far more trees planted than the few removed.
The Hall Road/Greenway hedge also needed replacement with a more robust example, easier on the eye and using a mix of native species benefitting local wildlife. The removal happened in early 2014, as our conservation consultants stressed this had to be done prior to the bird nesting season, to avoid affecting this year's chicks.
Overseeing the site’s welfare on a day-to-day basis is our tireless ranger Terry Venn, a familiar sight in his Trenport off-road vehicle, able to take him even to the most challenging parts and levels of the site’s former quarry.
But while the natural history future of the area was being secured, Trenport was also securing the past; well aware that re-development could not take place until any risk to human history was assessed, Trenport called in archaeological consultants, CgMs, who employed the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) to carry out an archaeological survey (May-August 2014) before any major construction on the new village and its roads network.
While the MOLA experts' survey showed no headline finds such as a treasure trove burial site, Roman mosaic or intriguing human remains - though the bones of three people have been unearthed - they are excited by the overall picture revealed.
This will be the subject of an exhaustive report due in the new year, but the archaeologists have issued 'edited highlights' including:
• Yet more evidence of known Roman remains off Old Church Road and close to the site of the former cement works. Another site shows evidence of possible temporary fortifications; could this have been a refuge during the final days of the Romans before they withdrew from Britain c.410AD? Or was this bastion built slightly later using materials from a nearby Roman building?
• Searches close to the river bank show Roman drainage ditches dug to exploit the rich farming potential of the Medway riverside
• More information about Wouldham Hall, with finds including a mediaeval horse harness pendant
• Pottery shards in generous quantities from most of the periods found onsite
• One site of human remains is a 'crouched burial' typical of graves dug in the early Bronze Age (c.3,500 years ago).
The Archaeological Consultant leading the project, CgMs Consulting’s Chris Clarke, said: "Occupation of this area over many different periods underlines how important the Medway would have been for moving people and goods around.”
"Even the Romans - famed for their roads - could not ignore the simple fact that a decent sized boat could be laden to the gunwales on relatively calm river waters and carry 20-30 times what a contemporary cart would carry, while needing very little manpower to move it."
Commenting on the findings, Trenport Director Chris Hall said: "In our industry you always have mixed feelings in this situation. On one hand, you have to hope that nothing significant is found during the archaeological survey, otherwise you could be looking at a major delay to the project.
"But there is also the secret hope that something exciting will be found, especially as the survey shows this area involved many different cultures - not just the Romans."