On Friday last week I visited the Kent Wildlife Trust at New Romney to discuss their work on the Fifth Continent project. This landscape partnership will facilitate the restoration and enhancement of the Marsh’s natural heritage by restoring habitats and increasing biodiversity. The project is also investigating local archaeological heritage, including excavating St Martin’s Field in New Romney, the site of the lost St Martin’s church. This church was originally built in the Saxon era and predates the existing St Nicholas church in the town, although it fell into disuse in Tudor times. There is another archaeological project as well to try to identify the site of the lost original Romney Port, which is most likely to be further inland that the village of Old Romney. The Fifth Continent project will be working to promote the physical and cultural assets of the area as well, through education and interpretation programmes. This will include an oral history project, seeking to capture the memories of older residents who have lived in the area since childhood. Screen South is also partnering with the Fifth Continent project, building on the heritage of Romney Marsh and Dungeness as a location for photography and film making, offering opportunities for young people to gain experience working in these creative media. Overall the project has been supported through the awarding of a £1.76m grant from the National Lottery heritage fund, given in February last year. The programme is set to run until at least September 2020, and you can find out more about the project through its website fifthcontinent.org.uk. I would also like to send my congratulations to the team for all that they have achieved so far.
There are a number of broader benefits that could come from the Fifth Continent project as well. Firstly, much of the conservation work supporting natural habitats is being undertaken outside of the usual programmes funded through the Department for the Environment. As we consider what national rules and regulations will be established to support countryside stewardship after we leave the European Union, some of the innovative biodiversity projects being developed on Romney Marsh could provide a guide to new ways of working. This project as well will provide further opportunities for local residents and visitors to get out and about and enjoy the delights that the Marsh has to offer. For the longer term I believe that there is great potential to develop cycle paths and routes linking the Romney Marsh villages and churches, with the coast as well as the steam railway. In Yorkshire they have developed an innovative bicycle library scheme which has made this form of transport even more affordable and accessible. I would be very interested to see whether something similar could be established here.
Following my meeting with the Kent Wildlife Trust, I also visited the residents and the care team at the Fairways residential nursing home at Littlestone. It was great to have a chat over a cup of team, and here many of the interesting and varied life stories of the ladies who live there.