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Roman villa faces re-burial threat
Ilse of Wight County Press
Brading Roman Villa - one of the most important sites of its kind in western Europe - could be re-buried under tons of dirt if the Oglander Roman Trust that runs it cannot find £625,000 before the autumn.
Nominated in 2001 by the World Monument Fund as one of the world's 100 most endangered sites, the villa is close to securing a near £2 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant to replace the condemned 1904 roof and provide better visitor and research facilities. The grant is dependent on raising £625,000 in matched funding - of which less than half has been found so far. Ironically, it has been estimated that it could cost upwards of £300,000 to re-bury the site - with the £300,000 already raised, that equals the figure needed to conserve the villa above the ground.
Brading Roman Villa trustee and former IW county archaeologist Dr David Tomalin believes that if the villa cannot be protected, the only way to secure its survival and avoid climatic devastation is re-burial.
This involves covering the mosaics with a special porous membrane then a layer of sand before finishing off with soil. "We have discussed this possibility with English Heritage a number of times and they will help us to do it if necessary," said Dr Tomalin. "People think that we are going to get all this money, but the simple fact is that we won't get anything unless our community can demonstrate its support for the villa and its sustainability. Considering how many Island firms use the Roman name Vectis, one would hope to see a rallying round to help prevent this disaster."
Brading Roman Villa has some of the finest mosaics in western Europe and Dr Tomalin said it could be seen as the birthplace of the Island's art and culture. English Heritage inspector of ancient monuments Paul Roberts said: "We have to consider what is the best method for ensuring the conservation of the site. If the roof plan fails, then we would have to look at other strategies that would include re-burial.
"But English Heritage has no reason to believe that the Oglander Roman Trust will fail to raise the money and we are putting all our energies into making sure that the bid for the covered building is successful."
Oglander Roman Trust chairman David Guy said: "We are hoping to secure a £1.875 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and we have been told we are on course, but we cannot confirm anything until we hear the decision. We have already around £300,000 for stage one of the project, which included proposals and architects' fees. We can only draw in the rest of the money if we prove our fundraising efforts."
The Oglander Roman Trust is to launch a funding drive in May and is negotiating for other aid.