Wiltshire’s flag was registered on December 1st 2009, following a declaration of support for the design by the Wiltshire County Council. The flag is the creation of county resident Mike Prior
and his daughter Helen Pocock. The flag features a Great Bustard (Otis tarda) at its centre, a bird native to the county, which had been extinct since 1832 but was recently returned as part of an intensive ten-year breeding programme on Salisbury Plain. Several of the elements in the flag were present in the coat of arms awarded to the Wiltshire county Council in 1937
namely the pattern of stripes, the colours green and white and the depiction of a great bustard – as the crest over the shield, in the coat of arms. A banner of these council arms
had been commercially available for some time, so to an extent the new flag has rather maintained a recognised local theme, although of course the armorial banner represents only Wiltshire County Council, it is not and never has been, the county flag and indeed only the council is legally entitled to use these arms or a banner from them; there is no general right to raise it. Additionally it should also be noted that this commercially available version of the armorial banner includes the red dragon which represents Wessex (of which Wiltshire is a part), set against a green background – this is, of course, highly inaccurate as the background should be white.
Mike explained his motivation; “I have always loved flag flying and I thought it would be good to fly something other than the Union Flag or national flags…I have done my research and found there wasn’t a flag for the county so I thought why not design one?” Realising that the council’s banner was not available for public use he and his daughter set about the task of creating a new flag that would represent the county as an entity in its own right. As noted, they took their initial inspiration from the council’s arms where the green and white pattern recalled the county’s pasture-lands and chalk downs and this symbolism was similarly applied in the new flag. Unusually however, the stripe pattern was given a new slant, literally, the stripes being depicted in an inclined aspect, bending to the centre from both vertical edges of the flag. These “formalised” curves represent the undulating green downs of the county, over their chalk underlay.
On the council’s arms the great bustard had appeared as a crest; although the bird had been absent since the early nineteenth century, the College of Arms clearly considered it a meaningful local icon worthy of depiction, seemingly as a testament of a lost treasure. Recognition of the bustard as a locally significant motif was maintained on the new flag, a depiction of the bird being placed at the centre of the design. Its significance was heightened by this time however because the once lost local creature had since been restored to its original home and the new flag celebrated this fact.
BBC Radio Wiltshire’s Matthew Smith (left), Fergus’ the Great Bustard (centre) and Great Bustard Group Director David Waters (right), celebrate after the council approved the new flag.
The bird was depicted in a gold hue against a solid green circle, to illustrate the open grassland where it lives. Surrounding the circle are six alternate green and white “sections” intended to convey both the county’s famed ancient stone circles at Stonehenge and Avebury (each “section” representing a rock) and in an abstract fashion, the county itself, which is surrounded by six neighbours – namely (clockwise) Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Hampshire, Dorset and Somerset.
Having created the design the next step was to seek public support; Mike Prior stated there “is no method or authority to get it accepted as the county flag of Wiltshire, that is all done by public acceptance.” To publicise the flag Mike contacted the great and the good connected with Wiltshire, including the Duchess of Cornwall, the Great Bustard Project and local authorities and was gratified to receive positive feedback and offers of support. Lord Bath wrote to express his support saying: “I wish you every success in the launch/unfurling of a Wiltshire flag designed along the lines you suggest. The green and white undulations as well as the Great Bustard emblem strike me as being most appropriate.”
Mike then financed the manufacture of 250 flags and in accordance with the then applicable rules regarding the flying of flags, sought official permission to fly one of these from a flagpole in his own garden, a cumbersome, heavily bureaucratic and expensive process. With permission eventually received Mike publicised the first raising of the intended county flag, by inviting the Marquess of Bath, the mayor of Trowbridge and the Trowbridge town crier in full regalia, plus the local paper and various relations and friends to the ceremony on September 24 2006, where the flag was raised at 2.50pm by Lord Bath and Trowbridge mayor Tom James.
From left to right Trevor Heeks, Trowbridge Town Crier, Lord Bath, and Mike Prior.
Mike Prior commented “The weekend was excellent. Lord Bath and Tom James raised it together and just as it reached the top of the flag pole there was a gust of wind and it unfurled itself.”
The sale of a number of flags and car stickers followed, including purchases from around the globe and amidst this burgeoning popularity the flag was subsequently raised by Jane Scott, then leader of the former county council, at County Hall, Trowbridge, on 5 June 2007. Another two years passed before the Great Bustard flag was formally approved by the council during a full meeting, in December 2009. The Flag Institute consequently registered the design as the county flag of Wiltshire.
In the intervening period and upon the council acceptance, the flag met with some criticism which fell into three broad areas; dislike of the great bustard emblem for not being a ‘relevant symbol’; dissatisfaction with the adoption/registration process; complaints about what was regarded as a generally complicated and irregular flag design from flag enthusiasts (vexillologists) and heraldists.
Complaints about the main charge on the flag reflected the fact that the once native bird
having been absent from the county for 170 years, had fallen from public recognition; many people could not relate to it as an emblem of the county in the same way that they recognised, for example, stone circles and hillside white chalk horses. As one online comment read “The bustard is not even in the minds of Wiltshire people……” Harsh comparisons with turkeys ensued. However, most correspondents neglected to notice that the bird had been used to represent the county council, in its full achievement of arms (see above) for the previous seventy years and still was; the precedent of the great bustard being emblematic of the county had therefore been set. Additionally, the presence of the bird on the flag signified a huge success in conservation, the first ever attempt to re-introduce a nationally extinct species in the UK, a fact worthy of celebration in itself but additionally, this restoration of a local species was a superb Wiltshire achievement – its presence on the flag marked this proud county success. This conclusion was expressed in another online comment “A great flag & symbol of a fantastic effort by the Wiltshire Great Bustard Group to reintroduce this iconic bird back to Wiltshire where it became extinct through man’s exploitation. ….The Bustard flag proudly represents a contemporary success story. Thank you for a sensible choice.”
Dissatisfaction regarding the manner in which the great bustard flag became the county flag, is harder to refute. The Council leader Jane Scott stated that “We are pleased that we are able support this project. People in Wiltshire are rightly proud of their beautiful county and this flag will help to reinforce a sense of community identity.” This drew a response that “..people in Wiltshire would be pleased to be consulted, Wiltshire people are proud enough of their county and heritage not to have this flag foisted upon them..” There was one contending design which had some local support; similarly green, the background, and white, the main charge of a horse
, the proposal was regarded in some quarters as being more culturally connected to the county. Created by student Chrys Fear, it derived from a sketch
of the Cherhill White Horse in the county
, taken from The White Horses of the West of England by William Plenderleath published in 1885, presented in the actual green and white colours of the chalk image cut from the green turf. However, whilst the campaign behind the great bustard flag devoted resources to trumpet the cause, Chrys Fear’s design was never formally offered to the county’s officials or residents for their review and approval. He hoped that its popular adoption by local people would prove sufficient, as had occurred in Pembrokeshire. The design remains commercially available. Others regarded the council’s armorial banner (see above) as an appropriate design for the county flag, although as noted, it was not actually available for use, to the general public. In an open competition all contending designs would have received equal consideration and competed equally for public support.
With regard to the form of the flag, although it is evidently most distinct, there are several aspects which have drawn criticism. Firstly the colour of the central charge, described as gold but in effect often a beige hue, is seen as “wishy-washy” and lacking the necessary vibrancy to stand out well against the green and white background, especially when viewed from any distance. In this colour scheme, with a little more detail, the bird would likely be more discernible than as a bare silhouette. The undulating stripes, intended to reflect the county’s topography, give something of an uneven, misshapen look to the flag and result in an oddly shaped green section at the top of the flag
and two oddly shaped white ones at its base
As a feature in themselves, the sloping stripes cannot be easily seen when the flag is in flight, especially as they are partially obscured by the green disc at the centre. This central green circle is surrounded by green and white sections, all of which sit against green and white curvilinear stripes. Additionally the bustard overlaps the green disc further reducing clarity & visibility. The arrangement is intrinsically very detailed, as can be seen in these various samples
The flag thus lacks the essential simplicity advocated by the Flag Institute and others for creating an effective flag.
Wiltshire’s county badge was an alternative potential source for development as a county flag. Occasionally such badges were devised for general use, formed from the principal themes and colours found in council arms. The badge depicts the bustard against the pattern of green and white stripes,
although its very pictorial realisation would have required modification for effective use on a flag.
On June 5th 2011, the new Wiltshire county day, following the flag’s raising by the local council on that date in 2007, the flag was raised at the Eland House Headquarters of the Department for Communities and Local Government, in London, by the department’s head Eric Pickles (below left) and Wiltshire MP Duncan Hames (below right).
This was positively publicised by Matthew Smith (see above) on BBC Wiltshire Radio.
Jane Scott, Leader of Wiltshire Council commented “Wiltshire is a beautiful county and this is a proud moment for us all. The flying of this flag will help promote Wiltshire and its identity.”
The flag is now regularly seen, raised or displayed around the county
and has been enthusiastically displayed at Glastonbury music festival