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NASA says the archaeological remains at the Apollo landing site (for such they are) are important to mankind and a priceless human treasure and must be protected – so they want to establish a protection zone of at least 1.2 miles round them. Few would argue with that.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, the National Trust recently echoed their words, sort of, when they said “the Stonehenge Landscape is among the most precious places on the planet“. Few would argue with that either.
But there the similarity ends for despite what they said then, the National Trust have just announced they’ll support a proposal to create a massive cutting in that landscape within walking distance of the actual stones. That makes them look pretty bad compared with NASA, but they also look pretty bad compared with themselves: years ago they said any tunnel HAD to be at least 2.8 miles long, now they’re saying a 1.8 mile tunnel will do – that’s a whole mile shorter and with entrance cuttings projecting a whole mile further into the World Heritage Site. Yet it’s the same World Heritage Site, the only difference being that loads more features and sites have recently been discovered within it. Can anyone explain that?!
Or this: right now on the HS2 route through the Chilterns the National Trust are insisting on a 15 mile tunnel – more than eight times longer than at Stonehenge!
Please sign the “Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site” petition.
by Sandy Gerrard
Situated near the base of a steep sided shake hole at SN 82898 15123 near Craig-y-nos and the Welsh National Showcaves is a small circular stone built structure. The building is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, (BR256 Hut Circle west of Saith Maen) although it is actually situated to the south-west. The structure is very small with an internal diameter of 3.1m surrounded by drystone walling up to 0.6m high. A clearly defined slab-lined entrance faces west. The Royal Commission record it as a hut-circle, although David Leighton in his Western Brecon Beacons book notes only that “The building is probably of prehistoric date” (Leighton, 2012, 69) but the Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust go rather further stating that “There is something about the site which feels more akin to a shelter of a more recent date than any kind of prehistoric dwelling”. So definitely no consensus and despite the considerable uncertainties Cadw scheduled the site as a prehistoric hut circle.
This is important because when an application to schedule the Bancbryn stone alignment was submitted to Cadw they concluded that “because the evidence base is inconclusive, and there is an alternative theory of post medieval origin that would not meet the criteria for scheduling, it is not possible to schedule the site.” So why was this structure near Saith Maen scheduled? After all alternative very plausible post-medieval theories have been offered but with typical Cadw inconsistency and total disregard for their own professed procedures they pressed on regardless. The final irony is that the post-medieval explanations offered for this scheduled site remain whilst Cadw have now accepted that no specific evidence to support the post-medieval explanations for the Bancbryn stone alignment exist. A fine old mess indeed.
Despite being at the foot of a very steep slope no hillwash deposits have accumulated within the upper part of the building. This strongly suggests that the structure is relatively recent as does its fresh almost pristine appearance. Furthermore its very small size is unusual as is its position in the bottom of a shake hole. A couple of post-medieval interpretations which Cadw appear to have overlooked include a gunpowder magazine or shelter and both would seem, given the anomalies highlighted above, much more plausible than the prehistoric one favoured by Cadw. The structure stands in the midst of an industrial landscape and this context complete with the character of the remains makes a post-medieval date much more likely. The sides of the shake hole would have provided an excellent blast wall and the gunpowder could have been transferred throughout the area using the adjacent tramway. The form of the structure however suggests that it is most likely to be a shelter. Identical structures are known in the archaeological record.
According to the Western Morning News …..
“Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has hailed English Heritage and National Trust’s backing of a possible tunnel under Stonehenge as an “an important milestone” in ending the traffic nightmare on the A303.
In a letter to Yeovil MP David Laws, the Conservative Secretary of State said their “in-principle” support, revealed two weeks’ ago, paved the way for finding a “solution to the problems that exist” on the notorious A303, A30 and A358 corridor.”
We recently highlighted how the Government seems less determined lately to impose large housing developments onto unwilling communities and sensitive historic landscapes. But it’s not just houses, it’s also wind farms. Eric Pickles is now calling most of them in for review. Take Northumberland:
“the wind of change seems to have blown through the whole vexed issue on onshore wind. Many believe that the DCLG and its boss Eric Pickles is acting out of a desire to appease rank and file Conservative voters, who rightly or wrongly are associated with an anti-wind stance.” The wind farm industry is angry about it: “The Government is clearly trying to shut down onshore wind…. It’s a long an arduous job to get a wind farm through the planning system then along comes a politician from Westminster who knows nothing and kills it”.
The timing of all this certainly looks suspicious. Not that the “election factor”, if such it is, has been all good for heritage conservation: a short tunnel at Stonehenge, with no public consultation and in the teeth of likely bitter opposition from most archaeological and heritage organisations, looks very like chasing votes in the South West by sacrificing the welfare of parts of the Stonehenge landscape.
by Sandy Gerrard
David Leighton in his excellent “The Western Brecon Beacons – The Archaeology of Mynydd Du and Fforest Fawr” book published by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales deals head on with the issue of standing stones. He notes that they are “an enigmatic group of monuments” and may have been raised for a wide variety of purposes. Most significantly he goes on to say “Those of prehistoric date, which may subsequently have served any of these purposes, can only be described confidently as such after excavation, and few have been investigated in this way” (Leighton, D., 2012, 87).
Most of the scheduled standing stones in Wales have not been excavated and therefore varying degrees of doubt must exist regarding their identification. This however does not prevent Cadw confidently scheduling them as prehistoric without a shred of evidence. This is important because it clearly illustrates that definite proof is not seen as a requisite for a site to be added to the schedule. So why is a lack of evidence seen as a justifiable reason for not scheduling the stone alignment at Bancbryn? Cadw now accept that the various alternative explanations are spurious and in public have stated that it is not being scheduled because of “insufficient evidence”. To be more specific Cadw have stated to me that they “did not feel able to recommend the structure for scheduling since the action would require Cadw to state with confidence that it is a prehistoric structure and as you yourself have noted ….. – this has not yet been proven.”
So there we have it, on the one hand Cadw can state with confidence that the scheduled standing stones are all prehistoric despite the lack of any supporting evidence for most of them whilst at the same time refuse to schedule a stone alignment despite an abundance of evidence and all of it pointing one way. The duplicity of this position highlights a fundamental problem with the way in which Cadw selects monuments for protection. It would not be an exaggeration to describe it as an utter shambles, lacking any rigour or consistency resulting in a system where contradictory and unsubstantiated decisions have become the norm.
Prehistoric standing stones inconveniently do not come complete with their original dates inscribed on them. Despite this Cadw can confidently tell without any evidence which ones are prehistoric or not. Perhaps they have a time-machine parked up outside their offices!
A pre-election change in Government policy offers hope that the setting of Oswestry Hill Fort and much else might be saved at the eleventh hour.
Already Eric Pickles has been over-ruling many of his own inspectors. blocking many wind farms and solar parks that would otherwise have gone through, but there’s more. As William Cash, Shropshire resident and UKIP heritage spokesman (no, we’re not promoting UKIP!) says in the New Statesman: “the Tories are pledging – just eight months from the election and well over two years after the NPPF ripped up 50 years of planning law – to save England from being concreted over through a new green “shield” across the greenbelt. According to the Telegraph, the new guidance states that councils are no longer required to “sacrifice” greenbelt land in order to meet new five-year housing targets.”
If true that could put into reverse all that’s been happening at Oswestry and many other places where towns have been faced with a loophole in the NPPF in which if targets aren’t met developers can build where they like – including greenbelt land. Maybe that era is over and Oswestry Hill Fort and other places will be reprieved. We’ll soon know.
We were going to write just this…..
Since the Government’s intentions about the A303 at Stonehenge aren’t yet made public we have to make do with 2 verbal clues:
- “We are discussing a range of potential options.“ So, a range of options, not all of them. We can safely assume that the “long tunnel” option isn’t being discussed as it’s missing from the published list of options.
- “we have worked closely with key organisations, including English Heritage and the National Trust”. So, the only two heritage organisations mentioned as being “worked closely with” are one that supported the short tunnel last time and one that didn’t but is strongly rumoured to be prepared to reverse its stance if its land isn’t touched.
So who’d bet against a short tunnel? And aren’t these words pretty slippery:
- “No investment decisions have been made”. But if the long tunnel is missing from the list of options the biggest investment decision has been made. The Autumn Statement will specify the short tunnel no doubt and the only faint hope for avoiding it thereafter will be if all those organisations who opposed it so passionately last time unite to do so again. It would be ironic if the organisation with the watchword “forever, for everyone” broke ranks and agreed to the damage.
But now we have to write this….
It has been revealed in the Financial Times that English Heritage and the National Trust are both willing to support a short tunnel. It won’t encroach on their land, it will threaten any number of monuments and damage any number of monument settings within the World Heritage Site and it does offer the opportunity to expand an enclosed theme park.
You might very well think that any conservation bodies worthy of the name would fight like tigers (for a very long time, and in public) for a long tunnel – since one takes donations to stand up for special places “forever, for everyone” and the other takes taxpayers’ money to be England’s official “heritage champion”, but you’d be wrong, evidently. It’s notable though that both have successfully defended their own patches. So it’s an awful day for the Stonehenge World Heritage Site and a much better one for NT and EH.
But here’s the bit that will stay on their respective records forever:
Here’s the National Trust Press Office’s attempt to justify the organisation’s craven abdication of its moral duty to everyone who ever sent it money http://ntpressoffice.wordpress.com/2014/10/17/national-trust-statement-on-stonehenge-tunnel-proposal/
(A remarkably similar statement can be expected from the English Heritage Press Office shortly!)
by Sandy Gerrard
Protruding from a hedge bank on a north west slope overlooking the River Towy is a large standing stone. It is described by the Royal Commission who visited the site in 1913 as “A shapely monolith, standing 122 inches clear of the soil” and they note that “Its weather-worn surface suggests slight tooling.” This stone is known as Sythfaen Llwyn Du and it stands at SN 67560 24440. In common with most standing stones no evidence currently exists to support its prehistoric origin. Archwilio acknowledges its existence but provides no descriptive details and Coflein states accurately that its date is unknown.
This has not stopped the stone being added to the Schedule of Ancient Monuments. Despite the lack of any evidence to support a prehistoric date the stone is scheduled.
Fine, it might be prehistoric and if so it would clearly be of national importance but until we have actual evidence we and they cannot be sure. This is important because it demonstrates that the schedule contains monuments whose importance is in doubt and in turn this must throw suspicion on the validity of the Schedule as a whole. Could this in part explain why despite hundreds of cases of reported damage over the past decades that not a single prosecution has resulted? Indeed I imagine it would be difficult to prosecute if you could not demonstrate convincingly that what had been damaged was nationally important in the first place. Cadw’s reluctance to schedule the stone alignment at Bancbryn is even more incomprehensible when one considers that it shares one more thing with much of the scheduled archaeology – there is no definitive proof of its date but it is different in that at least there is plenty of evidence to support its prehistoric pedigree – sadly the same cannot be said for many of the so called prehistoric sites already on the Schedule.
If you agree that Stonehenge is special, you might like to support our call by writing to the Secretary of State, asking that if a new road is going to be constructed, it should be in a tunnel at least 4.5km long. Thank you.