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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.
We’ve repeatedly expressed opposition to public guardians (including the National Trust) allowing modifications to monuments, even for innocent reasons. The fear is that there could be damaging copycat behaviour either at the same place or at somewhere completely different. This week there’s news that a poem in the form of a massive rock mural that the National Trust allowed the National Theatre of Wales to paint on Snowdon hasn’t faded away but has baked on – and will now take a lot of removal. National Theatre Wales has apologised and said it will rectify the problem. A National Trust spokesman expressed the opinion it was “a small issue” as it will soon be sorted out but we don’t really agree and nor do some others.
Elfyn Jones, the British Mountaineering Council’s officer for Wales said “We have sympathies for the artistic endeavors involved but what is left is no more than graffiti in a semi-wild landscape in a national park. It’s unfortunate to say the least” . In addition, a warden for Natural Resources Wales said on this video “I’m concerned that this will be here for some time but more concerned about what sort of message it’s giving to the public – that it’s acceptable to do this sort of thing…“
Bravo! That last point is very important in our opinion and something that neither The National Trust nor the National Theatre of Wales seems to have considered. So come on National Trust! You can’t say that you allowing artistic events at Snowdon (on what is supposed to be a protected site) and charitable brandalising of the Uffington White Horse (on what is supposed to be another protected site) WON’T have contributed to the next case of vandalism there or elsewhere. So how about desisting?.
by Sandy Gerrard
Standing on the side of a narrow Carmarthenshire country lane at SN 67062 22452 is a solitary stone. It was visited by the Royal Commission on 26th June 1913 and their report notes that “It is a very shapely stone” and that it had been broken but repaired. Sadly Archwilio fails to mention this monument despite it being scheduled as CM155 “Bryngwyn Standing Stone”. This stone might well have been erected in prehistoric times, but without evidence to support this assertion it would seem unwise to ignore other possibilities. The stone stands beside a road and therefore could have been erected as a waymarker when this route was first established. Indeed either possibility would on the face of it appear to have equal credence, although the relatively unweathered nature of the stone may favour the latter.
The important thing is that we cannot be certain that this stone is prehistoric or post-medieval – we have no evidence. Despite this the stone is scheduled as a prehistoric standing stone. By contrast at Bancbryn where there is oodles of evidence of the type usually considered to support a prehistoric date Cadw have chosen to hide behind the excuse that there is “insufficient evidence”. Thank goodness Cadw are not responsible for our courts otherwise those with no evidence against them would be readily convicted whilst those with plenty would be acquitted – a frightening thought. Cadw need to accept that either evidence is needed or it is not. It seems incongruous in this age that they can sometimes insist on evidence being needed whilst on occasions they are happy to schedule with no evidence whatsoever. I wonder where they stand legally on this?
Regular readers will know that for years we’ve been worrying that the Government will impose a cheap short tunnel (with damaging cuttings at each end) on the Stonehenge World Heritage Site – and thus go back to the solution opposed by almost every archaeological and heritage organisation but cancelled only because of the credit crunch. Now it looks as if this highly damaging spectre has risen again with two short tunnel options being discussed, with the only other option said to be a northern bypass. (The latter sounds so impractical, disruptive, damaging and expensive it’s hard to believe anyone is serious about it. Could it be a mere “Aunt Sally” option, set up to be universally rejected to give the impression the public has been involved in a choice?)
We know there is a traffic problem and a solution has to be found to combat the misery of the A303. But here’s the thing: last time, nearly everyone said the short tunnel option was unacceptable. How then can it now be acceptable, particularly when Professor Vince Gaffney and others have now discovered hundreds of new features within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site? How would access roads to a short tunnel be fitted between those?
Here is a letter just sent to the Government by the Stonehenge Alliance:
THE STONEHENGE ALLIANCE
From the Chairman, George McDonic, MBE, BL, DIPLTP, FRTPI, DPA, FFB
To The Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP, Secretary of State for Transport
Sent by email on 3 October, 2014
Dear Secretary of State,
Proposals for the A303 at Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Alliance* is a group of non-Government organisations and individuals originally formed in 2001 which maintains a watch over any major new development that would adversely impact on the World Heritage Site (WHS). We are writing to request your intervention in the current process concerning proposed road improvements affecting the site.
The A303 is currently one of six identified road corridors subject to feasibility studies to examine possible improvements. It is most regrettable that this process has focused on road improvements rather than on considering more sustainable transport alternatives. We have grave concerns about the impacts that the proposed road options might have on the WHS.
Stonehenge is an iconic symbol of Britain’s past people and culture. It is a significant draw both nationally and internationally and important culturally and economically. Yet as important as the Stones are, it is their context, the surrounding landscape, which helps make them so special. This is recognised in the designation of the Stonehenge WHS which covers nearly 27 square kilometres. The importance of the surrounding landscape was highlighted in the recent BBC TV Operation Stonehenge series which identified numerous new sites in the wider WHS area.
At the last Corridor Feasibility Study Reference Group, a bored tunnel between 2.5 and 2.9km long as well as a northern trunk road diversion, were proposed for the A303 at Stonehenge for further investigation, while a request for a long bored tunnel of at least 4.5km to be costed was dismissed outright. All of the options now under consideration for the A303 at Stonehenge could inflict severe and irreversible damage upon the WHS and its setting and might well lead to the WHS being considered for the World Heritage in Danger List. A longer tunnel would avoid this.
The current approach appears to be pursuing options contrary to the National Planning Policy Framework and at odds with advice from UNESCO and, notably, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) in its Guidance on Heritage Impact Assessments for Cultural World Heritage Properties (2011).
We urge you to intervene in the study to ensure that a long bored tunnel of at least 4.5km (for which Highways Agency drawings were done c.2001) be examined and costed alongside the shorter tunnel option already put forward by the Corridor Feasibility Study Reference Group. There is real concern about the haste in which the study is being progressed and we request that greater time for consultation and engagement is taken in order to safeguard this iconic cultural asset.
I look forward to your reply.
George McDonic, Chairman, the Stonehenge Alliance
Copies to: Baroness Kramer, Minister of State for Transport,
Rt. Hon. John Hayes MP, Minister for Roads,
Julian Glover, Special Adviser,
Mary Creagh MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport,
Richard Burden MP, Shadow Minister for Roads,
John Glen, MP for Salisbury,
Claire Perry, MP for Devizes,
Sir Simon Jenkins, Chairman, The National Trust,
Dame Helen Ghosh, Director General,The National Trust,
Simon Thurley, Chief Executive, English Heritage,
Susan Denyer, Secretary, ICOMOS-UK,
Petya Totcharova, Head of Europe and North America Unit, UNESCO World Heritage Centre,
Dr Mike Heyworth, Director, Council for British Archaeology,
Alistair Sommerlad, Chairman, Stonehenge and Avebury WHS Partnership Panel