You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Damage and desecration’ category.
The above stunt, created nine years ago by The Real Countryside Alliance at the Uffington White Horse, caused no damage but because it was unauthorised by its National Trust guardians it was deemed a bad thing.
On the other hand, the one below (promoting Big Brother in 2003) was considered a “good stunt” to start with (presumably, since the Trust accepted £2,000 for allowing it). But then, after complaints about the lack of respect for monuments and the bad example it set, their spokesman announced “we might have got this wrong”.
Then in 2012 when Paddy Power did this at Uffington it was deemed a bad stunt but not for the Big Brother “lack of respect” reason but for the Countryside Alliance “lack of permission” reason. For their part, Paddy Power dealt with criticism by donating some penance money to charity whereupon they seem to have been forgiven.
Thus it seems the “respect for monuments” complaint is sometimes but not always recognised as valid by the Trust. The latest example of that uncertainty is that the Trust has recently allowed a moustache to be added to the Cerne Abbas Giant because it was in aid of charity.
Two important questions arise: do stunts carry a risk of damaging copycatting elsewhere and if so do “charitable purposes” justify taking such a risk? It would be good if the Trust clarified their policy.
Update 28 November:
This theoretical image produced by Paul Barford raises issues of principle that would need addressing if the Trust is to formulate and publish a clear policy:
No doubt (these days) a proposal to brandalise a hill figure by a pro-hunting group would be given short shrift and the same would apply to artefact hunters (bearing in mind the Trust doesn’t allow metal detecting on it’s land). But what if it was in order to advertise a metal detecting rally “in aid of charity” (as so many are these days) – maybe even the very charity the moustache stunt was in aid of? Do the means justify the ends? Our conviction is no, in the case of both detecting rallies and brandalising, but it seems it is a matter that is yet to be fully addressed by the Trust.
Back in January of this year, I was witness to unthinking desecration by a family group at Men an Tol. I recently returned to the scene, or rather, I attempted to return to the scene. On this occasion, my path was blocked by cows grazing on the approaches to the monument. The surface damage done by the grazing cattle was much worse than that caused by the family earlier in the year.
Indeed, I’m not alone in thinking that the damage caused could have easily been avoided, were it not for poor advice from certain government departments, coupled with the greed of the owners on whose land the monument lies. Save Penwith Moors, (SPM) a local pressure group acting to campaign lawfully for the removal of all new stock proofing (fencing, gates and cattle grids) from a few selected areas of open access moorland popular for local and tourist recreation, have been keeping a daily eye on the situation at Men an Tol, and have recently issued the following Open Letter to English Heritage, Natural England, Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network (CASPN), as well as the local MP for the area:
“More potential trouble at Men-an-Tol!
As at Tregeseal Circle the cattle are gathering around the stones and using the two uprights as rubbing posts as well as covering the area with heaps of dung and ruining the public right of way – virtually impassable down towards the stream – by churning it up.
This is not an isolated out of the way site – and that would be no excuse anyway – but, probably, the most popular frequented ancient monument in the Peninsula and an iconic part of Cornish Heritage. It is high time remedial action was taken after this warning message – preferably by removing grazing stock from this Croft and undertaking manual maintenance.”
The Save Penwith Moors campaign web site and Facebook page includes photographic and video evidence of the damage being caused by the ill-conceived grazing policies as instigated by Natural England and (unjustifiably) supported by English Heritage who are ultimately legally responsible for the protection of the Scheduled Ancient Monument. We would urge all our readers to visit the SPM pages and give them every support possible in their campaign against the current grazing policies.
A guest article by campaigner Diana Baur.
With support from countless high-profile historical experts, including Professor Mary Beard and Professor George Nash, nearly 6,000 people from Oswestry, Shropshire, and another 1,000 global supporters have asked English Heritage to outlaw completely ANY BUILDING AT ALL on the land around this magnificent Ancient Hillfort and keep it safe from development. Aren’t they entitled to get the wholehearted support of EH?
There are plenty of alternative potential sites on which to build houses both in and around Oswestry, but with its spectacular views of the Hillfort a development on this farmland would of course ooze prestige and the intended executive houses would bring high profits for the developers and large council taxes for Shropshire Council as well as government support grants for the next six years. So, all in all, heritage vandalism apart, it’s win, win, win. It’s an established fact that as its value wanes, money is becoming ever more influential. Like a robber, it ties the hands of our consciences, values, principles, compassion and judgement behind our backs. As with any drug, the greater the dependence upon it, the greater it’s influence in this respect.
Thank goodness that the belief in the importance of their hill fort that the people of Oswestry are expressing so forcefully is shared by EH, who say: “Old Oswestry is a hugely significant archaeological resource. Its importance is derived not only from its prehistoric legacy, but also from its contribution to later periods of history. Its incorporation into Wat’s Dyke marks a chapter in the formation of early medieval Britain and it played an important role in the first of two world wars that so dramatically shaped the world in which we live. Old Oswestry is also important for the richness of its wildlife and is a key component in maintaining the biodiversity of the local area”.
BUT EH are suffering. They have been progressively deprived of funding. See the article by their Chief Executive Simon Thurley titled “We are stuffed”! http://www.spectator.co.uk/arts/arts-feature/8920601/basically-we-are-stuffed-english-heritage-simon-thurley-interviewed/ That is perhaps a clue to how they behave. For instance, Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe is on the governing commission of EH, but has not replied to letters asking for support to save the Hillfort.
The party in government has its own short-term agenda –namely to be re-elected. Re-election strategies, namely meeting our housing shortfall abound. Developers are frequently at variance with preserving cultural heritage, as they choose prestige sites to command high house prices. In the circumstances it is unsurprising that EH is likely to choose to keep its teeth in a glass by the bed, its one good eye focused firmly on the pillow and, when asked, only dance to the tune that is played by its paymasters – or at least always make sure that the chorus line fits that requirement.
This is what nearly 6,000 good people of Oswestry very much hope is not happening, but appears to be in view of EH’s less than strong response to the plans to build around The Hillfort. They have recommended that plans for two of the three sites in question are not taken forward ( ie Site OSW002 (Land off Gobowen Road) and Site OWS003 (Oldport Farm, Gobowen Road) – at least, not in their current form. But they remain mealy mouthed on the third site. Site OSW004 (land off Whittington Road) – “Any development will need to take into account the local topography and integrate well with the existing built area together with creating a new, sympathetic urban edge for the town and its wider rural surroundings…… English Heritage would welcome continuing involvement in the detailed design and master planning of this site.”
WHY ARE EH MEALY MOUTHED ABOUT THE THIRD SITE? To repeat: With support from countless high-profile historical experts, including Professor Mary Beard and Professor George Nash, nearly 6,000 people from Oswestry and another 1,000 global supporters have asked English Heritage to outlaw completely ANY BUILDING AT ALL on the land around this magnificent Ancient Hillfort and keep it safe from development. Aren’t they entitled to get the wholehearted support of EH?
It’s obvious, even from space, there’s no need to extend Oswestry towards the Hill Fort, except to make money for someone.
Yet the Council persists, using every old chestnut in the book…
There’s the tactic, as ancient as humanity, of asking for more than you want – hence the proud announcement that discussions with English Heritage have resulted in “a significant reduction in the scale of development“. In other words be grateful it’s not worse. The Ministry of Transport used that habitually 3 decades ago – “look, one of our rejected options for the new road was straight through your houses!”
They’ve also tried the “It’s for the good of the victim” approach perfected by mining company and self-proclaimed enviro-saints Tarmac plc at Thornborough Henges, suggesting the development could provide “a vast improvement to access and parking at the Hillfort” and the never missing appeal to the pocket of the locals: “which can only be good news for the site and the wider visitor economy of Oswestry.”
All three tactics pretty much insult the intelligence of the listeners – for take another close look at the satellite view. It really doesn’t need doing just there, does it? Except to make money for someone. Diana Baur has penned a letter that expresses the reality so clearly that it’s worth reproducing here:
“English Heritage is a government funded organisation and the government have housing targets. Discussions between English Heritage and the “promoter of building sites” will be a one-sided discussion. It will not be democratic and so is unlikely to be in in the interests of the people of Oswestry.
The very fact that some “scaling back” of the plans has apparently already taken place suggests that the voice of reason might just have peeked its head over the parapet.
The trouble is the voice of reason is cloaked and choked by the gods of “profit” and “targets” and “self-interest”- gods that currently stalk the corridors of council chambers and Whitehall itself.
If we are to walk tall into a new post-industrial age leaning heavily upon the goddesses of “community” and “common sense”, then we need more than just a scaling back. We need a whole new outlook on what is valuable in life.
The rampant gambling that led to the crash of 2008 is still going on. We don’t need a bit of “tweaking at the edges”. There needs to be a complete change of heart. The hillfort represents one of those extremely valuable things that makes life worth living and that must be preserved.”
The moorland of Walkhampton Common, Dartmoor contains many important archaeological sites including at least eight stone rows, many cairns, cists and hut circles dating to the Bronze Age. It is traversed by unsightly power lines…..
…However, there’s good news – four kilometres of them are to be buried underground. Western Power Distribution has obtained consent for the work from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Open Spaces Society is enthusiastic about it because, in their words,
“undergrounding the cables will restore the natural beauty of the area, and enable people to enjoy it, on foot and horseback, without this manmade intrusion. We commend Western Power for this initiative, and look forward to seeing this breathtaking landscape free at last of ugly poles and cables.”
It depends on perspective though. If Dartmoor was just “open space” no-one could argue with what they say but of course it is more, it also contains just as much hidden space containing masses of buried archaeology, very little of which has been explored – and the bad news is that the excavations will involve destroying some of it. You could argue that it’s good news that some of it will at least be learned about but this will be no limited sampling exercise it will be the creation of a major scar, not where archaeologists would judge is best but where finance dictates is most efficient. (A road runs across the Common and burying the cables alongside it would be less disruptive but it is some distance away so presumably that has been judged as not a viable option).
Then again, a properly conducted programme of archaeological work is one thing, a less comprehensive exercise is another. Just how good (or bad) the curate’s egg turns out to be is yet to be revealed.
The current edition of The Big Issue (No 1064) contains a significant article by the new President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Sir Andrew Motion.
So what IS wrong with nimbyism? The Government and some developers often imply such people are misguided, selfish – unpatriotic even. Sir Andrew begs to differ. It’s about time someone did. As the Big Issue says: “What if they are the new radicals, those who are concerned enough to sit up and fight for what they believe in?” For the article Adam Forrest talks to the former poet laureate about his involvement in a campaign against new builds, and then goes into “a journey to the heart of nimbyism”.
Not demonising nimbies is perhaps of particularly importance when it comes to heritage matters. If a major development is proposed near to an ancient site, damaging it’s setting, who can be most relied upon to fight tooth and nail against it? Not always EH, sadly, now the Government has diminished it and effectively changed it’s role. Not always Councillors who may not see ancient sites as significant. Not always Planning Inspectors whose decisions are often shackled by government policy. Not those locals who are told they will benefit from a share in the profits. No, it will probably be nimbies – in the form of local history societies, amateur archaeologists and antiquarians!
Last week’s Government advice to Local Authorities not to worry too much about buffer zones was unnecessary in Shropshire where the Council is already not worrying about them. Oswestry Hill Fort is one of the largest Iron Age Hill forts in Europe and is hugely impressive by any measure yet a plan to build houses right up to its base remains on course.
(A year ago we wrote: “There’s talk of housing estates being built within yards of it and a big protest is brewing. Who knows if it will happen, but one thing’s a cert: if it doesn’t it won’t be out of respect for the “setting”. We don’t do setting when it comes to hill forts. Not an inch. Too big and ugly – and scary maybe? Who knows? We need a cultural-historical psychologist to explain it perhaps. Or a shrink. But it’s a definite fact. Some small Tudor houses have massive settings, whole hill forts can whistle for them. “)
One thing the Government said has been complied with: “The views of local communities likely to be affected should be listened to”. Trouble is, “listen to” has not been taken to mean “heed” and despite all the consultations and protests the plans are still in place. The bottom line is that although the surroundings of hill forts are part of their very essence they have no statutory protection. Add to that the general rule that if there’s money to be made someone will try to make it and you have the situation in a nutshell. We’re not talking “best solution for the community and the monument” here, we’re talking of massive potential profits and hence quite a dirty war. If only there was a buffer zone!
To quote Chris Cumberpatch again: if you loosen the safeguards “there can be no doubt that in the future those who profit from the destruction…. will seize on these omissions for their own rapacious ends …”
Anyway, if you want to take part in a dirty war you can sign an online petition against the proposals here: http://chn.ge/17lw7dT You can also join the current Facebook page to follow the campaign here: https://www.facebook.com/OldOswestryHillfort .
The final stage of public consultation on the SAMDev plan with full details of the proposed housing sites (OSW0002, OSW003 at the foot of the fort; OSW004 on the other side of the B5069) can be found here: http://shropshire.gov.uk/planningpolicy.nsf/viewAttachments/AWIN-99JGZU/$file/Oswestry-area-samdev-revised-preferred-options-report-2013.pdf The initial aim is to achieve a deferral of the decision date on these three specific sites. The campaigners would also be grateful if you would share these details with as many people as you can.
Yesterday’s Heritage Crime Test highlighted how the punishment for bulldozing the Priddy Circle was pretty low compared with other cases. In fact latest accounts suggest the punishment at Gelt Woods, Cumbria including costs was double what we said and not far off a million pounds! Yet the two cases have much in common. A very rich man. Damage done by employees. The Court accepting they didn’t authorise it themselves. The suspicion it was done to improve the value of the land. In each case the accused paying for “restoration”…. So how come the big difference in punishment? Awful though the Gelt Wood case was, flora regenerates whereas unique archaeology doesn’t. One might expect Priddy to attract a massive punishment, not Gelt Woods.
It’s because, it seems, that unauthorised work on a site of special scientific interest is a “strict liability” offence, i.e, defendants can be convicted even though they were genuinely ignorant of one or more factors that made their acts or omissions criminal. They may therefore not need to be culpable in any real sense (there is not even criminal negligence). These laws were created in the 19th century to improve working and safety standards in factories where few prosecutions happened because of the difficulty of proving mens rea (a “guilty mind”) and they increased the number of successful prosecutions. They tend to be used for two purposes, both of which ring a bell with those of us that see the ploughing out of barrows and such-like as an under-punished crime:
a. to enforce social behaviour where minimal stigma attaches to a person upon conviction and
b. where society is concerned with the prevention of harm, and wishes to maximise the deterrent value of the offence.
So maybe that’s the answer. If we want to prevent harm and to maximise deterrence (which were the two main issues that arose out of Priddy) we could make such cases strict liability offences. Of course, that would involve the public and the legislators being convinced that preservation of certain unique heritage assets is vital, a stage we haven’t fully reached yet.
There has been another interesting case about heritage crime recently, this time in Cumbria. So here’s a little test. Match the actual punishments with the crimes….
> Damaging a conservation site in Cumbria (by felling trees, excavating a significant track and damaging ground flora).
> Felling a protected yew tree in Chester
> Demolishing a house in a conservation area in Fulham
> Demolishing a house in a conservation area in Richmond, Surrey
> Bulldozing a Priddy Circle
£23,750 …. £40,500 …. £80,000 …. £129,000 …. £450,000
While you’re working it out, here’s some suitable music
How did you get on? Here’s the actual answer:
Update: We’ve discovered why the Cumbrian Trees attracted such a big punishment. See “Is Strict Liability the way to protect heritage?“
Ten years ago today, at the suggestion of our much-missed friend Rebecca van der Putt, a diverse group of ordinary people interested in prehistoric sites met at an extraordinary place for a picnic.
From that first meeting grew Heritage Action which subsequently morphed into The Heritage Journal which aims to promote awareness and therefore the welfare of ancient sites. It has perhaps filled a gap as it seems to have struck a chord with many people, both professional and amateur. 140 archaeologists have contributed articles to it and it is currently followed by more than 4,500 people on Twitter (including Nelson Mandela!).
We can’t claim the Journal always says things that everyone agrees with – that would be impossible bearing in mind how many individuals contribute content to it but we can claim two things – first, that everyone that puts it together or writes anything in it has their heart in the right place when it comes to ancient sites and second that anyone with an interest in prehistory who reads it regularly is likely to find at least something to pique their interest. At least, that’s the aim. The guiding principle is to try to make it like a magazine, updated nearly every day and with articles that are as diverse as possible. If you don’t like Stonehenge you could scroll down or use the search box to read about the last black bear on Salisbury Plain, the Hillfort Glow experiment, the stony raindrops of Ketley Crag, the policeman who spotted three aliens in Avebury or indeed that the Uffington Horse may be a dog!
Now that we’ve reached this milestone (which coincides with this year’s Day of Archaeology - do please join in there too, if you can!) the question arises – where does the Journal go from here, and for how long? It’s a matter for conjecture for it depends entirely on the efforts of contributors and the wishes of readers. A number of veterans from the original picnic are still involved and we’ve also been joined by a number of excellent new contributors but we’re always on the look out for still more. Please consider helping (an article, many articles or a simple news tip-offs and a photograph – whatever you like) as it’s a worthy cause that is only truly valid if it’s a communal entity with multiple public voices. In addition, any suggestions for future innovations or improvements will be gratefully received (brief ones in the Comments or longer ones at email@example.com).
Better still, we’ll shortly be holding a pow-wow and lunch (details to be announced) to discuss how the Journal should progress from now on. You’re more than welcome to come.