Save Stonehenge WHS Ltd. (SSWHS – a company established by individual Stonehenge Alliance supporters to take forward the legal action) heard this week that a three-day High Court hearing will take place from 23rd to 25th June. SSWHS is challenging Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ decision to go ahead with the highly damaging A303 dual carriageway through the World Heritage Site (WHS). His decision was taken against the advice of a panel of five senior Planning Inspectors (the Examining Authority) who formally examined the scheme in 2019.

The Inspectors considered that the scheme’s benefits “would not outweigh the harm arising from the excavation of a deep, wide cutting and other engineering works, within the WHS and its setting, of a scale and nature not previously experienced historically in this ‘landscape without parallel’”. UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, who gave the WHS its international designation in 1986, has also condemned the road scheme.

The complexity of the case has obliged SSWHS to raise its funding target for the legal challenge, including the three-day hearing.

Kate Fielden, Hon Secretary the Stonehenge Alliance and SSWHS, said:

“Having a date for the court hearing gives us something to aim for in preparing for our challenge to Grant Shapps’ outrageous decision. We urge our supporters to help us to continue the fight to save our famous World Heritage Site from this appalling scheme. There can be no more iconic symbol of the global heritage of mankind than Stonehenge and we have a duty to safeguard it for future generations.”

The Stonehenge Alliance supporter-organisations are: Ancient Sacred Landscape Network; CPRE; FoE; Rescue, the British Archaeological Trust; and Transport Action Network.

How refreshing! We’ve been saying it for years, big rallies are used for “findspot laundering” in which criminal detectorists can find objects in one place then “find” them at another, thereby depriving a farmer of his rightful share or concealing the fact they’ve been nighthawked. Now a detectorist has said it out loud:

“I’m sick of farmers losing out 24/ 7 People walking a way with his property off his fields from these so called big digs. Organizers can do nothing about it as it being stolen and they wont even see it go there just like organizing theft partys it’s not all the big dig detectorist most are honest but its spoilt for them to it is as we know amazing stuff will never see a flo or its owner theres is no control So wake up Briton your history going down drain fast.”

Wake up Britain indeed! You’ll hear barely a word about this racket from PAS or about the fact an unknown proportion of the finds in its database therefore have false findspots. Nor will you hear much about it on most detecting forums which maintain the fiction that rallies and pay-to-dig events are hotbeds of honesty. It’s not surprising that it has been said on the Facebook page of Keith Westcott of the proposed Institute of Detectorists, which is one of the only places where you’ll hear honest admissions about what’s going on.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

Back in 2012 our notional farmer, Silas Brown, asked English Heritage and the Council for British Archaeology when they’d publish a metal detecting finds agreement stressing that finds belong to the farmers. They still haven’t!

Yet English Heritage published a finds agreement for official archaeological projects (which lots of detectorists sign) saying: “I understand that all finds from the site, other than Treasure shall remain the property of the landowner and I will not claim ownership, possession, or any other right in such finds”.

By contrast, official advice on “hobby detecting” only says “get an agreement in writing first regarding the ownership of any finds subsequently discovered” i,e, without stressing the finds are the landowner’s so must immediately be delivered to him so he can get independent advice on their significance and value, and only then make an informed decision on whether to share any of them.”


The above image from PAS in Merseyside typifies the unjust official attitude to the rights of landowners. The caption says “Bob makes sure to ask Farmer Jack for permission to search his land“ but shouldn’t it also be saying: “Farmer Jack stresses that the artefacts are all HIS and he’ll only consider sharing any of them once Bob has delivered them to him!” It’s a vivid example of how officialdom is letting landowners down. But why, still, after all these years?


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

Highways England’s misleading use of words become ever more Trumpian. “You’ll not be seeing bulldozers at Stonehenge”. How come?” Because the only equipment (above ground) in the World Heritage Site will be at the tunnel entrances and cuttings”. How blatant. Those “tunnel entrances and cuttings” stretch for about a mile across the World Heritage Site and will be full of bulldozers!

But physical bulldozing isn’t the only technique being employed by the Government. There is legal bulldozing. Thus, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has 1. ignored UNESCO’s opposition, 2. disregarded the independent planning advisors, and now, it seems, 3. disregarded the Government’s own climate policy.

As a correspondent wrote to us: “English Heritage & the National Trust will not allow as much as a tent peg to be hammered down into the ground near Stonehenge in case it ‘damages any sensitive archaeology’. Yet, they are supporting the potential construction of two massive dual carriageway tunnel portals within the World Heritage Site

Late last year we reported on red paint daubings at Stoney Littleton. Such vandalism attracts plenty of publicity but there’s another sort of vandalism (if vandalism is defined as spoiling the experience of other visitors) which is easily prevented yet happens at many ancient sites. Here is a passionate plea about it, made almost exactly 10 years ago in March 2011 by Juamei, one of our founding members.

Stoney Littleton Long Barrow holds a very dear place in my heart. For those who don’t know, it is a Neolithic Severn-Cotswolds chambered long barrow containing 6 side chambers and an end chamber off a central gallery. The whole thing is in a good enough condition that you can go right inside so make sure you bring a torch! It sits on a small spur below the crest of a ridge overlooking Wellow Brook about 1 mile from Wellow, a few miles to the south of Bath.

In the 6 years or so I have been living within 30 minutes of Stoney Littleton, I have visited this place countless times. It has been an escape from city life, a shoulder to cry on, a meeting place for like minded souls and an end point for walks of the heart. I’ve approached it from the South, the East and the West, in fog, mist, bright daylight, dusk and darkness.

I’ve been there in all four seasons; In the spring passing scampering lambs and protective ewes, in the height of summer seeking the cool of the chambers to escape the glare of the sun, in the mud and cold winds of autumn enjoying the colours of the trees around and in the frosts and mists of winter. This place even holds a special secret, for at the end of the longest night, if you are lucky, the sun creeps over the horizon and turns the inside a glorious honey colour lighting the normally black chambers with an amazing glow.

But I’m not going to talk about any of that, instead I’d like to bemoan the rubbish I have found inside this beautiful tomb over the years. As it is left open 24-7 Stoney Littleton attracts a lot of visitors, nowadays on a sunny summer afternoon at the weekend you’d be lucky to spend 10 minutes here alone. Obviously with this traffic comes rubbish. There is no bin on site so all visitors must take their litter away with them, however some unfortunately do not. It is a rare visit where I do not find tissues, sweet wrappers, crisp packets or other human detritus scattered liberally across the top of the mound, inside the mound or in the grass surrounding it. On bad days the empty carrier bag I always take with me is overflowing with rubbish when I leave. I have even found a soggy porn mag in a side chamber, from someone presumably making a special type of offering.

Aside from the everyday tourist rubbish, the people you’d expect to care the most, the ones who come prepared to spend time inside this ancient structure also leave their own dirty marks. First and foremost being the scourge of the barrow tea light. I have probably removed in excess of 150 tea lights from here over the years, up to five each time not being uncommon. People stuff them in crevices and light them, scorching the 5000 year old walls and dripping large amounts of wax that is very hard to pick off. They leave them on the floor to be trampled into the dirt by future visitors. I understand the need for light but I beg understanding of this barrow’s right to not be damaged through carelessness and neglect.


Also inside the chamber I’ve commonly found a large amount of offerings. I understand and respect the right of people to come here to worship but rotting vegetation from left over offerings is not a nice find at the back of the end chamber. I’ve also found corn dollies, clay figurines, crystals, jewellery and prayers stuffed in crevices. Leaving aside the affinity between Neolithic burial mounds and modern day pagan religion, I personally see deposits of this kind as litter and tend to remove them. So if you think they have been accepted and subsumed, chances are I’ve been along with a carrier bag!

Sadly Stoney Littleton is not alone in receiving this kind of treatment, I could have filled many bin bags over the years with the rubbish I’ve found at prehistoric sites all over the country. Fortunately there are many like me who always take along an extra carrier bag to keep the sites clean.

Why don’t you make sure you are one of us and not one of the vandals slowly but surely trashing our heritage?


By Nigel Swift

A metal detectorist was left “shaking with happiness” after discovering a hoard of Bronze Age artefacts in the Scottish Borders. But what struck me was this: “He found the first item at around 10am, 60 centimetres (24 in) below ground level. He immediately reported it to the Treasure Trove Unit and National Museums Scotland. The site was covered with a tent until the professionals arrived. There followed 22 days’ work on-site, during which Stepien and his friends camped in the field to protect the site and to observe the archaeologists’ work“.

Compare and contrast the fact that he found the first item 24″ below ground level” with what happened in the official searches for the Staffordshire Hoard, using machines that went nowhere near as far down as that and this subsequent “forensic search” that gave the assurance that all/most gold had been found down to a level of 11″.


Better machines with greater depth capability ought to be used there, even at this late stage. Maybe Mariusz Stepien and his friends, who seem pretty responsible, could be financed by the local museums to come down? What could be lost? Much could be gained.

Contrary to the hopes of some, the nagging about this is not going to go away. Why should it?


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

The Council has posted this:

Permission for metal detecting
Following some incidents, we are currently reviewing our policy on detecting and so are not granting any permissions on Council-owned land at this time.


Incidents? The mind boggles. But what we do know is that their previous policy, their Metal detecting Guidance document (PDF) was shambolic. (

Much of it is copied verbatim from the detectorists’ 0wn NCMD Guidance, carefully worded to only pay lip service to responsible behaviour. Thus, there’s no insistence that all reportable finds should be reported to PAS nor the fact everything found belongs to the Council and must be delivered to them!

They might as well have said, “Fill yer Boots”! By contrast, compare the metal detecting advice in Doncaster, where archaeologists, not detectorists wrote the policy. No theft from the Council or knowledge-theft from the community there!


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


Located just yards from the M6 it’s difficult to understand just how this double circle survived the motorway construction works. In 1844 the circle was in danger from construction of the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway line, but this never came to fruition as a different route was chosen. Just a couple of miles north of Shap on the other side of the motorway, Gunnerkeld is relatively remote and peaceful despite the traffic nearby, and lies on private ground. Permission must be sought to visit.

It is described thus in the Heritage Environment Records (HER):

Gunnerkeld concentric stone circle is located 200m south-west of Gunnerwell Farm on the top of a slight ridge. The monument includes an outer circle measuring c.30m north-south by 24m east-west of 19 large granite stones, three of which are upright and just over 1m tall. There is an entrance on the northern side of the outer circle between two of these large stones. Within the outer circle is an inner circle measuring c.18m north-south by 16m east-west of 31 granite stones. This inner circle forms the kerb of an earth and stone cairn up to 1m high. Limited antiquarian excavation of the central cairn located a stone cist.

The name may have Old Norse connections – ‘keld’ denotes a water source or spring and Gunnar is a known name, so ‘Gunnar’s Spring’. There is a small stream nearby, and there was a large Viking influence in the area in the mid to late Medieval period.

The vast majority of the stones in the outer circle are prostrate, and Dymond (1880) gave his opinion on these: 

The question arises, with respect to the prostrate stones. Were they originally erect, and have they been overthrown ? I have no hesitation in expressing my belief that they were never set up on end ; and, if so, these rings are of a type differing, perhaps of set purpose, from the true peristalith. 

The stones in the circles are a mix of red granite and limestone, and are all considered to be local glacial erratics in origin. Although notoriously difficult to date, Burl (1976) has assigned a likely construction date of c2900-2500BC to the Gunnerkeld circles. Waterhouse (1985) suggests that the inner circle may indicate a later reuse of an earlier circle for sepulchral use. The design at Gunnerkeld bears some resemblance to the Oddendale circle, some 3 miles to the south, whilst the dimensional ratios are very similar to those employed at Castlerigg.

It’s actually quite simple. It boils down to the fact that the Minister, Mr. Shapps concluded that the level of harm would not be substantial and would be outweighed by the public benefit, If the Judge disagrees with that he’ll rule that Mr Shapps acted unlawfully in approving the scheme!

On that basis perhaps we should all be heartened for in two respects at least the Judge will find it impossible to accept the Government’s claim that harm is outweighed by benefits:


There will be a massive amount of knowledge destroyed which posterity, with infinitely better techniques, would have been able to gain. So that loss is inarguable and irreversible.

As (no doubt) a frequent traveller along the A303 he’ll know personally that the loss of a view of Stonehenge for himself, his children, grandchildren and posterity IS substantial harm and again that loss is inarguable and irreversible.


March 2021

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