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The solstice celebrations at Stonehenge this year looked like good fun, especially thanks to the great weather, but without wishing to sound like spoilsports we think some worrying things arose. See this, 22 seconds in. How many people are climbing on the fallen stones? A lot more than the inevitable odd few one might expect at any large gathering.
Bear in mind English Heritage had done what it could: issuing warnings (about not standing on the stones and the fact that drunken, disorderly and anti-social behaviour would not be tolerated) and making sure there were no less than four main levels of officials on hand: EH employees, security personnel, police and even “peace stewards”. But the video clip clearly shows a large number of people clambering on the stones – despite English Heritage’s well-publicised rules (not to mention the law under the Stonehenge regulations). It can hardly be denied the numbers involved in doing this suggest EH was not in control of what was happening at that moment - and bear in mind there were 16,000 fewer people there than there are sometimes! We have to feel sympathy for EH since the situation is extremely difficult for it - though we do think it made things worse by publishing a picture of it next day without explaining how wrong it was.
But this year is not our main concern. This is: it’s an explosive mixture, a vulnerable site with huge numbers packed in, 43 drugs arrests, lots of alcohol (Round Table discussions from previous years speak of everyone’s great worries over “unacceptable levels of anti social behaviour” which we presume means drunkenness) and, the biggest problem of all, numbers so large that no-one can realistically claim that everything was or would always remain under full control. Who can say what might have happened if the police had gone in a bit too strongly – arrested the wrong person, pushed someone over, tried to eject someone against the wishes of other people? There’s not much doubt there were enough people there with half-remembered resentments about the Battle of the Beanfield for things to go very wrong. Who wants a mass scuffle inside the actual monument – but who can say there isn’t a genuine risk of it?
Is this place big enough to squeeze 20,000 random partygoers into?
We’re not known as fans of giving English Heritage unbridled license to do whatever it wants but on the other hand it does seem as if the reins have been pulled out of its hands at Stonehenge and that can’t be good for Stonehenge. So what should be done?
We wish we knew, but a few things that perhaps need discussing might include placing “keep off” style signs actually on the fallen stones, stationing the four levels of officials right next to those stones and perhaps considering limiting numbers to a level where control can be better maintained.
The latter is not such an outrageous suggestion – if fifty thousand turned up, that’s what would have to be decided. On the evidence of this latest solstice, twenty thousand is far too many to control in such a place and the fact something pretty bad hasn’t happened is down to pure luck. How that could be done is a puzzle. A system of drawing lots? A ban on ANY alcohol (thereby discouraging the pure party animals)? An entrance fee (except for the proven poor or genuine pagans)? Restricting the numbers actually inside the circle (by lots or by waiting list from amongst those with a genuine spiritual or other interest)?
All these ideas could be criticised but we’re sure there are viable solutions within them, certainly ones that are better than what is happening at present, which does seem to rely on trusting to luck that nothing will go wrong. The Stonehenge circle is simply too small and too precious for vast numbers to safely gather inside (how on earth did the idea arise that it was viable, on one occasion per year and no other?!) and it would be better to acknowledge it now than after something had gone badly wrong. If we don’t have decent visitor facilities by next year let us at least have a more appropriate arrangement for solstice.