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A recent BBC News item highlighted the attachment of a memorial plaque on Hadrian’s Wall. This is just the most recent incident where thoughtless or outright malicious activity has caused damage to a heritage site. We therefore thought it would be timely to provide a brief list of five things not to do…

Climbing on monuments

It’s not big, and it’s not clever. Climbing can damage delicate lichen on stones, causes erosion and in extreme cases can lead to instability and collapse. Not to mention the possibility of personal injury!

© Wikimedia Commons


We can’t imagine what goes through people’s heads when they conduct such acts.  The paint attack at the Rollrights a few years back was an extreme example, causing damage to the lichen and being extremely difficult to remove, but graffiti has been a problem for many years – some of the carved graffiti at Kit’s Coty in Kent dates back a couple of centuries. The plaque on Hadrian’s Wall is included in this category, as it has caused damage to the structure of the wall.

Paint attack at the Rollright Stones © Jane Tomlinson


A few years ago, there was a spate of attacks at sites in Cornwall, wax talismans and stakes with Christian inscriptions were found buried at various sites in West Penwith, see the CASPN web site for details and photographs. Others may dig holes in a misguided attempt to find ‘something interesting’, be that as a result of metal detecting (illegal at scheduled monuments) or just random curiosity. In all cases this causes potential damage to unseen archaeology and can ruin possible future stratigraphy investigations.

Buried Talisman found at Men-an-Tol © CASPN

Setting fires

We vaguely understand the desire to attend an overnight vigil at some sites considered ‘sacred’ by e.g. the Pagan community. What we don’t understand is the desire to damage the sites by setting fire pits to keep warm during such vigils. If such things are necessary, use a firebowl designed for the purpose, and don’t leave the ashes behind!

Fire Pit at Coldrum Stones © Alan S


They’re not ‘offerings’, they’re litter! If you must use tealights for your ‘ritual’, make sure the smoke will not damage the underside of stones in a covered area, and take the lights with you when you leave. Don’t jamb coins into crevices in stones – in severe weather these can corrode or allow water to seep into the stone, causing structural damage to the integrity of the stone. Tieing ‘clouties’ to trees near holy wells is a time-honoured tradition, the idea being that as the cloutie rots away, so the wish is granted. However, sweet wrappers, nylon cords and other such indestructible items not only will not rot, but may cause damage to the tree as it grows.

Rubbish left at Stonehenge after Solstice celebrations © Simon Chapman/PIN

All of the above fall into two main categories; deliberate malicious acts of vandalism, or sheer thoughtlessness – however innocent or ignorant of the consequences of the actions. Ongoing education is the only answer for the second of these, and the responsibility for that must lie with the organisations responsible for the upkeep of the monuments – and that doesn’t just mean erecting more signs!

So, have we missed any major cardinal sins out of our list? What’s the worst case of damage you’ve seen at a site? Comment and let us know.


January 2012

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