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In contrast to Wiltshire Council’s refusal to extend support for the Wiltshire Heritage Museum by  a modest £25,000 a year (a five thousandth of the Council’s budget) on the grounds it got the impression that “nobody was saying put more money into museums” the museum has been given a huge national vote of confidence from elsewhere in the form of a £370,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. It will pay for a new Prehistoric gallery that will enable Wiltshire’s unique gold and amber finds dating back to the Bronze Age to be displayed for the first time in generations. The new facilities will form part of an integrated “Stonehenge Museums Partnership” (along with the English Heritage Visitors Centre and the Salisbury Museum) “to tell the story of the people who built and used the world renowned monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury” – and of course to bring huge amounts of tourist pounds and dollars to the County.

Keep in mind the grant is for new galleries not annual running costs. The future of the museum still remains uncertain as a result of Wiltshire Council’s budgetary choices. If you’d like to point out to them their decision has just been made to look massively inappropriate as well as economically foolish you can contact Councillor Alan Macrae, portfolio holder for Libraries, Heritage and Culture via  alan.macrae@wiltshire.gov.uk and Jane Scott, leader of the Council via jane.scott@wiltshire.gov.uk

Sandy Gerrard writes:

18 vital questions  regarding the construction of a windfarm on the Mynydd Y Betws archaeological landscape are yet to be answered. Here are the first eight:

Background:
On the slopes of Bancbryn (forming part of Mynydd Y Betws) there is an incredibly rich multi-period archaeological landscape the importance of which has in part been recognised by Cadw’s designation regime. To all intents and purposes this looks like an important ceremonial/ritual landscape with a stone row forming its focus. The hillside is further enhanced by the survival of a range of historic features highlighting the importance of the area in more recent years. This impressive landscape now has a large road cutting right through its heart and shortly will have two substantial wind turbines towering 110m above it. The setting of this significant landscape will be compromised for years to come and even after the turbines have been dismantled the archaeology lost in their construction will be gone for ever. It is just not possible to replace archaeology once it has been destroyed and for this reason and quite rightly so there are legal constraints in place to ensure that archaeology is recorded before it is destroyed. This has not happened at Mynydd Y Betws and it is therefore surely appropriate that an explanation of this lamentable situation is forthcoming. To provide a focus I would suggest that answers to the following questions are needed:

Question 1. Why was no earthwork survey ever conducted?
If this work had been carried out the archaeological remains of many periods would not have been destroyed before they could be recorded. The Planning Inspector observed that there was unrecorded archaeology within the development area and despite this no measures were taken to remedy the situation. The plan below is an unofficial survey of the archaeology and evaluation trenches. It took 2 days to produce and on many levels is more informative than the evaluation work carried out as part of the planning conditions. A survey of this type would have provided a context for the archaeology within the development area and allowed a properly targeted and effective mitigation exercise.

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Question 2. Why was no watching brief carried out when a fence was erected on the very edge of a scheduled monument (see image below)?

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Question 3. Why was no archaeological watching brief  being conducted on 16 th January 2012 when a large digging machine was removing topsoil adjacent to a scheduled monument (see image below)?

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Question 4. Why despite the fact that Evaluation Trench 36 (see below) was cut straight across the stone row  was the stone row not identified?

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Question 5. Was the possibility of protecting the row below the new road even considered?
At Rotherwas, near Hereford, English Heritage insisted that the Rotherwas Ribbon,  a linear feature (see below) of unknown significance be protected in this manner when a road was built, thus preserving it in situ…..

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Question 6. Why was no evaluation trench placed across the obvious linear hollow labelled on the map as a hollow way (see below)?
Given that a length of this earthwork was going to be destroyed by the new access road why was no trench actually placed across this very obvious earthwork and instead positioned on apparently level ground next to it? Why was this very obvious archaeological feature within the permitted development area ignored by the evaluation report? Does not this oversight confirms that the evaluation was not carried out to adequate standards, as graphically illustrated by the fact that most of the feature within this photograph was subsequently destroyed?

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Question 7. Why was no evaluation trench placed across the three cairn-like features between Evaluation Trenches 38 and 39?
The photograph below shows a probable cairn partly within the permitted development area below the bucket of the digger. This feature was not located during the archaeological mitigation works.

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Question 8. Why was the bank with associated ditch near to Evaluation Trench 40 not examined and why was the trench not excavated on the site of the earthworks? The feature has now been cut through by the road and is clearly visible in the section formed by the newly constructed road ditch – see below.

…… whereas the surviving ditch and associated bank can still be seen beyond the permitted development area (see below):

The remaining 10 questions will be published shortly but the following comments are relevant to them all:

Three main agencies are involved in this matter and some of the questions are more pertinent to Carmarthenshire County Council than others. However, as the authority responsible for firstly approving the scheme of works and more importantly for discharging the planning condition it is clearly justifiable for the public on whose part they are acting to ask why so much of the archaeology has been ignored in the process. Nowhere does it say that most of the archaeology should be disregarded or ignored, but sadly this is clearly what has happened and an explanation would in the circumstances seem appropriate.

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For previous and subsequent articles put Mynydd Y Betws in our Search Box

See also this website and Facebook Group

The government’s long awaited National Planning Policy Framework was released recently, and the initial Twittersphere reaction in general seems to be “not as bad as we feared. Not as good as we’d like.”

Now, here at Heritage Action we’re just ‘ordinary people caring for extraordinary places‘, and don’t pretend to be experts in planning legislation or government policy or the ins and outs of party politics, so what’s our ‘ordinary people’ take on the document which can be downloaded here?

Well, at first view, it consists of a 72 page Framework document, with a further 27 page Technical Guidance document. A lot of reading after a hard day’s work! But looking again at Twitter, a lot of quotes are appearing there of specific articles of the policy. Some of these caught our eye, and raise some uncomfortable questions. Of course, from our own perspective although we recognise the need for development and growth, we do not see this meaning that heritage is suddenly more expendable than it used to be, whether it be in the form of ancient monuments and sites of prehistoric activity, later sites of historic interest such as battlefields, or the historic/industrial built environment. The buzzword seems to be ‘sustainability’ and that ought to mean conservation is always something to be given real weight not a token mention.

At this point, it’s worth quoting para 7 from the framework, regarding sustainability:

7. There are three dimensions to sustainable development: economic, social and environmental. These dimensions give rise to the need for the planning system to perform a number of roles:
● an economic role – contributing to seems to be  building a strong, responsive and competitive economy, by ensuring that sufficient land of the right type is available in the right places and at the right time to support growth and innovation; and by identifying and coordinating development requirements, including the provbe given ision of infrastructure;
● a social role – supporting strong, vibrant and healthy communities, by providing the supply of housing required to meet the needs of present and future generations; and by creating a high quality built environment, with accessible local services that reflect the community’s needs and support its health, social and cultural well-being; and
● an environmental role – contributing to protecting and enhancing our natural, built and historic environment; and, as part of this, helping to improve biodiversity, use natural resources prudently, minimise waste and pollution, and mitigate and adapt to climate change including moving to a low carbon economy

We note here that the historic environment (which we would hope also includes the prehistoric environment!) is lumped in with the ‘environmental’ role. It’s our view that the historic environment performs a greater ‘social’ role than an environmental one, but maybe we’re knitpicking, as para 8 states that “these roles should not be undertaken in isolation, because they are mutually dependent.”

Much has been made in the lead-up to the document’s release of the phrase ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development‘, which is at the heart of the document, and is frankly, the most worrying aspect of the whole thing, particularly in association with the localism focus, whereby Local Councils would seem to have almost (there are exceptions) carte blanche to rubberstamp development proposals which fit with their ‘Local Plan’.

Given the recent stories in the Press of payments for audiences with the Prime Minister and other cabinet members, there’s no reason to suspect that similar ‘arrangements’ do not occur at the local level, so that a developer for instance, could bump into a local councillor (and many councillors are developers, don’t forget) on the golf course or at a charity dinner and arrange to get the nod on a particular plan, for favours. The Old School Tie, a nod and a wink, say no more!

Another quote to illustrate this concern, from para 17:

planning should be genuinely plan-led, empowering local people to shape their surroundings, with succinct local and neighbourhood plans setting out a positive vision for the future of the area.

Sorry, but in our view that opens the gates for all kinds of potential deals to be struck. It may be simplistic, but in many cases, particularly where nationally important sites are concerned, the decision is too important to be left to those closest to the case. Imagine if you will, that you’ve been arrested and taken to court for a charge, say theft, or possibly even assault or murder! Would you want the jury to be composed of people who knew the victim, or people who were impartial and could look at the facts without prejudice?

Now that same para (17) also states:

(planning should) conserve heritage assets in a manner appropriate to their significance, so that they can be enjoyed for their contribution to the quality of life of this and future generations

and again we would ask, who determines that significance? What balances and checks will be in place to ensure that ‘interested parties’ cannot sway decisions ‘in favour of sustainable development’ by downplaying the significance of a site?

Jumping ahead, and ignoring for now the sections on town planning and transport infrastructure (but remembering the Rotherwas Ribbon and Mynydd y Betws debacles), in the section on ‘Conserving and enhancing the natural environment’ we find, in paras 112, 115 and 116:

112. Local planning authorities should take into account the economic and other benefits of the best and most versatile agricultural land. Where significant development of agricultural land is demonstrated to be necessary, local planning authorities should seek to use areas of poorer quality land in preference to that of a higher quality.

115. Great weight should be given to conserving landscape and scenic beauty in National Parks, the Broads and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which have the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty.
116. Planning permission should be refused for major developments in these designated areas except in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated they are in the public interest.

We would ask specifically here, what of the heathland, moors and woodlands outside of National Parks, AONBs etc? Are they to be sacrificed to the great god Mammon? After all, agriculturally, they can be considered to be (para 112) ‘poorer quality land’, can they not?

Finally on page 30, (just a few pages before the 30+ pages of Annexes and Appendices start) we come to the section on ‘Conserving and enhancing the historic environment’, the section of most interest to us here. Para 126:

126. Local planning authorities should set out in their Local Plan a positive strategy for the conservation and enjoyment of the historic environment, including heritage assets most at risk through neglect, decay or other threats. In doing so, they should recognise that heritage assets are an irreplaceable resource and conserve them in a manner appropriate to their significance. In developing this strategy, local planning authorities should take into account:
● the desirability of sustaining and enhancing the significance of heritage assets and putting them to viable uses consistent with their conservation;
● the wider social, cultural, economic and environmental benefits that conservation of the historic environment can bring;
● the desirability of new development making a positive contribution to local character and distinctiveness; and
● opportunities to draw on the contribution made by the historic environment to the character of a place.

Let’s just take a look at this a little more closely in case you missed it. “Conserve them in a manner appropriate to their significance” – Again, that question of who determines the significance? “putting them to viable uses consistent with their conservation” – what viable uses other than non-income generating tourism or sheep grazing could a site such as e.g Stanton Drew be put to? Well, in answer to that first question, para 128 provides the answer:

128. In determining applications, local planning authorities should require an applicant to describe the significance of any heritage assets affected, including any contribution made by their setting.

Ah, so the person most likely to profit from the development (ie the developer applicant) is the one who decides how significant they feel the site is, from the viewpoint of heritage and setting! How fortunate for the premise of a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ Luckily, this is somewhat mitigated by paras 129 and 130, but we wonder to what level this will be followed, and again, the spectre of ‘local interest’ versus a wider regional or national interest comes into play:

129. Local planning authorities should identify and assess the particular significance of any heritage asset that may be affected by a proposal (including by development affecting the setting of a heritage asset) taking account of the available evidence and any necessary expertise.

130. Where there is evidence of deliberate neglect of or damage to a heritage asset the deteriorated state of the heritage asset should not be taken into account in any decision.

Some possible hope for the Priddy Circles then, in that last para?

There is a lot more of the same (219 paragraphs in total, plus the Glossary and Annexes), much of which need not concern us directly, and other professional heritage commentators have dissected the documents in much more detail and with more insight than we could hope to achieve here – a Twitter search for the hashtag #NPPF will provide a plethora of links to such commentaries. We leave it up to the reader to review the documents for themselves and come to their own conclusion as to whether this Framework will be good for heritage sites or not. Our view? We would have to agree with the closing statement in RESCUE’s response:

“The usual protocol upon publication of such documents is to give a cautious welcome to the new policy provisions and look forward to implementing their provisions effectively in the future. Sadly, RESCUE is unable to commit to either of these protocols in this instance. The publication of the NPPF seems likely to signal the start of a new round of debate and argument over the value we place on our heritage and its role in the rejuvenation of the national economy”

Unlike anywhere else in the civilised or uncivilised world, Britain has laws that legitimise, partner and encourage ten thousand people to research for, seek out and then randomly target nearly a million entirely unprotected archaeological sites for collectables for themselves and an Establishment that,  unlike anywhere else in the civilised or uncivilised world, falsely implies to the public that this does not involve a net cultural loss. Anyone in the Establishment care to deny it? No.

Now, the Portable Antiquities Scheme (a small quango whose continued funding, coincidentally, depends entirely upon taking the lead in the continuing denial of that net cultural loss) has co-operated in the making of a British TV programme  glorifying the finds made through this process so looked down upon elsewhere and inevitably therefore expanding it. PAS was set up to contain the net damage caused by artefact hunting and to attempt to obtain some mitigation for it, not to expand the amount of artefact hunting or increase the number of artefact hunters. That’s a simple fact. Don’t hold your breath waiting for officialdom to say Heritage Action are wrong about that.”

Every year, a staggering 90,000 finds are reported to The British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme” gushes the PAS about itself and the upcoming programme  with not a word about the far more staggering two hundred thousand plus that aren’t.  That’s gross dishonesty by omission is it not? Shame on those professionals who deliberately fail to speak up about such misrepresentation  and the perversion of the original aim into an official policy of national cultural self-harm. We’d rather be mere amateurs and maintain our intellectual honesty and self-respect.

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More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting

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A worrying “No”:
An application to construct 1380 houses at Quarrendon Fields on the edge of Aylesbury has been REFUSED  – because of the “undue harm” it would cause to the landscape, the setting of a Scheduled Ancient Monument and regionally important below ground remains. http://ow.ly/d/ykz  Whether you agree with it or not you can at least be confident the decision was produced through a fair and rational process since we are told it drew extensively on the methodology of The English Heritage Guidance on Setting.

So why is it worrying? Because it is likely to be one of the last of its kind. As the Secretary of State pointed out, the National Planning Policy Framework wasn’t yet in force so was “afforded little weight.” But as we all know the NPPF will be in force very shortly and will be imposing “a presumption in favour of sustainable development” in all such cases. What price a fair and rational assessment process based on The English Heritage Guidance on Setting then?!

A depressing “Yes”….
At the same time permission was sought to erect an adjoining wind turbine – and was GRANTED. No surprise there, these days. But this remark from the Inspector is depressing: “The wind turbine is unlikely to be visually oppressive or overbearing”. From that you might think it was quite a small turbine, five or ten metres high. But no, it’s massive, 149 metres (485 ft.) from ground to blade tip – that’s taller than St Paul’s and only 9 metres short of Blackpool Tower! You might well wonder, if that is ruled as “unlikely to be visually oppressive or overbearing”, will any wind turbine anywhere in Britain ever be judged visually oppressive or overbearing again?

Following similar pranks at the Uffington White Horse and others, both approved and not approved by The National Trust and others, we have been told that the Broad Hinton White Horse has been given a red shirt, Swindon Town being due to play at Wembley.

The more it happens, the less it shocks and the more it happens. Georges Clemenceau had it right it appears – in time, tolerance becomes an acquired right…

Preserving a multi-period landscape“….. So what does that mean to you? Conserving? Keeping safe from harm? Defending? Probably, if you read it quickly.

But what if it is said about the work of the archaeological consultants of a windfarm company –  See here . You might need to read the whole piece a little more carefully – and only then would you find, tucked away almost at the end, the phrase

“The dataset therefore constitutes an invaluable research tool and an unparalleled means of preserving the landscape of 21st century Caithness by record.”

So it’s not about preservation at all. It’s about rendering that multi-period landscape extinct  – other than as some bytes in an electronic file. To headline that reality as “Preserving” is kind of careless. Tarmacian even! And hardly in the spirit of the IfA bylaws. It’s bad enough that hardly a day goes by without another windfarm being judged more important than the heritage it is replacing and that the government is sticking to it’s presumption in favour of sustainable development but should insult be added to the public’s injuries by using words that make them think they have lost nothing? It seems greedy, when the consultants are getting the benefit of being able to demonstrate a job well done and the windfarm company has got 100% of what it wanted!

(Incidentally the article even carelessly says the survey “was designed to record the setting of the Baillie Hill windfarm prior to its construction”. No it bloody wasn’t. Unbuilt windfarms don’t have settings and the only “setting” that was there prior to the construction was the setting of one of the most important clusters of Neolithic funerary monuments in Caithness.)

Helen Skelton, ubiquitous Countryfile presenter, as part of a promotional piece on the giant female figure made of mining waste and dubbed locally “Slag Alice“…..

I’m really jealous that it’s up here and not in the North West where I live

[ The people of the Lake District are reported to be beside themselves with enthusiasm for Helen’s words and agree that the one thing their region lacks is a huge fat lass to look at as natural mountains are a bit naff and get boring.  “We agree with Helen, we’re soooo jealous” announced a spokeman “so as a first step we’ve set up a campaign fund to pay to transport millions of tons of slag to here from any counties that feel they can spare some. ]

A Second Open letter to:
The Archaeology Forum
taf@archaeologists.net
Dear Sirs,

Artefact Hunting using “deep” metal detectors

A year ago we wrote to you  expressing concern that the new Minelab GPX 5000 was able to detect small targets 17- 22 inches down, far below most disturbed plough soils. Since then the original product tester, Neil Jones, has commented on the Heritage Journal:I can now get 24 inches on the same small coins as i know the machine inside out and a lot lot deeper on the larger finds

It was said there was no reason for concern because the price of £4,500 would mean very few would be sold. However, you should know that another machine, the Blisstool LTC64 V3 has just been launched amidst claims that it too can detect small objects at  24” but with a price of only £558. It seems to us that this machine and others that may follow herald an imminent deterioration in the situation since most detectorists will be able to afford them and, given the hobby-wide obsession with depth, will do so. This leaves the Code of Practice request to “work” only within the depth of ploughing looking completely unrealistic as a strategy for protecting undisturbed archaeology. As a well-known, highly responsible detectorist has commented on the Journal:

“As far as the technological developments of detectors on the whole, they’re heading for a bloody nightmare as far as I can see. The current top-end machines are more than capable of detecting finds beneath the plough-pan and the vast majority of detectorist would not walk away from a good signal that deep….”

For many years the official stance has been to tell the public the man in the ploughed field with the metal detector isn’t doing much harm as the soil has been “disturbed”. That has been a controversial claim to say the least given the statistical probability that he won’t be reporting what he is finding. But if he is now holding one of the new ultra-deep machines the claim is simply untenable and it is not right to give landowners the impression that the man will probably resist digging into the archaeological layers despite getting frequent signals from them. In truth he probably won’t – and in our view the official line should not imply to the public that he will. We should be glad to hear if you have any thoughts on this issue. Is seems to us that not reacting while the situation worsens incrementally sale by sale is not a course that should be taken.

Yours faithfully

Heritage Action

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Update 2nd April 2012
Readers may be puzzled by how few mentions of the Blisstool LTC64 V3 there are on detectorists’ forums considering how powerful it seems to be and how depth is such an obsession amongst detectorists. We were equally puzzled by the fact there seemed to be a lot fewer mentions of it after our article was published than before – for instance, where had the Detecting Wales thread titled “Blisstool LTC64 V3 The Worlds Deepest Detector?” gone to?

Mystery solved by this little forum exchange on Detecting Wales last week:
DavyR: “I can’t seem to find some of the Blisstool posts
Rjm:  “They have been taken off by the site administrator. I’ll PM you with the details you want.”

Taken off by the site administrator. Who, strangely, has left this posting untouched  – a review of the Blisstool recently posted that is astonishingly withering about how useless it is! (Now also removed!)

It would be hard to imagine a more resounding confirmation that the new generation of ultra deep detectors is a significant threat to undisturbed archaeology and that PAS’s Oh-so-conservation-minded partners know it is. But will it be heeded? After all, who are listened to and back-slapped, some ordinary members of the public who are concerned about conserving heritage or PAS’s “partners” that dig it up for themselves? PAS has spent millions of taxpayers funds on sending Finds Liaison Officers to befriend and praise detectorists at their digs or club meetings but not a penny on attending any of Heritage Action’s Megameets!

Update 1 May 2012
American detectorist Dick Stout of “Stout Standards” obviously hasn’t signed up to the Blisstool silence of his British counterparts. In his piece “How much is enough” he has voiced fears that “depth” has gone too far – “Depth has always been the most important feature, but now I wonder if it continues to be the ultimate criteria, will we  even have a place to use it?” He was thinking that digging deep holes in parks could result in loss of permission but the applicability of his words to the British context is inescapable. Of course people shouldn’t be allowed to  metal detect in places where their machines are operating deep into archaeological layers. But what will the Establishment do? Politely request them not to? “Of course you can shin up a tree to look at Ospreys’ eggs, we know you’ll leave them there. If the farmer has doubts, tell him you have our approval”.

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Update 14 November 2012

A Third Open letter to:
The Archaeology Forum
taf@archaeologists.net
Dear Sirs,

Artefact Hunting using “deep” metal detectors

It is now eight months since we wrote to you pointing out that the Minelab GPX 5000 (cost, £4,500) had now been joined by the Blisstool LTC64 V3 (cost £558) in the deep seeking category with both being said to be capable of detecting small objects at a depth of 24 inches. Our concern was that depth plus affordability represented a major threat to archaeological deposits lying below plough level, one which the Code of Responsible Detecting doesn’t properly address. “Don’t dig below plough level” doesn’t reflect the new reality. The following forum postings made last month serve to show that the problem is no longer theoretical but current:

the performance of [the Blisstool] against price is amazing, looking for another machine at the moment so will be giving it a lot of consideration, it looks like Blisstool could revolutionise the hobby.”

“I have found the Bliss most outstanding for the deep searching for the remnants of scattered hoards and where a field has been very productive in the past but the plough is no longer getting down to where other coins and artifacts lie there undisturbed I have opened back up some of my long left sites where I had presumed I had cleaned out and left as worked out”

As we said in our previous letter, we should be glad to hear if you have any thoughts on this issue. It seems to us that not reacting while the situation worsens incrementally sale by sale is not a course that should be taken.]

P.S ………
Lest it should be thought we are advocating this matter should be dealt with by means of an amendment to the Code, we aren’t! There is little point in replacing one code that most detectorists ignore with an amended one that most detectorists will also ignore. No. The only way this technological threat to the archaeological resource can be addressed is for you to make sure a simple message gets to every landowner in the country:

“Please do not allow any metal detecting on your land using the Minelab GPX 5000 or the Blisstool LTC64 V3. These can reach far below the plough levels and into undisturbed archaeology and there is therefore no responsible reason for them being brought onto your land.”

It can be anticipated that this might be held up as an unfriendly act towards detectorists, and not just by detectorists. We prefer to see any opposition to such a move as an unfriendly act towards archaeology.

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More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting

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