We have been asked by another website to supply a brief history of Heritage Action and the Heritage Journal and we thought, as we approach our ninth anniversary it would be appropriate to publish it here.
As it says on our ‘About Us‘ page:
Heritage Action is a rallying point for anyone who feels ancient heritage places deserve greater protection. We believe this generation holds its heritage in trust for future generations and we think it is right to promote an appreciation of the value of these places, highlight threats to them, and encourage the public to become involved in responsible but vigorous action to preserve them. We are not a bureaucracy or a commercial organisation, simply a collection of ordinary people throughout Britain and Ireland who are unified by a common concern. If you value these places you are already one of us!
The organisation began life as a collection of individuals on an online forum on The Modern Antiquarian website, set up by Julian Cope after the publication of his book of the same name. Several of us got together for a meeting in July 2003 at Uffington White Horse at the suggestion of our much-missed friend Rebecca van der Putt (“Treaclechops”).
We soon discovered we all had similar ideas about ancient sites and the need for a grass roots voice promoting their appreciation and preservation and by November 2003 Heritage Action was born.
At this time some high profile sites were suffering badly – Silbury Hill was in a parlous state of collapse, and the surroundings of Thornborough Henges were about to be further quarried. Heritage Action were vociferous in their attempts to ensure that these sites were looked after properly and that the public shouldn’t be marginalised, even suggesting at a very early stage and in the face of official dismissal that grouting should be the preferred method of stabilising Silbury Hill – a method that English Heritage some years later came to accept as appropriate.
Initially the group was intended to be a rallying point for those interested in protecting sites in danger, the idea being that local campaigns would provide the impetus, while Heritage Action would show the depth of feeling for endangered sites across a wider area, providing templates for letter campaigns and other advice. It became apparent though that harnessing sufficient local support was often problematical (other than in exceptional cases such as the Thornborough campaign run by our member George Chaplin which was calculated to have directly reached four million people). We concluded that in many cases our most effective role is in raising awareness of sites since public awareness is the best protection of all. This strategy is encapsulated in what we believe is a wonderful article by one of our early contributors called ‘Reclaiming Prehistory‘.
Erosion of the archaeological resource
At the same time, there had been a number of major finds by metal detectorists but also an unrecorded depletion of the archaeological resource which we felt was unfair, avoidable and plainly wrong. We created the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter to give a broad demonstration of what is happening and it continues to do so. No-one has yet come up with a serious challenge to it and it has been treated as a significant and credible measure in several academic articles.
Thus our current day twin planks – Raising awareness of our pre-Roman heritage and campaigning against the depletion of the wider resource by metal detectorists and others came into being.
Megameets and Minimeets
In 2006, another picnic was mooted, this time to be held in Avebury during the summer, and deemed a ‘Megameet‘. These informal gatherings, which usually involve discussions and a short ramble to nearby sites of interest, are well attended and 2012 will see the 7th such meeting, which now traditionally is held in the NE Quadrant in fine weather, and in the bar of the Red Lion if inclement. Another recent tradition of these meetings has been the bookswap, where unwanted books of archaeological interest are able to find new homes. In addition, ‘minimeets’ have been held elsewhere outside of the main megameet on an ad-hoc basis, notably in Cumbria and Cornwall.
To the Present, and Beyond!
In 2009, we relaunched with a new web site, the ‘Heritage Journal‘ which continues to this day to document sites in danger, argues against anything other than ethical metal detecting and aims to educate new readers about the prehistoric sites of Britain with ways to learn about and enjoy them whilst minimising damage.
We are ‘ordinary people caring for extraordinary places‘, why not join us?