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It seems something highly unusual happened at the solstice. Although (surprise, surprise!) 1% of attendees were arrested or given warnings for misbehaviour (37 arrests, 100 warnings), there wasn’t the usual climbing all over the stones! How come? Education? Overbearing security? Lack of party atmosphere? No, something very simple: the weather gods decreed it should be extremely wet so numbers were right down – by 60% compared with some years.

Who’d have thought it? Reducing the numbers inside the stones to manageable numbers allows the stewards to control what goes on! (Well us actually, we’ve been saying it for many years.)

So can we hope that English Heritage will now finally learn the lesson and just manage the place on behalf of everyone – by declaring an attendance limit and entry by ticket? And stops mismanaging the event by tolerating gross overcrowding on the grounds that a few scruffy class warriors talk darkly of rioting if an infinite number isn’t allowed in? Doesn’t the very fact someone opposes any restriction on numbers disqualify them as a true friend of either Stonehenge or logic? Why should it be they who dictate policy?

There has been a worrying sign though that EH might not have learned the lesson. Their Head of Stonehenge went on the Chris Evans show enthusing about the summer solstice. To our minds he overdid it. EH are statutory guardians, simple as, so him saying the event is fantastic and “well worth a visit” for people coming to Britain isn’t being a guardian it’s being an impresario. No way is saying stuff that will increase the number of people crowded like boozy sardines inside the stones consistent with guardianship. Only reducing the number is consistent with that – as this year has surely proved beyond all argument.

No, he should keep in mind that actually, the vast majority of overseas visitors exhibit a preference for a quiet, reflective visit to the stones, just as the vast majority of British people do. If that wasn’t true then a lot more than a few tens of thousands would turn up at solstice, there’d be millions. And if EH didn’t know that was true they wouldn’t have ensured there was a quiet, respectful educational experience available for the other 364 days of the year nor would they be building an interpretation centre!

And here’s the bottom line: he should know that most foreigners must view the non-management that is normally evident at solstice with shock and incredulity. EH is very image conscious and that does more to tarnish its image as a world beacon of good conservation practice than anything else it is involved in. Yet it’s so easily solved.


June 2012

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