You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2013.

People and organisations who oppose wind farms are sometimes portrayed as being anti-planet and unable to appreciate how vital it is to move towards green energy. However, there are surely cases where the damage is simply too great and should be opposed? There have been some recent instances which show English Heritage and The National Trust are working on that basis.

Remember Lyveden New Bield, where an Inspector ruled that damage to a scheduled monument’s setting caused by four 126 metre high turbines would be “less than substantial”?


EH, NT and East Northants Council have successfully appealed the decision. “The effect of the proposed turbines on one of the most important, beautiful and unspoilt Elizabethan landscapes in England would be appalling. This is why we pressed this case” said Simon Thurley. “We very much hope that this will be the end of the matter.” Indeed – and for several reasons, including the fact that the Inspector had said the damage to the asset was reduced by the temporary nature of the planning permission (25 years) and its reversibility. “Don’t worry it’s only for 25 years” is neither convincing nor consoling. There are numerous important landscapes and settings of all periods that don’t deserve wrecking on the basis it would only be for 25 years.

But apart from that does the reversal of this decision bring any further advantages? In particular, does it put a mark in the sand whereby other heritage assets of this calibre will be safe? Sadly no. It seems that precedents don’t play a part in many decisions despite English Heritage’s attempt to provide a rational basis for assessing the balance between energy needs and heritage conservation and their development of a database of previous decisions. Thus Mr Smith, deputy chief executive RenewableUK, which represents the wind farm industry, said: ‘It would be wrong to suggest that any kind of precedent has been set on this occasion, as each wind farm application is considered on a case-by-case basis”.

He seems to be saying the significance of heritage assets is open to a fresh battle every time. If true it’s a shame. It’s hard to see how it can be right for decisions to be independent of guidance through precedents or reference to any sort of “heritage significance scale”. Inspectors aren’t Gods with impeccable, consistent judgement on every “one-off” occasion, nor should the fate of high value heritage assets be dependant upon how well a particular barrister performs rather than how valuable the asset is. Put baldly, Mr Smith seems to be reassuring his wind farm entrepreneur colleagues that it’s always worth a try lads,  as sometimes you’ll get lucky!” We can only hope Inspectors will still take a sneaky peak at EH’s guidance and database of previous decisions so that consistency prevails.

[If any of the above is wrong we’d be pleased to hear from anyone qualified to explain things].

John Aubrey was born on this day, 12th of March, 1626 in Easton Piercy, a couple of miles north of Chippenham in Wiltshire, and was educated at Trinity College, Oxford.

John Aubrey from Wikimedia Commons.

John Aubrey (Wikimedia Commons).

From an antiquarian perspective, he is probably best known for including in a plan of Stonehenge a series of slight depressions immediately inside the enclosing earthwork. These depressions, 56 in all and excavated in the 1920’s, were found to be post holes for timber uprights, and were named ‘Aubrey Holes’ in honour of his original observations. There is however some doubt as to whether the holes that he actually observed are the same as those that currently bear his name.

As a pioneer archaeologist, who recorded (often for the first time) numerous megalithic and other field monuments in southern England, his most important contribution to the study of British antiquities was the lengthy “Monumenta Britannica”, which was never actually published and remains in manuscript. It contains the results of Aubrey’s field-work at Avebury and Stonehenge and notes on many other ancient sites, including Wayland’s Smithy. Apparently the original title of the manuscript was to be “Templa Druidum”.

In 1648, at the age of 22 while out foxhunting with some friends near Avebury in Wiltshire, Aubrey first recognized in the earthworks and great stones placed about the landscape in and about the village a great prehistoric temple. He wrote that he “was wonderfully surprised at the sight of those vast stones of which I had never heard before.”

It is Aubrey who is often quoted when comparing Avebury and Stonehenge that “Avebury does as much exceed in greatness the so reknowned Stonehenge, as a cathedral doeth a parish Church.” In 1663, King Charles II visited the site on his way to Bath, and was given a tour of the site by Aubrey.

(In the following century, William Stukeley developed and expanded Aubrey’s original speculation about how the ‘Ancient Britons’ would have used the site, and concluded that Avebury was built as an ancient cult centre of the Druids.)

Aubrey began work on compiling material for a natural historical and antiquarian study of Wiltshire in two parts, in 1656. The work on the antiquities (which he entitled Hypomnemata Antiquaria) was largely finished by 1671, and deposited in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford.

His next project was instigated by the Royal Cartographer, John Ogilvy, in 1673. Ogilvy commissioned a survey of the County of Surrey, which Aubrey completed, but Ogilvy never used the work as the project was cut short. Despite this, Aubrey continued on and the work was eventually published in 1718 as the Natural History and Antiquities of Surrey.

But he is probably best remembered outside of Antiquarian circles for his Brief Lives, a series of biographical sketches of some of his contemporaries, compiled between 1669 and 1693. Described thus in Aubrey’s article on Wikipedia:

As private, manuscript texts, the “Lives” were able to contain the richly controversial material which is their chief interest today, and Aubrey’s chief contribution to the formation of modern biographical writing. When he allowed Anthony Wood to use the texts, however, he entered the caveat that much of the content of the Lives was “not fitt to be let flie abroad” while the subjects and the author were still living.
Aubrey’s relationship with Wood was to become increasingly fraught. Aubrey asked Wood to be “my index expurgatorius”: a reference to the Church’s list of banned books, which Wood seems to have taken not as a warning, but as a licence to simply extract pages of notes to paste into his own proofs. In 1692, Aubrey complained bitterly that Wood had mutilated forty pages of his manuscript, perhaps for fear of a libel case. Wood was eventually prosecuted for insinuations against the judicial integrity of the school of Clarendon. One of the two statements called in question was founded on information provided by Aubrey and this may explain the estrangement between the two antiquaries and the ungrateful account that Wood gives of the elder man’s character. It is now famous: “a shiftless person, roving and magotie-headed, and sometimes little better than crased. And being exceedingly credulous, would stuff his many letters sent to A. W. with folliries and misinformations, which would sometimes guid him into the paths of errour”.

Although he was left a large estate when his father died in 1652, a series of complex financial arrangements whittled away his fortune, such that by 1670 he was dependent upon the charity of his many friends until his death by apoplexy on 7 June 1697. He is buried in the churchyard of St Mary Magdalen, Oxford.

The ‘Modern Antiquarian’, Julian Cope, has written an excellent article about Aubrey’s ‘re-discovery’ of Avebury.

by Sandy Gerrard

In March last year 18 questions relating to the archaeological situation on Mynydd y Betws were asked. During May the answers provided by Cadw were published here. I also asked my local Assembly member (Mr Rhodri Glyn Thomas) to ask the Dyfed Archaeological Trust (DAT) the same questions and he kindly did this on my behalf. Having had no response in October I asked Carmarthenshire County Council for a copy of the DAT response and this was passed to both Mr Thomas and myself shortly afterwards. A commentary on the DAT response was then produced and sent to Carmarthenshire County Council. This series of articles present DAT’s responses in black and my own comments upon them in green. See part 1 of the series here.


Dr Gerrard’s specific points

(It should be noted that Dr Gerrard’s questions are based on the premise that he has discovered a rare prehistoric stone row of national importance – an assertion that could not and has not been verified) How can DAT know what premise my questions are based on? If they had asked I would have told them. They are based on the premise that the archaeological response to the development on Mynydd y Betws has been inadequate. Most of the issues flow from the single fact that the area being developed was not at any time properly looked at or surveyed. No attempt was made to look for archaeological remains and no consideration was given to the possibility of removing vegetation to make sure that nothing important had been overlooked. Whilst my assertion that this feature is a prehistoric stone row has indeed not been verified on the basis of available evidence it still seems a more likely explanation than the alternatives offered by CAT and DAT which incidentally have also not yet been verified.

 1. Why was no earthwork survey ever conducted?
In terms of this development a considerable amount of pre-determination work was undertaken, including a walk-over survey by Cambrian Archaeological Projects in 2005. This work concentrated on the proposed development area and was no doubt hampered by vegetation. The work concluded that no major archaeological asset would be disturbed along the line of the proposed development. As no archaeological asset would be disturbed by the development an earthwork survey was not necessary.
An interesting shift in emphasis in this response. To start with DAT points out that “the work concluded that no major archaeological asset would be disturbed”. But by the next sentence the word major has been dropped and now no archaeological asset was going to be disturbed. This is untrue unless of course DAT now believe that early coal mining remains described by the Royal Commission are no longer to be considered as archaeological assets.
Furthermore and perhaps most significantly the Planning Inspector observed that there was unrecorded archaeology within the development area and despite this no measures were taken to rectify the situation. Why was the Planning Inspector’s guidance not heeded?

2. Why was no watching brief carried out when a fence was erected on the very edge of a scheduled monument?
The posts were sited, following Cadw’s advice, 10m beyond the limit of the Scheduled Monument in order to protect the monument from unauthorised or accidental encroachment. It is not normal practice for archaeological watching briefs to be carried out when fence posts are being driven into the ground as there is no opportunity for observation.
Would this explain why posts have been driven into the centre of the feature identified adjacent to Turbine 5? I think in the circumstances it would be very easy to argue that the statement “there is no opportunity for observation” is clearly wrong. In this instance there were clearly considerable opportunities for observation.

3. No archaeological watching brief was being conducted on 16th January 2012.
It was agreed that watching briefs would be carried out in sensitive areas as part of Stage 4 of the mitigation strategy and where the previous stages (augering and evaluation) had determined possible archaeological presence. The previous stages had proved entirely negative as did the subsequent watching brief work during geotechnical operations. With the developers cooperation a more extensive watching brief has been maintained throughout a large proportion of the subsequent development works but has not identified any archaeological features nor recovered any artefacts. The Trust is confident that the development has not needlessly destroyed significant archaeology without record. Indeed, Dr Gerrard provides no evidence that this happened.
The area in question is now depicted in the Preliminary Statement as having benefitted from a watching brief. The DAT officer who asked the developers to stop machining this area is also aware that no watching brief was being carried out and yet DAT are satisfied that this work was carried out. Why?
The use of the term “significant archaeology” is clearly intended to confuse the issue but also helpfully implies an appreciation that archaeology has indeed been needlessly destroyed without record. It’s simply that the DAT do not see historic coal mining remains, hollow ways and ditches with banks as significant.
Evidence of damage to archaeological assets is provided at several locations in the on-line “Heritage Journal” a resource that DAT were helpfully pointed towards early in February by the Gwynedd Archaeological Planning Service.

This area is recorded as having had a watching brief.

This area is recorded as having had a watching brief.


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

See also this website and Facebook Group

by Nigel Swift 

We’re big fans of student-run archaeology journal “The Post Hole” but I’d like to take strong issue with one statement in their guest article (by an ex-FLO) about the Portable Antiquities Scheme:

“The twofold approach taken in England and Wales, then, is beneficial, as the vast majority of finds are recorded with the PAS on a voluntary basis”. 

The vast majority of finds? I beg to differ. Our Artefact Erosion Counter, expressed visually here for the very first time, suggests the opposite.

Artefact Counter as at March 2013

The Counter is a harmless little concept that brings us loads of grief. If only PAS would show it is wrong! But no, it’s only rubbished. It “lacks credibility” [Head of PAS], it’s “based on nothing but presumptions and inaccuracies” [Detector retailer on Britarch] it “should be viewed with contempt” [Head of NCMD]. (I wholeheartedly concur with that last one, but not in the way he means!).

So it’s up to you, Posthole readers. We say the orange column is far larger (and growing faster) than the grey one, PAS and detectorists say the reverse and the Government says it believes them. David Lammy said detectorists were heroes – was he shown the red column? Ed Vaizey has just said “the vast majority of metal detectorists make sure their finds are recorded“. Really Ed? Were you shown actual written estimates supporting that? I think not – in fact I know you weren’t because the figures underlying and supporting our Erosion Counter are the best in the business – i.e. CBA/EH’s survey of what is found and PAS’s stats on what is brought to them!

There’s no question there should be proper controls to stem these grievous losses and PAS no doubt agrees. But they don’t say so in public. Indeed, as another statement from the article shows, they tend to adopt a detectorists’ mantra that says control is not possible: “In other countries, where more restrictive legislation is in place, detecting has remained difficult to control.” That is simply not the case, as will be confirmed by talking to police and archaeologists in Eire (where detecting is banned) or Ulster (where it’s licensed).

But it’s neither the place nor the wish of quangos to advocate changes to the status quo of which they are a central part. There’s also a concern that any plain speaking will precipitate what would be the seventeenth threat of a “reporting strike” by detectorists. But here’s the sad, awful thing: it’s not the “best practice” detectorists that make such threats. It’s not they who oppose regulation; they don’t fear rules requiring them to do what they already do. No, it’s the others, the ones who don’t report what they find, who have threatened sixteen times that they won’t report what they find. Those are the ones causing PAS to say the grey column is vastly taller than the orange one and what is going on is “beneficial”. How mad is that?


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting


A (BBC) History of British Archaeology
It seems our recent article may have managed to unwittingly get the jump on the venerable British Broadcasting Corporation. Thursday March 7th saw the first of a three part series entitled “Heritage! The Battle for Britain’s Past“.

Charting the birth of the heritage movement and the first arguments of radical thought, from figures including John Lubbock MP, Lieutenant General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers, Charles Darwin and John Ruskin. These remarkable individuals asked important questions and came up with the building blocks of a new world that valued the past. Their actions led to the first piece of legislation to safeguard prehistoric and ancient structures which until then had often fallen prey to the short-term interests of farmers and landowners.

The blurb above for the first program suggests the ideals that the Heritage Protection legislation, 100 years old this year, strove for. Unfortunately, many of the same problems still exist today, and it will be interesting to see if this aspect is covered in the series, or whether it will be merely a case of ‘haven’t we done well?’

Green belt busted
On the subject of protection, remember when the Green Belt was said to be safe? But look at this ……. Bath’s original draft core strategy proposed building 11,500 houses across brownfield and some greenfield site but avoiding any incursion into the Green Belt. A Government Inspector has said that wasn’t enough and it has now been revised to include building hundreds of new houses in the Green Belt around Bath, Keynsham and Whitchurch. Anyone who knows Bristol and Bath will find it had to believe all the brownfield sites have been used up and that half-million pound executive homes in the green belt are what are really needed to solve the housing shortage. But then, since the government allowed the major housebuilders to design the policy it’s hardly a surprise what a housebuilder-friendly solution they’ve come up with.

Heritage Action asked to sell it’s soul for £50
We just got a message……. “We are looking to promote a competition to win a metal detector on your site. I was hoping that the competition would be of interest to the metal detecting audience, which would fit with the audience of your site (please correct me if I have got this wrong). Would you accept £50 for placement?” We’ve put in a counter offer: we’ll run a free advert for them if they’ll stop selling metal detectors.

and finally…
Hearty congratulations go to the team from Exeter University and the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, Cornwall. Their replica Bronze Age boat, which has been under construction for the best part of a year was successfully launched on March 6th and had a short trip around Falmouth harbour. A good crowd turned out for the event, which was also featured on a web feed by the good folks at – from which the screen grab below was taken as the boat shot past the camera position. Watch the video for the full build and launch process in condensed form!

The Falmouth Logboat in action!

The Falmouth Logboat in action!

Postcards to friends of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site


In July 1882, the year in which Sir John Lubbock introduced the Ancient Monuments Protection Act, his friend, the highly influential John Ruskin, was to be found staying with Nevil Story Maskelyne and his wife Thereza at Basset Down House. Enjoying a picnic on the downs, Ruskin had visited Avebury:

“the day was delicious and there was a Druid circle and a British fort, and tumuli as many as you liked like molehills, and a Roman Road and a Dyke of the Belgae all mixed up together in a sort of Antiquary’s giblet pie it was like dreaming of the things, they were so jumbled up.”



This is part of a series of short “postcards” that anyone with something to share is welcome to submit, whether that is a digital snap and a “wish you were here” or something more involved. Please do join in by sending your postcards to

For others in the series put postcards in the search box.

This is the second part of an ongoing series by Heritage Action member Sue Brooke. As Sue herself said as an introduction to the first part of the series:

I was brought up in the Caerau area. I went to school here and brought my children up here. As a kid I used the Caerau Hillfort area many times as a short-cut to what I now view as beautiful walks towards Michaelston-le-Pit. I had no idea what this area contained until many years later when I moved to a new house built in to what I now know are the Iron Age fortifications of Caerau Hillfort. I’ve spent quite a few years finding out about this hillfort and, on the way, have collected quite a lot of bits and bobs of research. I started to write this down and it has grown and changed many times as my knowledge increased. Many people have helped me with this – I haven’t done it on my own.

The area has been the target of vandalism, particularly to the old church which stands in one of two, possibly medieval, ring works. One day I was there with my son moaning on about the damage that kids had done – I knew it was kids as they had kindly left their names written in marker pen on the remaining archway. My son pointed out that the kids just didn’t know the value of the site. How could they as no-one had told them. That was fair comment. This has been written just as a brief look at what happened in order to do just that and what was to lead eventually to the site starring in its very own Time Team episode.

All images are the author’s own.

‘It’ was a large, muddy field full of lumps and bumps. It was quite possible to see the ditches and the ramparts within this field. The defensive lines of the ditches have been mentioned in many articles as multi-vallate but seeing them for the first time was quite amazing. The ramparts themselves are still very obvious. We took loads of photos and actually realised that some kind of encampment was here, in this field and not in the second ring work near the church, as impressive as this is. This field, a kind of triangular shape had a walled spring or well in one corner and appeared to have been left just as it was. Of course, horses and cows had been kept there, the evidence of them was all around my feet, but to me, a complete but enthusiastic amateur it appeared untouched.

Inside the Iron Age hillfort

Inside the Iron Age hillfort

I think the words ‘enthusiastic’ and ‘amateur’ are relevant here. I was of course completely bitten by the bug. I wandered around the area, looked at all the available books I could find and generally bored people to death on the subject. Then I began to get the hang of historical research methods. I found some information was simply being repeated in other publications and not founded in new research. I got the hang of following references and made sure that everything I wrote was my own work and verified by me rather than just regurgitating work of others. My written research had changed quite a few times since I started it. Here it changed again.

I couldn’t understand though what the Romans would have been doing here. I’m afraid that history lessons in school came and went. I couldn’t remember a thing about the Romans. I was really lucky in that a colleague, Jeff O’Sullivan was a history graduate! Thank you to Jeff who explained things, (often at a very simple level, bless him), and led to me gaining a greater understanding of this rather complicated period in history. He also believed in what I was trying to do.

By now I’d amassed loads of work and experience and confidence. I decided to write it down what I had in some kind of order. Then it started to grow. CADW (Welsh word meaning to keep or preserve) is the Welsh Government’s historic environment service so I thought I’d drop them an email. They were absolutely brilliant in helping me. They sent me as much information as they held, including copies of maps. They explained that the area was a Scheduled Ancient Monument (deserted medieval village) and what that meant. So, with this new found confidence and, thanks to this CADW information I began to write yet another draft in relation to early life in Caerau.

Then I stumbled across the Portable Antiquities Scheme. When out and about we had picked up some bits and pieces that I needed to be interpreted, I wanted them to be included in my book if they were relevant. So, another email went out to Mark Lodwick, the Finds Liaison Officer based within National Museum of Wales. He replied and invited me to forward my work to him. He would have a look at it then we would meet to discuss it in more detail. So I did and we met.

Mark is an amazing person to talk with. Bearing in mind he was faced with a complete novice, albeit an enthusiastic one, he was very patient, encouraging and overall very knowledgeable. He had gone to the trouble to read and make notes on my research. He was able to point me in the direction of books I may like to read and also people I may like to contact. He didn’t for one minute think I was potty; in fact he was really interested.

When talking with Mark my carefully photographed stone walls turned, as if by magic, into evidence of revetments, possibly Iron Age. My V shaped very steep ditch was interpreted as the entrance to a hillfort. My ‘very-shiny-when-wet’ stone turned into a whet stone.

In fact, he managed, if that was at all possible, to make me even more enthusiastic. Thank you so much.

to be continued…

Exactly a year ago today we published this plea made by Heritage Action Founder Member Jamie Stone on a forum. We think it’s worth repeating – every year if necessary. How about saying something similar on your front page English Heritage?

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a digger destroying a stone row, a quarrying company destroying unique evidence of temporary camps around a henge, modern poems placed over a prehistoric landscape, a farmer allowing livestock to slowly destroy cairns or ploughing flat a round barrow, thousands of people stealing our heritage knowledge in the name of a hobby every weekend, landowners driving 4x4s across chambered tombs, tenant farmers flattening henges, 1000s of people denuding Avebury’s banks by not keeping to paths, unused roads being built over unique archaeology, 100s of people leaving tealights and garbage in barrows or one solitary person clambering to the top of a dolmen.


Don’t tell me it causes no damage. It doesn’t matter that in the greater scheme of things it’s practically irrelevant, because as the people that actually give a damn we should be setting the highest possible standard when we visit a site. We must do that because frankly, most people don’t know, they simply don’t realise.”

by Sandy Gerrard

It was reported earlier this year in the Heritage Journal that a ban on the use of asulam could have a serious impact on the control of destructive bracken on enormous numbers of archaeological sites. The Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD) has recently announced that the application for an Emergency Authorisation has been approved.  This is good news and means that the chemical control of bracken will be possible in 2013.

The authorisation will allow restricted use of asulam (in Asulox) in the UK, during 2013, although the long-term aim is for asulam to be approved in the EU. However, additional data must be collected to support the application and it will not be until 2016, at the earliest, that approval may take place. In the meantime it should be emphasised that the Emergency Authorisation period is for a period of 120-days, from 20 May 2013. Full details of a press release issued by the Bracken Control Group can be found here.

This is an important issue for the management of upland archaeology in particular and a long term solution needs to be reached.

One of the lucky ones: Boscaswen Un stone circle, partly overwhelmed by bracken years ago but (now liberated thanks to painstaking clearance work by CASPN).

One of the lucky ones: Boscaswen Un stone circle years ago, mostly overwhelmed by bracken (now liberated thanks to painstaking clearance work by Cornwall Ancient Sites Protection Network).

Yet again we have received a large number of comments via anonymous proxies (Boothy et al). Some of these have seemed genuine but most have been antagonistic or deliberately disruptive. To ensure genuine debate we will still be deleting all comments which have come via anonymous proxies when we detect them.

(We have also had postings that seem to be concerted attempts to represent us as saying things we haven’t: someone left a comment likening detectors to guns and it has been quoted suspiciously fast on a US detecting site as something said by us. A pitch for the attention of the none too bright Cold Dead Hand lobby no doubt!)

If you are a genuine poster who uses anonymous proxies for legitimate reasons please email us at and we will make a special case for you.


March 2013

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