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The British Government (who else!) is spearheading a move to roll out biodiversity offsetting throughout the world. It has just hosted in London “the first global conference” on it (called“To No Net Loss of Biodiversity and Beyond”).  At the same time those opposed to the concept have held a counter-conference of their own called “Nature is not for sale -the 2nd Forum on Natural Commons” in Regent’s Park right opposite the Government’s one. In their own words their belief is that “biodiversity offsetting ignores the difficulties in recreating ecosystems, it overlooks the uniqueness of different habitats, and it disregards the importance of nature for local communities. Once a harmful development project goes ahead, communities lose access to it forever.”

But has this relevance to heritage? It must have, for often enough if you rip up fields or forests to build houses you also destroy heritage features and knowledge, things that can’t be “offset” for once they’re gone they’re gone. On that basis it follows that archaeologists should be involved in many of the anti-biodiversity offsetting battles which the “nature lobby” is currently fighting. As well as the “Nature is not for Sale” forum perhaps there should have been a “Heritage is not for Sale” forum.

So it was pleasing to see one recent instance of archaeologists joining with the nature lobby – The CBA is supporting the Woodland Trust’s campaign to exclude ancient woodland from biodiversity off-setting schemes. The original biodiversity offsetting green paper indicated that some habitats (including ancient woodland) are irreplaceable and should be excluded from the scheme. However recent comments from (who else!) Environment Minister Owen Paterson suggest that this advice has so far been ignored. The Woodland Trust calculates there are at least 380 Ancient Woodland sites across the UK currently under threat from development – and it is inevitable that archaeology will be threatened at many of them. It will be interesting to hear Mr Paterson explanation of how the irreplaceable can be replaced!


The Paterwock: “Relax, our favoured lobbyists will plant the ancient trees elsewhere and as for the archaeology, none of it will be lost as it will all be offset by record….

Dear Fellow Landowners,


Remember the free metal detecting rally I was going to hold at Grunter’s Hollow using  “the Surrey Council Premise“? …. “Applicants will be considered to be part of an ongoing archaeological survey and will in particular be expected to have a proven track record in reporting and recording. Finds would normally remain the property of the County Council.”

It was a total disaster. No-one turned up. Not even anyone from PAS. (My mate says they’re biassed against farmers but I suspect they only like people with tattoos). Anyway, I was left with scores of prawn sandwiches and not a history lover in sight. It’s a mystery. Like the Marie Celeste but less explicable.

I had such high hopes too. A proper archaeological survey along lines approved by English Heritage, lots of knowledge gained, perhaps an invitation to a PAS function in London to be fêted as an example of selfless partnership – maybe even a lecture tour of France to show them how foolish they are. Oh well. I think next time I’ll advertise it like others do – “twenty squid a day, undisturbed pasture, lots of crop marks, loadza dealers on site, teeth optional, no sharing finds with the farmer (unless you’re daft enough to admit to anyone you’ve found something worth more than two grand)”.

That way I’ll make oodles, the artefact hunters and dealers will make even more oodles and the PAS will claim they know for sure that nearly everything was recorded and nearly nothing was held back as they have X-ray glasses. And I can go on that lecture tour after all. Sorted. Everyone wins.

(OK, EH will be privately scandalised but they can hardly claim publicly  that PAS don’t have X ray glasses can they, so there’ll be no-one in the whole of bonkers Britain saying it except a few, and one of those is fictitious aren’t I?).

Silas Brown
Grunter’s Hollow Farm

PS – Oh dear, oh dear – again.
People have started saying I made it all up – and indeed that I make myself up. Well no, the rally was real – see here –  and so am I.  It’s just that I and my whole world only take material form when an artefact hunter tells a fib to a farmer so the times when I’m not in material form are rare. In fact I haven’t de-materialised for forty long years.



More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


Following the interview under caution of a local man and a nine-month inquiry, North Wales Police have announced that no further action will be taken over the flattening of a 50 yard stretch of Offa’s Dyke as “there was insufficient evidence to prove any criminal offence and the matter is no longer being investigated”.

The announcement may come as a surprise to readers of Wales on Line, 16 August 2013 :

“….. people living nearby have reported seeing men with a large digger clearing scrub and weeds along the dyke, close to the A5 between Chirk and Llangollen. Over several hours, they flattened the embankment and filled in the ditch to level it. Jim Saunders of the Offa’s Dyke Association said: “We had a report that quite a well-preserved part of the dyke had been damaged by the new landowner….. One witness said: ‘I don’t think the men who cleared the hedge and weeds realised the significance of what they were doing. ‘ A Cadw official who came to inspect it said what they had done was like driving a road through Stonehenge.’ The owner of the field, who claims to have bought the site last month, told the Daily Mail he had ‘no idea’ the area was of historic importance. The man, who gave his name only as ‘Danny’, claimed: ‘I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve never heard of Offa’s Dyke. ‘We bought this from a bloke next door and want to put stables on it. Nobody said anything to us about a historic monument, it wasn’t mentioned.’ “

The fifty yard downward spiral: first Priddy, where the culprit was fined a fraction of the value of one of his string of racehorses, then Offa's, where the perpetrator was fined nothing ... next, Avebury, above? Will they be given a lottery grant?

The fifty yard downward spiral: first Priddy, where the culprit was fined a fraction of the value of one of his string of racehorses, then Offa’s, where the perpetrator was fined nothing … next, Avebury, above? Will they be given a lottery grant?

Summer solstice will soon be here and Britain’s taxpayers are braced to pay out another £200,000 to provide “Free” access at Stonehenge, with some of the non-paying beneficiaries calling for it to be extended further to stretch over the whole of Midsummer’s Day. But last Friday in New York they paid homage to the sun in a simpler way …..


The “Manhattanhenge” display was easy to lay on as thousands of people didn’t insist on squeezing into a few highly sensitive square yards to view it. The Yanks have worked out an important truth – the further away from the monument you are the more stunning the spectacle is – see here! As a result, at a stroke, their whole event was rendered sensible as all danger of damage was removed along with all health & safety issues and the need for security staff and special infrastructure. No-one climbed on the buildings, no-one tried to gain attention or upstage the sun and the wider community didn’t have to pay out £200,000 to stage it.

“It was easy!” a spokesperson for the Mayor’s office might have said…. “People looked, and there it was! Why do you guys over-complicate it? I hear you try to run it with thousands of people all bunched up in one spot – and at night (duh!) because a few people claim that’s what their 200x  Great Grandparents would have wanted. Yeah, right, like that’s a convincing argument!”



The above is what someone has just done to Lia Fáil, “The Stone of Destiny” which stands on top of the Hill of Tara.

Mr Jimmy Deenihan, Ireland’s Arts and Heritage Minister, has made all the right noises on behalf of his Government: “This act of mindless vandalism, on one of our premier archaeological sites, is truly shameful …. The national monuments at Tara, which include this standing stone, form part of our national heritage and history.

But you can’t help reflecting that the Irish Government hasn’t always treated Tara with such reverence. Not long ago there was a little matter of them driving the massive M3 Motorway past it! And remember this …

The trail of the M3 works, from Rath Lugh back to Lismullin - The huge Iron Age enclosure was recorded and then, incredibly, destroyed.

The trail of the M3 works, from Rath Lugh back to Lismullin – The huge Iron Age enclosure was recorded and then, incredibly, destroyed.

(See also the previous Journal article by our colleague Gordon Kingston – Tara, the damage forever done)

Could it be that Governments (on both sides of the Irish Sea) are a bit selective about which bits of heritage they cry about? Culture Minister Jimmy Deenihan certainly seems to be. In 2012 he led a Government deputation to Europe arguing for the interests of turfcutters rather than heritage on a protected bog, saying: “My sympathies are first and foremost with the turfcutters, including members of my own extended family on Moanveanlagh. Part of me wishes that the portfolio had been kept to arts, sports and tourism, but that wasn’t the case and I have to accept responsibility on behalf of the Irish State on this issue.


It’s not the first time that the Lia Fáil has been vandalised. Two years ago someone attacked it with a hammer and took pieces away. There were plenty of official noises about that too but the best and crucially most sincere commentary on it appeared in The Herald. It’s not clear who wrote it but the level of sincerity and passion suggests it wasn’t anyone from the Irish Government. (Or the British one – can you imagine the Environment Minister and MP for Oswestry, Owen Patterson, speaking with such passion about the vandalising of the setting of his local hill fort?!)

“The stone carried writing from a time we can barely imagine. A time when Ireland was filled with mystery and myth. It caused visitors to realise just how small they are, in the long, long story of this island.

Until someone took a lump hammer to it. Some anonymous vandal struck the monument at least eleven times. Oh, the power that vandal must have felt, destroying history with each blow. And the secret power the vandal may still feel, clutching some of the pieces chipped off the stone. Souvenirs to be boasted of with drinking buddies, or maybe just savoured in private to prove how heroic the vandal is, in his own eyes.

For many, this was a “whatever” moment, rather than a shock-and-awe issue. And now, some expert will assess what can be done and the majority will forget about it, because we have more immediate fish to fry. We’ve lost monuments before and their loss hasn’t done us enormous harm. But …. Ireland’s story is told in song, in story — and in stone. That some fool with a lump hammer destroyed one of the great stone chapters in our history is stupid, shameful — and sad.”

Great stuff, eh? (Mr Patterson’s equivalent is: “Like my predecessor I have a strict rule about not getting involved in planning in my constituency. I am a supporter of localism and the local plan. I am very keen that local people have a say in planning in their area and have never tried to second guess the decisions of councillors.”)


June 2014

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