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We’re pleased to report that there is a new player in the site guardian arena. A new group has been formed to look after several sites on the Derbyshire Moors. We welcome GSSN, the Guarding Sacred Sites Network, who introduce themselves in the guest post below. We look forward to hearing good things about their work going forward.

There are many beautiful, ancient sacred sites on Stanton and Harthill Moors, in Derbyshire. Nine Ladies, Doll Tor, Rowter Rocks, Nine Stones Close, Robin Hoods Stride, to name a few. These sites are always under pressure of various kinds.

The damage at Doll Tor during lock-down didn’t go unnoticed as the images spread across social media sites. Although shared on Facebook, no one had reported it to the PDNPA, English Heritage, or the Rural Heritage Police. This is where our group began. We reported the damage and realised there was a lack of information about what to do if one witnessed or discovers damage at sites. We made a poster, set up a Facebook group, and became inundated with messages of hope and offers of help, from people across the country.

Since then we have created an adopt a site monitoring scheme which covers Stanton Moor and Harthill Moor. We have a monitoring form and some guidelines for volunteers to follow. We’ve listed the potential hotspots for rubbish and damage in the area and created a ‘How to report damage’ leaflet. Sites on the list have been monitored every weekend since we started the group.

Many of you will have seen the posts on Facebook about the recent and very busy solstice celebrations at Nine Ladies over the past weekend. Thankfully there has been a group of volunteers on the moor acting as unofficial stewards and collecting rubbish from the site, as well as educating people. At the time of writing this, I can happily say all the rubbish has been collected and taken off-site. Indeed, it may now be cleaner than many other spots in the area.

Organisations who are officially responsible for large numbers of archaeological sites, such as the National Trust and English Heritage, have recognised that one of the most productive ways to ensure their long-term survival and conservation is via a regular and systematic monitoring scheme undertaken by local volunteers. In this way, sites which might not be encountered that often by archaeological staff (e.g. due to their out of the way locations on moorland, farm fields, and cliffs) can still be visited regularly, and any actual or potential damage can be reported and acted on before it gets out of hand. This information is then fed into a database designed to record each site’s current state, including any problems and the subsequent response to them. By recording such information, the database becomes a tool with which to make informed decisions about the management of a broad range of sites, based on their type, construction, location, and so on.

Our second shared responsibility is to create interpretation material that informs visitors about the importance of the sites through an educational website, books, artworks, and so forth, that encourages a sustainable love and appreciation for our sacred sites. ‘Sacredness’ is not simply a matter of joy in experiencing a beautiful or historic place, but a component which motivates people in how they interact with places. Our network is a platform to explore ways that we can help to educate people through positive, informal, and relaxed experiences. Our goal is to help protect sacred sites in this area from any damage. Damage includes digging, rubbish, graffiti, fires within the circles or close to the stones, machinery damage, vehicle access, and other types of damage to the natural environment.

Stanton Moor, in particular Nine Ladies, is a contested space. Many people have very strong opinions about how it should be treated. How can the complexity of meanings surrounding a place, be represented, through formal management and interpretation? This question is difficult to answer. There is no easy solution, there are many. Each site has its specificity, each visitor, their preferences. Such issues are faced by environmental educators, archaeologists, heritage managers, landowners, those who provide information for others regularly.

If you would like to join us on our quest for preservation and education, please like our Facebook book, Guarding Sacred Sites Network, or email guardingsacredsites @ gmail.com.

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