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As the fate of HS2 hangs by a financial thread we are reminded of our article about Stonehenge almost exactly 11 years ago, on 29 January 2009.

Could the World Heritage Landscape be about to be saved a second time?


ex-12“Mention the “Stonehenge saga” and most people think of decades of frustrating delay, indecision, and inactivity. But we’re inclined to take a more cheerful view. It looks possible that an announcement is imminent that will mark an important stage – not the end of the discussions but an end, at least, to the worst of the threats to the monument.

For a long time, the “official” push was for a “short tunnel” involving building two miles of new roadway over the World Heritage Area in defiance of the wishes of UNESCO and practically every archaeological and heritage body. So much for public consultation! Thankfully, finance came to the monument’s aid and the plan was abandoned.

The Treasury is having doubts about whether the Stonehenge tunnel scheme is value for money. But in truth the calculations are meaningless anyway for no-one can convert cultural gain (or loss) into measurable money terms. Hence, when the National Audit Office says the project will deliver “£1.15 of quantified benefit for every £1 spent” and The Treasury doubts it,  both are dealing in fuzzy information, not to say complete codswallop. As the National Audit Office has said, (rather more politely than that) the figures were arrived at

“because Highways England included a monetary value for “cultural heritage” in the costings. Highways England worked out this value by asking the public how much it would pay to have the road removed from the site. [!!!] While Highways England used approved methodologies to do this, calculating benefits in this way is inherently uncertain.”

“Inherently uncertain”! How very British! What they mean is “it’s nonsense, but it’s all Highways England could think of to fill the void in the calculation and get the result they wanted”. It’s like a bike designed by Hiram B. Nickerson, no trick not used to ensure it looks low-impact!

Hiram B. Nickerson’s Aerial Bicycle, 1896

Yet that’s not all: Highways England claim to have arrived at a cultural benefit figure but where’s their estimate of cultural loss? It’s not there. No-one knows how much archaeology will be lost until it’s lost so they’ve simply not mentioned it, along with the loss of the free view of the stones. Honesty England they ain’t!

By the way, in case Highways England et al tell you that asking the public how much they’d be willing to pay to remove the road is a valid technique in cost-benefit analysis let them use that method to calculate the cultural value of The Pyramids, Hamlet or a sunset.

The upheaval of HS2 is manna for treasure-hungry archaeologists”


First, archaeologists aren’t treasure-hungry. Only treasure hunters are treasure-hungry!

Second, that’s not the only disservice to heritage which that careless headline may deliver. Soon it may be there’s another huge upheaval with hundreds of other archaeologists engaged in another massive series of digs, sifting through many millions of cubic feet of the archaeological layers of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site prior to construction of new access roads.

That scheme is opposed by UNESCO and most independent archaeologists and it would do heritage great harm if supporters of the tunnel trumpeted that process as a welcome benefit of the scheme (as indeed they already have) and the press then magnified the claim by calling it a knowledge “bonanza”.

Of course it would generate great knowledge, in a process first described years ago by a slick government spin-doctor as “preservation by record”. But it’s important the public aren’t misled: the knowledge will be totally inadequate compensation for massive heritage destruction to a World Heritage landscape.


Here’s a video praising a detectorist who donated a treasure find, gratis. But why? This was a decent man, doing what he should and knowing the find was never his and the rewards were never meant to benefit him, only to incentivise those who would steal the public’s heritage without one! So praising him actually insults him, for it implies he might be the sort of person he patently isn’t.

So in future, let’s drop the”praise”, just like we don’t praise people leaving Tescos not carrying stolen goods. Praising normality while rewarding those with less scruples is an ugly look (and doesn’t work: 90% of detectorists take the money and often ask for more!)

Hopefully, the Treasure Act reforms will change things by making it far clearer to detectorists that rewards are not an entitlement, and that taking them is the opposite of being an amateur archaeologist, still less a hero.

Image result for supermarket customer
Tesco customer lauded for not stealing.

As discussions continue on Treasure Act reforms there’ll be a bit of chat about what progress PAS has made. But that. sadly, is all it is, chat. See this from Farmer Brown, six years ago: has anything truly changed since then? Of course not. If there’s going to be a change it had better be radical.


Dear Fellow Landowners,

It was a rumbustious night down at the Black Sheep and Wellies on Friday. I and my farming pals celebrated that a detectorist has just written on his blog: “I will also be letting the farmer know that all items found excluding treasure items belong to him, if there is anything that he does not [want] after the recording of the finds I will let him know I am interested in acquiring them”.

He might have added “once he’s obtained independent advice on them“ but still it’s a step forward and I’ll give a bag of mangel-wurzels to any detectorist, archaeologist, lawyer, philosopher or priest that can show why ALL artefact hunters shouldn’t be doing it too. Anything else, like getting the farmer to sign away 50% of his property while still undiscovered (which most detectorists and the whole Archaeological Establishment encourage landowners to do) is plain wrong. Imagine finding your granny had let someone clear her loft when she was out in exchange for 50% of what they said they’d found – and that the Government had urged her to do it!

He’ll get a ton of criticism for what he’s doing but on the other hand he can console himself with the fact he’ll be treating farmers in a fairer and more honorable and respectful way than many thousands of his colleagues as well as English Heritage, the British Museum, the Portable Antiquities Scheme and many others. (Heaven help their grannies!)


Silas Brown,
Grunter’s Hollow Farm,


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting




The Transport Action Network has some hopeful news for those opposed to the damage: “Boris Johnson has reportedly instructed his Cabinet to cull large “legacy projects and told them that everything is on the table, including ‘sacred cows’ and ‘pet projects’.” Nothing fits that description better than the Stonehenge short tunnel, a vote-catcher proposed two Prime Ministers ago and not needed for vote-catching by the current incumbent.

Indeed, it may well be calculated that Mr. Johnson risks world-wide reputational damage if it goes ahead: new destruction to a world-famous icon in the teeth of opposition by UNESCO is yet to fully register in the international conscience but may do so the moment Grant Shapps gives the go-ahead. “The British are going to dig up a mile of the Stonehenge landscape for approaches to a tunnel, surely not?”

Then there’s the cost: it’s been £1.7 or £1.8 billion for ages, and there’s no sign of an up-to-date figure. We can all work out why that is and everyone knows that, like all such projects, the cost will escalate vastly before the end, especially as it involves tunnelling in unpredictable phosphatic chalk.

But worst of all is that even on those costs it has “an unusually low benefit-cost ratio of just 29 pence benefit per £1 spent” and only if you include the highly implausible cultural heritage valuation study, does the BCR creep over the £1 mark to £1.08.” Highly implausible is putting it kindly! How do you cost the negative cultural cost of destroying millions of cubic feet of the upper levels of Europe’s most important prehistoric landscape?


Slowly slowly

So far so good! Plus, the Trust has plans to create new green corridors for people and nature, provide 25,000 hectares of new wildlife habitats, run a campaign “to connect people with nature” and be “carbon net-zero by 2030”.

Better still, their Director-General has just said: “On 29 February, we will mark the leap year by asking the nation to make a leap for nature, pledging a simple act that will make a difference to nature on their doorstep.”

So let’s all help The Trust make a simple leap: if you become a Member and use your vote at the next AGM the Trust could be cruelty net-zero this year!

See also this Comment:

Steve Miller
Definitely worth joining the Trust or not leaving until after the AGM this year. Only Trust members get to vote on the issue. Also worth remembering not to leave the decision to the Chairman who will use your vote to support the continuation of hunting.

The current story of a bluestone being stolen and used as a garden feature put us in mind of the bad old days when half or more of the houses of Avebury were constructed from sarsen stolen from the Avebury monument, as well as the bad new days, when English Heritage et al are conspiring to effectively steal ALL the Stonehenge stones from the traveling public! So stone-stealing isn’t new, and an eBay search for Preseli Bluestone gets you over a hundred hits – and has done for many years.

This prompts a variety of thoughts: Do bits of bluestone have healing qualities or is it a racket? Do any of them come from the original Preseli quarry or are they simply from the broad vicinity? Or are many of them simply offcuts, of which there are many, picked up from molehills near Stonehenge?

Whatever the truth, it may be centuries before the total of bluestone pieces sold on eBay adds up to a fiftieth of a whole bluestone or a billionth of a bluestone quarry so as conservation scandals go this is not too bad. More concerning (to us) is that this weekend alone our friends the metal detectorists will fail to report something like ten thousand recordable artefacts!

What if you find a hoard but the FLO is on holiday? PAS has just said this is OK: “If the findspot is public and it is not safe to leave the find in the ground, you may feel that you have to lift it yourself.” No! Even though there’s a danger some of a detectorist’s mates might come back at night and steal the hoard that’s not an excuse for him to dig it up himself. Ever.

We’ve said so before (e.g. in November 2011 and in both July and November 2015) but PAS doesn’t listen to amateurs unless they’re detectorists. But we’ll repeat it here: if you want to be regarded as a history lover, a responsible detectorist, a potential reward recipient – or even just a half-decent citizen,you MUST take on the role of guardian on behalf of the State and spend sufficient time and money to ensure its security. What sort of entitlement-obsessed person wouldn’t?

Here are some of the blindingly obvious ways it can be done: Detectorists can wait in their cars overnight, security firms can be hired to work nights, including at Xmas, lighting rigs or generators can be hired for £37.50 per 3 days, a farmer’s flatbed trailer can be parked over the find.


““there was no way we could guard that hoard overnight”… Oh really?


In 2011 the Salisbury Museum director was glad a detectorist had stopped digging the Tisbury Hoard but said you could count on two hands the number of Bronze Age hoards which have been recorded professionally by archaeologists in this way”. Have things changed in the subsequent 9 years? Hardly, and it won’t until PAS stops giving detectorists a perfect excuse for digging up hoards or graves in future: “I was alone, my phone battery went flat, so I got out my long spade and “did the right thing” OK?” The bits are in this bag!”  What a damn scandal!


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

Detectorists are discussing how to get permission to detect on Council land (including the fatuous “So can you organise a rally and sayn it is a archaeological dig?“) Some Councils allow it, many do not. In 2017 we wrote to the National Association of Local Councils (and CBA, Rescue, LGAO and APPAG) about this and are still awaiting a reply.


We should be grateful if you would forward this message to each of your 10,000 members. They will all have received many requests over the years for “metal detecting permission”. We hope your Members will accept that although a variety of non-damaging recreational uses of public land ought to be permitted, anything found within publicly owned land belongs to the public authority and it is not at liberty to allow private individuals to claim it as their own. That principle also applies, for instance, to harvesting flowers and the removal of fish, birds and mammals. In the case of archaeological artefacts the principle is of particular importance since objects may not only have monetary value but also historical value.

We commend them to The Deefholts-Billingshurst method. See Item 064/09 of the Deerhurst Parish Council, Gloucestershire, in 2009 []
“Mr Ray Deefholts wished to speak about agenda item 9 on metal detecting. Mr Deefholts stated that he is a member of the Federation of Independent Detectorists and is seeking permission from the Council for himself and two friends to use metal detectors on Parish Council land. Smaller items found will remain in the possession of the land owner i.e. the Parish Council, but Horsham Museum may be interested in these finds. Other finds may fall under the Treasure Act….” (In other words, nothing found during metal detecting would be claimed by Mr Deefholts or his two companions).


We think that is fair – to the public and we suspect that very few detectorists will wish to pursue their “interest purely in history” on the basis of such fairness to the public.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting




January 2020
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