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Try this test. Go to Stonehenge and deliberately tread on a Marsh Fritillary caterpillar. You’ll risk prosecution. Now jump around on the stones and the same thing applies as that’s against the law too. Yet you and hundreds of others can do it with impunity on 21 June. Why? Because there are so many people packed into the monument it’s impossible to exercise control. EH’s PR Department must cringe every year, especially on 22 June when they release a press release saying everything went well but the photographs show they weren’t in control.
But maybe a change is coming. We hear EH’s Historic Properties Director “has grasped the PR opportunity of picnics and kite flying and happy family gatherings” (which were OUR suggestions, see here!) and coincidentally some Free Access campaigners are also calling for a daytime picnic adjacent to the stones and they’ve been invited to a “private meeting” to discuss it!
Could this be the moment when the problem is solved? Yes, providing EH says instead of, not as well as. There’s no point in expanding the celebrations into the daytime unless there’s an end to the worldwide negative PR created by nocturnal overcrowding inside the stones and the damage and disrespect it brings.
So here’s our fantasy picture of ordinary people, all equal stakeholders having fun celebrating solstice near to but not within the stones (which is something no-one can show is less likely to be traditional than what happens now). They could start at dawn if they wished – the sunrise view from outside is much better and the place is now thought to have been designed to facilitate that – and if they were outside the stones there’d be no huge expense, no massive security, no litter, no graffiti, no damage, no stone-standing, no climbing on them, no “personal alcohol allowance”, no ejections, no endless moaning, no faeces, no crazy calls for unrestricted access, no arrests and no embarrassment and humiliation for EH and Britain! Isn’t that better?
The Institute of Art and Law blog has published a review by Richard Harwood QC of the recently introduced Historic Environment (Wales) Bill. Two matters struck us as particularly significant:
1. In the case of damage to a monument the bill proposes that any defence should require due diligence to be demonstrated, not just lack of knowledge. 2. A remark by Mr Harwood: “Perhaps the most significant amendment that could be added to the Bill is to introduce a statutory duty to have special regard to the desirability of protecting scheduled monuments and their settings, to match the greater protection already given to listed buildings.
We can’t help reflecting that such provisions would have great benefits on both sides of Offa’s Dyke. In fact, the Journal would have a lot less to write about!
As a boy I was furious when the bit of Enville Common where we played cricket every Sunday was suddenly fenced off and planted with small trees. Here they are now ….
Fortunately for young cricketers the Enville Estate practices sustainable forestry and shortly a lot of them are to be felled and the land will revert to how it was in 1955, for a while at least. I plan to take my grandson there to play cricket.
What has this to do with the price of beans? Well, it crossed my mind it’s a good example of harmless change. A circle has turned and no harm has been done. Whereas, the change that’s proposed at Stonehenge is on a line not a circle. If EH and NT and Mr Cameron and the road lobby get their way a new massive scar across one of the most important archaeological landscapes in the world will still be there long after all of them aren’t – and indeed long after there’s no more petrol.
Here’s what he said in the Commons 18 years ago:
“Anyone who has been on an archaeological dig will know of the painstaking, enormously slow process that is involved in uncovering objects. The precise position in the ground of every revealed object and its proximity to other finds is carefully recorded. When people come along who are not experts or who are not necessarily interested in the history of an object, but whose main motivation is simply to try to uncover a pot of gold, and they root around without paying much attention to the archaeological importance of their finds, the archaeological information is lost. All too often, they simply chuck aside anything that does not immediately appear to have a monetary value.”
He sounds indistinguishable from his Irish and French counterparts. How refreshing!
You can write to the Trust very easily here . (Just say to Dame Helen Ghosh that as a stakeholder you support the simple but compelling principle of no new damage to Stonehenge and you think she should too.)
You can also write to UNESCO very easily here. (Tell them that the things that they’re liable to hear from EH and NT, they ain’t necessarily so, and a lot of people in Britain don’t support what they are trying to do to the World Heritage Site).
Kate Mavor, who is about to become the new Chief Executive at English Heritage, has come out strongly against wind farms saying that they desecrate historic landscapes.
She notes with dismay the way in which environmental impact statements have been ignored or manipulated to ensure that renewable targets are met. The cost of course of this flawed policy is the industrialisation of our countryside and heritage and while she notes that wind farms can have a part to play in meeting our targets, she feels that too often this has been at the cost of the special places which define our very being. She points out that there are alternatives and that these would reduce our need to harm much of what is special about our country.
Up until a few months ago the appointment of someone with such strong views would have been very good news for the future of heritage in England. Sadly the split of English Heritage into two parts means that her views are unlikely to make a huge difference with perhaps the exception of the small number of properties she will be responsible for looking after. National advice on how most of the heritage will be managed will be provided by the spin-off organisation Historic England who we now know see wind farms as a way of paying for conservation works and see the desecration of historic landscapes as a price worth paying for new interpretation boards.(See Sandy Gerrard’s recent article about their decision at Nine Maidens in Cornwall.)
Let’s be optimistic and hope that Historic England will listen to the concerns of the new Chief Executive at English Heritage and in the coming months we will be able to report on a change of emphasis – and even examples of heritage saved.