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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 what solstice could and should look like,  since it and Stonehenge belong to everyone in equal measure. Ordinary people having fun celebrating solstice near to but not within the stones – 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 middle-of the-nighting, no crazy calls for unrestricted access, no arrests and no embarrassment and humiliation for EH and Britain! Isn’t that better? Who or what is preventing it happening?.


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?

Who needs a history book?! The depressing cul-de-sac that is Britain’s portable antiquities policy can be deduced from just three flyers…. . .

First, British archaeologists expressed outrage…. .



Then they settled for “do it if you must but please tell us what you find”. And that’s where we’re stuck, 17 years later, with most finds still not being reported. Meanwhile, over in Ireland they have THIS flyer in every library and police station….. . .

.irish flyer.

It says things that are unspeakable in Britain, things like unregulated detecting “causes serious damage” and it’s illegal to do it “without the prior written consent of the Minister”  and that will only be forthcoming if “the greatest possible level of archaeological knowledge is obtained”. The British Government and all 8,000 British archaeologists bar none strongly agree but the boat you see, it mustn’t be rocked..


So there we are, two countries, one of which makes the other’s policies look ludicrous. However, there’s a third flyer, something we published 3 years ago, that could save Britain’s blushes for now, without waiting for legislation. Both CBA and EH have signalled that its aims correspond with theirs so it’s an open door waiting to be pushed…..


Stop6 .

(Vistaprint will supply 5,000 flyers for about £70 – enough to put one in every public library and police station in England and Wales. If PAS, CBA or EH can’t afford to pay that then we could. Alternatively here’s a version the public could print off and deliver to their local library or police station. Why not? It’s their heritage knowledge that’s not being delivered.) .


PS…… In fact, you could print it off and apply to put it on your Parish Council notice board or sweet shop window. After all, if you don’t, this is the sort of message farmers will get (which appeared just two days ago): “Please let us onto your land….. We will pay the farmer or landowner £10 cash per member on the day of the search (which normally takes place between 8am and sunset) and also give 50% of the value of any item found worth over £500 to the landowner.” . There’s no requirement to show recordable non-Treasure items (99.999% of them) to PAS. History ISN’T something that should be treated like that. As the Irish know.

A telling contrast is on display at this very moment in the tranquil, picturesque Worcestershire village of Wichenford…..

. In the village centre there’s this poster on the Parish Council notice board. It’s all about persuading the 200 residents to do some “gleaning” – that’s gathering left-over produce from the local fields so it can be given to needy people.


Meanwhile, on the outskirts of the village hundreds of people from all over Britain have been persuaded by a foreign detector manufacturer to come and do a spot of self-seeking (and a coin dealer has been invited to set up a stall, naturally) …. .


By any measure, the first activity is selfless and involves no depletion whereas the second is the opposite in both respects. They say the quality of a civilisation can be measured by its relationship with its land. Makes you half proud to be British.


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 ….

enville trees

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.

We picked this up from The Pipeline blog. Here’s what Mr Whittingdale said in the Treasure’s Act debate in 1996. Can we dare hope Britain is moving towards a position closer to the rest of the world by regulating artefact hunting and unbonkering itself?

“…there is a need for a much more wide-ranging measure to cover all portable antiquities.”

“Although I welcome the Bill and the provisions that will clarify and extend existing protection considerably, I believe that there is a need to go still further. The Bill refers only to treasure, and treasure is very strictly defined. It must have at least some gold or silver content, and the Bill will clearly be a major improvement in respect of the protection of such items, but there is a need for a much more wide-ranging measure to cover all portable antiquities.

Some protection already exists in legislation covering ancient sites and monuments, but not all ancient sites and monuments have yet been discovered. By the time we have agreed that something is an ancient site that should be afforded protection, we may be too late and many of the artefacts there may have been lost. I hope that, in due course, we shall re-examine the law in this respect.”

In due course, I hope that we can go further still and re-examine ways in which we can best protect that heritage and learn more about it for our children and grandchildren.”

So has “in due course” been arrived at, nineteen years later? Who knows? One thing CAN be predicted though. Ed Vaizey (who is to stay on as Culture Minister, reporting to Mr Whittingdale as Culture Secretary) is unlikely to be having any more days out like this:

At the launch of the annual Portable Antiquities and Treasure report in May 2011 Ed refused to answer questions (on the future   of the library service, which was looking bleak) and turned to a government press officer and said: “I’m not sure what to do. Can I speak? You are here to protect me from things like this.”  On the other hand he was far less reticent about speaking to artefact hunters: “After the launch, he again refused to discuss his party’s policy on libraries and instead chatted with a treasure hunting “mud larker”, securing a promise of a guided trip to the tidal banks of the Thames with his five-year-old child.” No surprise there though as at the equivalent launch the previous year he boasted that he was proud of “being cover boy for a metal detecting magazine”....
More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

A Culture Secretary who thinks archaeologists are the real heritage heroes? Fingers crossed!

John Whittingdale, the new Culture Secretary. The first one for some time who is crystal clear about the pre-eminent value of archaeologists in archaeological investigations?

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).

It will soon be the CBA’s Festival of Archaeology and it’s time for us to express our annual complaint that metal detecting ain’t archaeology. If anyone wants to argue otherwise we’re ready and waiting. In particular we were unimpressed by this scheduled Festival event:

Charnwood day of archaeology  East Midlands | Leicestershire Sat 25th Jul 2015

A day looking at the archaeology of the Loughborough area, run in conjunction with the Loughborough Coin And Search Society, with newly discovered objects to view and hands on activities including the chance to try your hand with a metal detector.

We aren’t fans of The Loughborough Coin and Search Society and don’t think it is engaged in archaeology. Here’s what we said about it 3 years ago. You decide.

“Beat this, Tescos! Out of the ground and sold to customers the same day! The Loughborough Coin and Search Society’s “Detecting Liaison Officer” (yes!) has just revealed that providing a day’s detecting for his 50 club members will net a farmer £400. Or, a large weekend rally could earn him “up to £8,000″. Not half bad for opening a gate to a field that’s perceived by the customers to be “productive” (or “an unprotected archaeological site” as archaeologists would term it!)

But there’s more to the story than that. The club is merged with a coin collecting club and it lets the artefact hunting members take their finds back to club HQ to finds tables and flog them to the coin collector members. Tidy. Rumours that the operation is overseen by a gent called Fagin are yet to be denied. However, the fact the farmer doesn’t get to see the stuff but is later sent “a brief resumé of what was found” suggests it may not be Mr Brownlow, Oliver’s charming old grandfather.”



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.


May 2015
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