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Here are a couple of before and after images of Boslow Inscribed Stone, St Just, Cornwall.

Image © C. Weatherhill

Boslow Stone previously.    [Image © C. Weatherhill]

Image © C. Weatherhill

Boslow Stone currently   [Image © C. Weatherhill]

Fortunately the Boslow site is being monitored by CASPN (Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network) in conjunction with Cornwall Council’s Historic Environment Service Officer who has already spoken to the farmer.

However, there are many thousands of ancient sites elsewhere which don’t have protection networks and are far more vulnerable. Budgetary constraints can mean  that unless they are alerted to a problem Historic England inspectors may not be able to visit more than once in several years, if at all. (The parlous financial reality surrounding all heritage guardianship is something which those who complain about having to pay to go to Stonehenge should perhaps take on board!)

So it’s pretty clear that conservation is often in the hands of the general public who are in a position to alert official guardians to problems as soon as they arise.

by Jimit

Further to my previous report 3 months ago I have just been back to West Kennet Long Barrow and my previous fears are beginning to be realised…..

wklb2

The stupid ‘Portholes’ are completely mudded over and a torch is now essential. The top is still fenced off so the new steps cannot be used so people are now eroding a new path to the top. The grass on the concrete is showing signs of stunted growth and browning already. Goodness knows what it will be like at the end of the summer.

Rant over….for now…

English Heritage (EH) have recently made a big splash in the media on the release of their latest ‘Heritage at Risk‘ register, which lists heritage assets deemed to be in danger from deterioration, damage, development or other threats.

When I contacted EH some years ago to enquire, I was told that the vast majority of Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAMs) in England are lucky if they are officially inspected once a decade. Some are never visited officially, and many can go 20 years or more without any official inspection. Frequently the responsible body will rely upon reports from landowners, the public or police regarding any damage that occurs to a site. The response given to a Freedom of Information request to EH earlier this year shows that what I was told nearly a decade ago still holds true today (check some of the ‘Last Visited Dates in any random spreadsheet in the reply).

But now we’d like to change all that, with your help.

HelpWantedSign

We know that many of our readers visit SAMs and other heritage sites on a regular basis, be it a local site that they’re familiar with, or a site that has been selected as the target of a day trip, or holiday visit to an unfamiliar area. All we ask is that when on such visits, you keep your eyes open for any evidence of Heritage Crime. What is heritage crime? Quite simply, as stated on the EH web page on the subject, it is “any offence which harms the value of England’s heritage assets and their settings to this and future generations”.

So how can you help? Firstly by taking note of any evidence. Pictures are always helpful. If you actually witness a crime being committed, the EH web page on reporting crime suggests phoning 999, but we’d say only do this if you will not be endangering your own personal safety by doing so. The first port of call for any crime will be the police, whether via 999 if a crime is in progress, or 101 if not (see the previous EH link above). If this all sounds familiar, we’ve previously highlighted these steps, here on the Journal.

But in addition, the relevant authority should also be informed, whether that be English Heritage or the National Trust in England, Cadw in Wales or Historic Scotland north of the border – see the contact links below.

It might also be worth recording your visit and any actions taken on one of the hobbyist web sites so that others can see what has already been reported – the Megalithic Portal has a useful Visit Log facility for registered users in addition to its site comments facility.

With your help, the integrity of many of these forgotten and threatened sites can hopefully be maintained, and any damage brought to the attention of the relevant people.

Useful Contact Links:

It’s a bit like the farmer with the fox, the hen and the bag of grain. Which are safe together? Conservation is sometimes about choices ….. rabbits do massive damage to bronze age barrows and Iron Age  hill forts, trees have often meant they have survived, but often the reverse…

Recently though, English Heritage has had to make an unusual choice: the removal of a beautiful stand of trees to protect a rabbit warren. The beech trees, on Cothelstone Hill in the Quantocks are to be felled over a four-year period due to concerns their roots could start to damage an underground  medieval rabbit warren. A spokesman for English Heritage said they were working with the Quantock Hills AONB Service to manage the land, adding: “We agreed that the needs of this scheduled monument, which is at high risk, take precedence over the beautiful but relatively young trees.”

A local walker disagrees, saying he is “gobsmacked” and that it would leave the skyline bare for the next 20 years. He said: “I understand we need to preserve archaeological heritage but we should be thinking about protecting the areas millions of people recognise.”  EH and the AONB Service feel differently and say they intend to replace the trees. To add a final complication EH mention that “Unfortunately damage is already being caused due to erosion of the surface layers of the scheduled monument due to the herd of Exmoor ponies, which use the location for shelter.”

So should the ponies be shot?! ** Or the beautiful trees be cut down? Or the present-day rabbits be culled? Or should the fort and the warren be left to further deteriorate?

.

** No.

Exactly a year ago today we published this plea made by Heritage Action Founder Member Jamie Stone on a forum. We think it’s worth repeating – every year if necessary. How about saying something similar on your front page English Heritage?

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a digger destroying a stone row, a quarrying company destroying unique evidence of temporary camps around a henge, modern poems placed over a prehistoric landscape, a farmer allowing livestock to slowly destroy cairns or ploughing flat a round barrow, thousands of people stealing our heritage knowledge in the name of a hobby every weekend, landowners driving 4x4s across chambered tombs, tenant farmers flattening henges, 1000s of people denuding Avebury’s banks by not keeping to paths, unused roads being built over unique archaeology, 100s of people leaving tealights and garbage in barrows or one solitary person clambering to the top of a dolmen.

IT’S WRONG.

Don’t tell me it causes no damage. It doesn’t matter that in the greater scheme of things it’s practically irrelevant, because as the people that actually give a damn we should be setting the highest possible standard when we visit a site. We must do that because frankly, most people don’t know, they simply don’t realise.”

by Sandy Gerrard

It was reported earlier this year in the Heritage Journal that a ban on the use of asulam could have a serious impact on the control of destructive bracken on enormous numbers of archaeological sites. The Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD) has recently announced that the application for an Emergency Authorisation has been approved.  This is good news and means that the chemical control of bracken will be possible in 2013.

The authorisation will allow restricted use of asulam (in Asulox) in the UK, during 2013, although the long-term aim is for asulam to be approved in the EU. However, additional data must be collected to support the application and it will not be until 2016, at the earliest, that approval may take place. In the meantime it should be emphasised that the Emergency Authorisation period is for a period of 120-days, from 20 May 2013. Full details of a press release issued by the Bracken Control Group can be found here.

This is an important issue for the management of upland archaeology in particular and a long term solution needs to be reached.

One of the lucky ones: Boscaswen Un stone circle, partly overwhelmed by bracken years ago but (now liberated thanks to painstaking clearance work by CASPN).

One of the lucky ones: Boscaswen Un stone circle years ago, mostly overwhelmed by bracken (now liberated thanks to painstaking clearance work by Cornwall Ancient Sites Protection Network).

by Sandy Gerrard

From 1st January 2013 it became illegal to possess, store or use Asulam products. So what? How will this affect our heritage? Asulam is the main weapon used to control bracken.  This is important because bracken rhizomes destroy archaeology and the plant itself smothers and conceals many incredibly important archaeological sites of all periods.

The Bracken Control Group set up and co-ordinated by The Heather Trust are working very hard with partners to get Emergency Authorisation to use Asulam in 2013. If unsuccessful the large-scale control of bracken on archaeological sites will cease and inevitably important deposits and remains will be damaged at the same time as our heritage disappears under a thick blanket of bracken plants.

Some people may welcome this development and see the inevitable “return to nature” as a good thing, especially as another obnoxious chemical will have been removed from the environment. The issues involved are complicated and if you would like to find out more please have a look at the Bracken Control Website  before making up your mind.

I have seen for myself the impact that bracken rhizomes have on archaeology and how many times has your enjoyment of a site been spoilt by the presence of bracken?

Only a single orthostat within this Bronze Age house can be seen

Only a single orthostat within this Bronze Age house can be seen
Bracken rhizomes adjacent to a Bronze Age wall

Bracken rhizomes adjacent to a Bronze Age wall

We’ve featured the London Stone a couple  of times previously, but it seems you can’t keep a good stone down! Let’s face it, anything that can withstand the constant building and rebuilding that goes on in the City of London for as long as it has, has to be admired and celebrated.

This time, it’s the turn of the Londonist web site to bring our attention once more to the plight of this remarkable symbol of London’s endurance. Whilst the article doesn’t bring much new to the debate, it does highlight just exactly what a mess the whole planning process is in.

As regular readers will guess when it comes to taking sides, our stance is that the stone has moved in the past, but enough is enough. It should remain part of the infrastructure of the City where it currently is, and not be exhibited and gawped at like one of Britain’s Secret Treasures in a museum display.

While there is precedent for moving the relic, critics say Minerva’s plans would remove the Stone from the fabric of the City streets and make it little more than a lobby decoration. “Minerva’s grand design finally removes London Stone from the built environment,” blogger Diamond Geezer wrote when the plan was announced. “It’ll become a showcased exhibit — an ancient relic in a glass cage — rather than part of the everyday fabric of the city.”

English Heritage are inclined to agree. “We would question the concept of displaying the Stone at a new location and in a raised position within a modern glass case,” EH told us. “In our view, this would harm the significance of the Grade II* listed object, and there are no public benefits to the proposal that outweigh this harm.”

“Our preference would be for the setting and presentation of the Stone to be enhanced once the current building at No. 111 Cannon Street is redeveloped. At present, we are not convinced of the justification to remove the Stone to its proposed position in the Walbrook Building.”

Many of our ancient sites are in plain view close to roads, others lie hidden in the depths of the countryside and require significant effort to visit. Those that are easy to reach often suffer from wear and tear. The erosion on the banks at Avebury come to mind, as do measures to prevent erosion such as the less than seemly fences and path at Stonehenge – which are a constant reminder of the cleft stick the authorities are in when sites get too popular. Should they be disfigured by footfall or disfigured by measures to prevent them being disfigured?

Some years ago, when working on a voluntary basis for the Pagan Federation I had an idea for a small booklet that could be used to raise some funds. The booklet was to be a collaborative effort called ‘A Guide to Ancient Sacred Sites’ and was to take the form of a gazetteer. The Pagan Federation is formed into Districts and Regions, and I contacted various people around the Districts to get some information about the sites in their areas.

To my astonishment, although many thought it was a good idea – several said it would be a good help to Pagans on their travels – most did not want their own local sites included, and said they could not support the project if such-and-such a site were listed. They were largely happy for the sites already overrun by tourists to be included, but not the ones they considered ‘special’. This was against my concept of the project, which thus never got off the ground, and the booklet outline lies unused, hidden in the depths of my hard drive backups.

Now leaving aside the lay view that our ancient heritage sites cannot be considered ‘sacred’ as in many cases we have no definitive proof of how they were used, the question arises of how much should the sites be advertised to the general public?

There is no doubt that one of our chief remits here at Heritage Action is to bring ancient sites to the attention of the public so that an awareness of our past heritage can enrich our lives. But there is a delicate balance for many sites between neglect and over-use. For instance, I was surprised to note on a recent visit to Boscawen-Un that tramlines are starting to appear around the circle, from the number of visitors permabulating both inside and outside the circle. I have noticed a similar problem at the nearby Merry Maidens. Many years ago, when I first visited Boscaswen Un circle, the stones were barely visible above the gorse:

Largely thanks to the ground clearance efforts of CASPN the picture is much different now, the circle is festooned with bluebells in the summer, but note the ‘tracking’ in the grass which is starting to appear:

I visit this circle several times a year, and it is now rare that I have the place to myself unless the weather is inclement – a major factor being that a signpost is now visible on the nearby A30, and paths have been cleared through the gorse and bracken to the north, making access that much easier.

Is this a good thing? In some ways yes, in that many more people can enjoy the genus loci of this wonderful circle, but the impending issue of erosion is a worrying one. The tenet “take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints” is becoming a potentially damaging one, and maybe it’s time to come up with something new? “Visit, but leave as few footprints as possible“? Or do we just stop telling people that such places exist?

…but then society would be the loser, as a knowledge of our past affects us all in more ways than we can imagine – but that’s a topic for a future post.

The Malverns from The Cotswolds
(C) Heritage Action

A reminder that the controversy surrounding tree-felling work on the Iron Age fort at Midsummer Hill, Malvern remains unresolved. Two very different views have come to our attention.

One of our readers Mike Harwood has left a comment on the Heritage Journal saying

“Having just returned from a visit to Midsummer Hill I have to voice my horror, shock and grief as to what has been done there. This is vandalism of the worst kind. What has been a place of inspiration and beauty all my life is now a site of ugliness. A curse on those who orchestrated the tree slaying. No more please. Leave it be. Stop the felling immediately.”

On the other hand, in this recent press report Iain Carter, National Trust’s countryside manager for Herefordshire is quoted as saying:

“I have to say it looks fantastic. The ramparts are now clearly visible and all of a sudden you can understand the shape of the hillfort.”

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