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Sincere congratulations to Historic England, joint winners of the recent Current Archaeology award for Rescue Project of the Year!

They’ve been recording rare Roman graffiti in Gelt Forest, Cumbria. It couldn’t be a more exciting project: the inscriptions were carved by soldiers quarrying stone for Hadrian’s Wall and previously lost ones have now been rediscovered. Nor could it be a more worthy project: the soft sandstone into which they are carved is gradually eroding away and eventually they’ll be lost..

Which prompts the question: how can an organisation which rightly earns great praise for preserving irreplaceable Roman graffiti at the Hadrian’s Wall quarry be supporting the construction of a mile of new dual carriageway across the Stonehenge World Heritage landscape which will needlessly destroy massive quantities of irreplaceable archaeology?


A cabmen’s shelter, just given listed status by Historic England:


The Stonehenge Landscape,

…. about which they have stated:
“Stonehenge is arguably the greatest prehistoric monument in western Europe …. as a World Heritage Site it ranks in significance with such sites as the Acropolis of Athens, the Pyramids of Giza, Great Zimbabwe and Machu Picchu. Stonehenge sits at the heart of a landscape rich in other monuments and remains of the Neolithic period and Bronze Age that are also part of the World Heritage Site.”

Guess which one they support damaging?

Each December, English Heritage (or Historic England as we must now call it – what about Pre-Historic England?) issue their annual Heritage Counts report.  Heritage Counts is an annual audit of England’s heritage, first produced in 2002. It is produced by Historic England on behalf of the Historic Environment Forum.

There are nine regions across the country, but this year only three have decided to issue a regional report. Well done to London, the North East and the South West! This compares to the total of five regions that produced a report last year. One can’t help but wonder if this is due to the ongoing financial constraints placed upon the organisation, and the need to become self-financing. Will there be any regions reporting next year, I wonder?

Everyone’s been on tenterhooks. How will they possibly justify the damage rather than just enthusing about the upside? Well, they seem to have made a start. Historic England have just published Advice Note 2 – Making Changes to Heritage Assets and at first glance it seems to absolutely preclude a short tunnel (a small minority of landscapes will be so sensitive that the degree of alteration or addition without loss of significance may be very limited, particularly where there is a consistently high level of archaeological interest or architectural consistency”.)

But then comes the escape clause: Works other than those of a minor nature are likely to be acceptable only where they would be in the best long-term interests of the conservation of the remains or there are other important planning justifications.” It says, doesn’t it, that if the Government wants it badly enough then that’s “an important planning justification” so it’s agents (and the hapless National Trust) will support it.

We should have all known. Doing something tantamount to driving a motorway through the Valley of the Kings could only be carried off by dint of a preposterous new rule – an 11th conservation commandment which decrees that you needn’t be bound by the other ten – and that’s exactly what Historic England appears to have done. One hopes UNESCO and ICOMOS have noticed that the carving of the Stonehenge landscape, if it happens, will be a carve up.



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.

by Dr Sandy Gerrard

Some might see it as fitting that the Nine Maidens stone alignment in Cornwall, which may have originally been linked to the stone alignment at Bancbryn in Wales, is being considered for a wind farm development. Almost everyone with an interest in heritage might have expected that Historic England (formerly English Heritage) would have opposed such a development, but they would have been very wrong.  Historic England have instead, according to the Cornish Guardian, written to the planning authority “recommending that the planning application should be approved”. The reason for this unbelievably stupid decision is that they believe that the successful applicants could be asked to carry out “major works of conservation, access, presentation and management to the Nine Maidens stone row that would not only see it removed from the Heritage at Risk Register but would make this enigmatic monument once more easily accessible and in a setting that would allow a better appreciation of the monument”.

So there we have it – Historic England consider that wind farms enhance the setting of ancient monuments.  This is not what they were saying a couple of years ago but now in a change of heart they are happy for the setting of nationally important ancient monuments to be trashed providing the developer contributes to the care of the very monuments that are being trashed. Complete madness on all levels and a very dangerous precedent. Any developer can now rely on Historic England’s blessing to mutilate the historic environment providing they are happy to stump up a few quid to pay for nearby conservation works. Where will this end?

Perhaps in the future we shall see a wind turbine next to every scheduled monument with a percentage of the profits being used to care for it. Certainly this action will make it much more likely for wind farm developers to see heritage not as an obstacle, but rather as a magnet. This I would suggest is a bad thing and once housing developers get to hear that Historic England will support the destruction of the historic environment in return for a promise to care for what remains, it will be open season on our heritage.


The Nine Maidens stone alignment in Cornwall might thanks to the stupidity of Historic England soon share another characteristic with the Bancbryn alignment


October 2021

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