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It’s probably best that the following account of vandalism at the winter solstice should be given a wider airing than to just 14 people at the latest Round Table meeting….
The bit about “it will be too expensive to have analysis done” is striking in view of the fact that each year up to 35,000 summer revellers aren’t charged (say) £10 each which amounts to £350,000 not collected. But be that as it may, since it has recently been revealed that apart from the above winter damage there has been vandalism at the stones during almost every summer solstice gathering over the past decade, would it be unreasonable to ask for something to be done to put a stop to it?
(So far as we know there was no vandalism during the lantern parade gathering so it’s clearly possible).
As National Trust chairman Simon Jenkins once said (in 2008) : “To accuse the Trust of being effete, a little bumbling and slow to embrace change is really to accuse it of being what its public likes it for being. ”
Quite. Slow to embrace change, that’s the ticket, the charm, the thing that keeps the money flowing in from 4 million members. It’s “Forever, for everyone” that hooks them, and until recently the Trust has delivered. As Sir Simon recalled more recently: “When in 2011 the coalition government caved in to developer lobbyists and began to dismantle rural planning” the Trust “pivoted to militant mode.” Their stance has been not far short of heroic. So it was all the more shocking when late last year they did a screeching Top Gear u-turn at our national icon. It was like finding Sir David Attenborough is a Russian spy. Wow!
So the Stonehenge WHS isn’t as well protected as everyone thought. Yes it’s full of scheduled monuments, yes it’s covered by a UNESCO declaration but no, it’s not protected from sudden winds of change – especially if two come along at once (in this case, a perceived electoral advantage corresponding with a key guardian having a temporary brainstorm). So do we need something more robust? I noticed that in America they have something which might fit the bill. Here’s an example -
That land is designated “forever wild” under Article 14 of the New York state constitution so it’s status can only be changed by amending that constitution. Imagine if Stonehenge had been in New York State and covered by a “Forever Sacrosanct” statute? Right now it would be – well, sacrosanct – unless and until lots of complex procedures and votes said otherwise. Trouble is, it’s in Wiltshire and a lapse by it’s key guardian and a fag packet electoral strategy plan has done for it in a jiffy. Sacrosanct, nah. Sacrificed, yes.
Not that Britain is devoid of “robust protection”, we invented it. Just last week the Conservators of Malvern Hills have said no to a cable car as they are forbidden to say yes by at least 5 statutory provisions including the Malvern Hills Acts of 1884, 1924, 1930 and 1995! (So no question up there of “but we’d get votes out of it” and “Oh go on then!”) Not that statutes are the only techniques – the Americans also have things called “forever wild deed restrictions” which owners can impose on their land. Presumably the Trust could place a “Forever Sacrosanct deed restriction” on their land all round Stonehenge. It might not hold the line against a compulsory purchase order but it would at least show they are staunch defenders of what they hold in trust forever, for everyone, not unreliable ones. Incidentally, at Malvern the vote was 21-0 against the proposed development with one abstention. What were the voting figures at the Trust? You don’t know? Why?
Read all about it in The Daily Mail here .
What a relief. Campaigners at Stonehenge are going to have “a key voice”!
The British tend to be very supportive of 3 things: The NHS, the National Trust and Sir David Attenborough and although they get vocal about the faults of the first two. they’d be furious if someone tried to take them away. It wouldn’t be Britain without them. But just lately something’s gone wrong at the Trust.
To their credit, for years they (and their boss) have valiantly fought “conservation creep” (the drift in the official definition of conservation from “safeguarding” to “maintaining and managing change”), as befits a charity that works “to preserve and protect historic places and spaces – for ever, for everyone“. But recently at a notorious and (we thought) uncomfortable live AGM it was announced they wouldn’t be opposing a “short” Stonehenge tunnel (thus ditching “safeguarding special places” in favour of “managing change”). All of them? Or were some of them wishing they were in a tunnel? I don’t know. All I do know is that the Trust wasn’t always like this. Remember their press releases a decade ago, e.g. “National Trust calls for full delivery of Stonehenge vision” (2003) and “Don’t sell Stonehenge short” (2004)?
Given its laudable record you’d think the Trust could be trusted to express the true reality, i.e. that tunnels harm nothing but access roads destroy everything (and the short tunnel requires dual carriageway-sized trenches inside the WHS). In 2002 English Heritage’s chief archaeologist said of a trench proposed for the then cut and cover scheme: “the thought of gouging that massive trench across such a precious landscape just brought tears to my eyes.” The Trust’s leadership should reveal to the public if their trench will make them cry but instead they (and EH) seem to be implying the trenches will bring net benefits and that the damage can somehow be worked round or minimised. But they can’t and it would involve sleight of hand to present a plan that purported to. The archaeological landscape there is just too rich, there’s no room to insert a harmless trench.
It looks as if NT and EH have simply stopped resisting massive harm to the Stonehenge World Heritage Site and the only “harm” they are still trying to avoid is the harm to their own reputations. Hence this headline in November (days before the Government announced the short tunnel and months after they’d told the Government they’d support it!): “We want a longer A303 tunnel at Stonehenge says English Heritage and National Trust“. And these two “wriggles” – one by NT: “We would love a 4.5km tunnel to be announced, to be on the table, but what we did was try to take a proactive, pragmatic approach to what might be acceptable to us” (a “pragmatic approach” which they had never, ever, ever considered acceptable before!) and one by EH: “What this is about is the Government gets the traffic moving but we protect what’s special about Stonehenge and all the other monuments.” (See? EH has managed to do what no parent ever can: choose which child to save and which to let perish!)
They – and Britain – really have no moral right to do this. As Kate Fielden of the Stonehenge Alliance has pointed out: “the fact is, our Government is committed under the World Heritage Convention to protect the whole site, not just parts of it“. Compare that simple statement with what the NT’s Assistant Director of Operations said on BBC Somerset: (no longer available but here’s an accurate transcript) : “We’ve been doing work to see if we can assess different portal locations against, you know, what’s important in that landscape and we think there may be some alternative portal locations that weren’t necessarily considered before…. which would have an overall benefit for the site….. there IS going to be an impact where the tunnel comes out …. but we’ve been trying to find some locations where there’s a sort of net gain if you like for heritage and the landscape”. Got that? They’ve found places to put the trenches they hadn’t thought of before and are saying that if those are used there’ll be an overall benefit for the site!“
Well, ALL portal locations would cause massive damage, there are no magic ones that don’t and anyway they surely don’t have the moral right or mandate to pursue a “net gain” at the expense of destroying part of the site do they? If they think otherwise let them first explain to the world, with absolute precision, how this UNESCO statement on world heritage is wrong: “The deterioration or disappearance of any item of the cultural or natural heritage constitutes a harmful impoverishment of the heritage of all the nations of the world.”
The current bottom line is that the NT is proposing to support bequeathing to future generations a Stonehenge fashioned through the juxtaposition of short-term electoral manoevering and the fact its two guardians have taken their eyes off the ball. “This ancient place will finally have the future it deserves” wrote the Trust’s archaeologist recently. Actually, isn’t it the reality that if those trenches are dug Stonehenge will have the future it doesn’t deserve, forever, for everyone. Is it the role of today’s National Trust to countenance such a thing? Can we please have back the Trust that most Trust supporters (and it’s employees perchance?) would wish for?
Or you might like to contact the Trust by phone, post, email or online and tell them their current stance isn’t in line with your instinct or what their instinct used to be and they should do something both radical and right: think again. The Trust is not a natural Government lapdog so this is one of those rare occasions when public opinion just might change what’s happening.
(National Trust employees are not excluded from this invitation!)
Rescue, the British Archaeological Trust, a body that is neither lapdog nor mouthpiece, has written to all the political parties with some questions that a lapdog or mouthpiece wouldn’t embarrass them with. Good. This one about Stonehenge will elicit some tricky wording no doubt (maybe even some classics of the politicians’ art if we’re lucky):
“Does your party support the short bored tunnel as proposed by the present Government which, if implemented, would contravene Article 4 of the World Heritage Convention? Do you have any objection to investigating the full range of options, including the long bored tunnel as proposed by the Stonehenge Alliance and supported by RESCUE and other heritage organisations?”
Oh dear, so what’s a poor political spokesperson to do?
Say they DO support the short tunnel as it won’t contravene the World Heritage Convention?
No, can’t do that because it does!
Say they DON’T object to investigating other options?
No, can’t do that as two of the parties have already ruled the other options out!
Say they DO object to investigating other options
..and thus go down in history as part of a here-today and gone-tomorrow vote-chasing gang who signed off on damaging a World Heritage Site for electoral advantage?
Well yes, that’ll be it, though not in such brutally honest terms. In fact we can anticipate some sidesteppy or reassuring responses, something like …. “We support the short tunnel providing any adverse impacts can be minimised”. Any bets? That has to be how it’ll be as it involves supporting the short tunnel in a “safe” way and thus gaining loads of votes with no risk of being accused of supporting destruction and no absolute proof that talk of minimising the harm is nonsense. Which it certainly is, for the landscape there is so full of archaeology that the damage caused by gouging a dual carriageway-sized trench through it to create access to the tunnel will be so massive that it will still be massive after it has been minimised! If you hear anyone saying otherwise (and you probably won’t, only subtly implying it) they’ll be politicians. Or lapdogs. Or mouthpieces.
We notice English Heritage has just granted Grade 2 Listing to a former cattery in London and this urinal in Bristol. Fine.
But we can’t help notice a conservation contrast 40 miles east of Bristol where they and the National Trust are promoting the idea of a too-short tunnel which involves digging massive access trenches inside an area termed “the most archaeologically significant land surface in Europe”.
Of course, if votes could be gained by not protecting notable urinals or catteries it’s possible we’d now be looking at a blitz on those instead – but while that would be sad it wouldn’t be an international scandal. Damaging the Stonehenge landscape would be though and unfortunately the gods of sephology have decreed that there are many marginal seats that might be swayed by a Stonehenge tunnel even if it involved trenches inside the Landscape. Especially if experts went on record implying it would improve the WHS overall!
We happen to have been given what might have been the original pre-election strategy document that lays out the plan. It’s very simple, no fancy planning terms, so even we amateurs can understand it. Not sure who wrote it but they seem to have been in politics, and hunting enthusiasts….
Please add your voice to those who think it shouldn’t happen by signing the Petition for those living in Britain or the one for those living abroad. You can also email UNESCO which is the global guardian of World Heritage Sites.
A demonstration by Stonehenge Alliance supporters at yesterday’s winter solstice celebrations expressed what everyone ought to be telling the British Government about the length of the proposed tunnel:
Please spread the message far and wide – especially if you are living abroad. It’s your World Heritage Site too and now the protest has gone global! As well as the petition for those living in Britain there’s now a second one for the rest of the world. Please add your voice to defend one of the world’s most iconic archaeological landscapes.
Opposition to the UK Government’s plan to widen the A303 with a 2.9km tunnel close to the Stones is spearheaded by the Stonehenge Alliance, which is supported by the Ancient Sacred Landscape Network, Campaign for Better Transport, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Friends of the Earth, and RESCUE: The British Archaeological Trust.
(Can one say that about Solstice as well as Christmas? Oh well….)
Scrooge might well get grumpy about English Heritage’s announcement about tomorrow’s event: “The [Winter Solstice at Stonehenge] is traditionally celebrated at the sunrise closest to the time when the sun is stationary”.
Is it? Doesn’t their own latest research indicate Stonehenge was designed to view winter sunsets not sunrises – and from outside the stones not inside?! Yet tomorrow they’ll let thousands into the circle to hoot and holler at the rising sun and won’t let on to them that they think they’re in the wrong place and 16 hours too late!
Shouldn’t EH, not the attendees, specify what the authentic celebration should be? After all, it is they who commissioned the research, it is they who are discomforted by the event and it is they who would save loads of money by not having to stage a massive free shindig inside a world heritage monument in the middle of the night!
UPDATE Mon 22 Dec: Stranger and stranger (x3) ….
From the Western Daily Press this morning:
“Dozens of people turned up to the stones yesterday morning for the sunrise, but were told they had come a day too early” and
“The winter solstice sunrise is the most important moment in the pagan calendar – the moment of rebirth when the days begin to get longer again. It was the moment Stonehenge was aligned for – not the summer solstice sunrise.”
The very long list of archaeological sites within the World Heritage Site that may be damaged or destroyed by the construction of approach roads to the Too-Short tunnel has just been added to:
See also this account in the Saisbury Journal http://m.salisburyjournal.co.uk/news/11677854.Stonehenge_tunnel_could_destroy_key_archaeological_site_say_scientists/
Archaeologist David Jacques said: “Britain is beginning across this time period. Blick Mead connects a time when the country was still joined to the mainland to it becoming the British Isles for the first time” ….. whereas MP for Salisbury John Glen said “The evaluation of the A303 improvements will be meticulously planned and all representations will be evaluated.”
No John, be open and realistic. That’s not exactly what is going to happen is it?!
People are being invited to submit their own messages to be carried on a proposed British mission to the Moon, but we’ve been there and done that 7 years ago, in fact we’ve done rather more.
It was launched at about the time when the first “short tunnel” was to be commenced and people were invited to submit their names to be carried on board so we asked for Handsoff Stonehenge to be included. It was. The vessel has so far travelled 2.9 billion miles. It has spent the past year orbiting asteroid Vesta and has recently set off for dwarf planet Ceres.
So our message of absolute opposition to the short tunnel is written unalterably in the sky – literally – and unlike the National Trust we can’t change it!
If you believe we should do right by the whole Stonehenge World Heritage Site not just part of it and you agree with The Stonehenge Alliance that the short tunnel is too short please sign the petition https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-stonehenge-world-heritage-site