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Alcohol is to be prohibited at Stonehenge solstice celebrations!

No-one can deny it contributes to the all-too-frequent damage and disrespect so this is an excellent, heritage-friendly move.

national celebrations - Copy (2)

We ask only one thing of EH:  please don’t negotiate or compromise by even a thimbleful. A duty to protect is a duty to protect and shouldn’t be subject to negotiation or requests to act otherwise by anyone.

From a correspondent

Whilst the particulars of the short tunnel route being prepared by Highways England remain undisclosed, a radical proposal for a combined bypass for Stonehenge and Salisbury has caused a stir. There is no lack of opinion, despite the lack of detail on exact routes for both proposals.

The scenario could be compared to two much loved relatives that urgently require heart surgery under the NHS. It is proposed, on grounds of cost, that only one relative should be treated and have a stent fitted instead of the heart bypass actually needed, the budget being in place to cover the operation and a team of surgical specialists appointed to investigate how it could be carried out. Then a friend points to a way in which both patients could benefit from a bypass operation, highlighting that the already assigned budget would easily cover the cost and both would be returned to the health and activities they enjoyed thirty years ago. In short, the clock could be turned back, benefitting the lives of not just the patients, but also their wider circle of family and friends plus casual visitors and even future generations.

The scenario could be compared to two much loved relatives that urgently require heart surgery under the NHS. It is proposed, on grounds of cost, that only one relative should be treated and have a stent fitted instead of the heart bypass actually needed, the budget being in place to cover the operation and a team of surgical specialists appointed to investigate how it could be carried out. Then a friend points to a way in which both patients could benefit from a bypass operation, highlighting that the already assigned budget would easily cover the cost and both would be returned to the health and activities they enjoyed thirty years ago. In short, the clock could be turned back, benefitting the lives of not just the patients, but also their wider circle of family and friends plus casual visitors and even future generations.

Imagine that at this point the neighbours of each of the sick relatives, along with the local M.P, take sides as to which operation should be performed on whom. Were this situation being played out in a reality TV show, media and wider public interest would be giving rise to questions. Why have the relevant authorities and now two charities issued a joint promotional film pushing for a particular operation that would not be the best outcome for a patient in their care? Why are all so focused on an operation for just one of the patients when both could benefit from a common operation? Why are stances being adopted that aren’t in the best interests of all of those in need?

The apparent wish list for tackling traffic congestion either side of Stonehenge appears to include the following: road safety and improved traffic flow, faster journey times between London and the West Country, reduction of rat-running, and the financial cost and effect on the local, regional and national economies and, last of all and not first as it ought to be, impact on the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. What isn’t on this list at all is eradicating the current free view of the stones to enhance the milking of the English Heritage Trust’s cash cow, removing a strip of tarmac from National Trust land in invitation to establish their own visitor centre, saving the local M.P. from a fall-out with his party’s whips or giving David Cameron a send-off without a U-turn.

Whether the combined Stonehenge/Salisbury bypass operation is adopted as a sound idea or not, far into the future it will enter the history books as marking the point at which important questions arose. Will the answer to those questions ultimately be that this present generation were largely only interested in themselves?

We have been invited by Doug Rocks-McQueen to once again participate in the Archaeology Blogging Carnival. This year’s theme is ‘Archaelogy’s Greatest Challenges’, and so we herewith humbly submit our own contribution:

It’s no secret that in 2016 and beyond the short tunnel debate will become progressively more passionate and complex. However, there’s a fundamental truth looming over it that hasn’t been fully debated but which will have to be properly addressed. It’s that under Article 4 of the World Heritage Convention Britain has committed itself to the protection and conservation of the whole Stonehenge World Heritage Site.  “Protection” is the action of protecting, or the state of being protected and its antonyms are harm and destruction. “Conservation” is the act of preserving, guarding or protecting and it has exactly the same antonyms, harm and destruction.

You will have heard (from EH, NT et al) lots of talk about a “once in a generation chance” and enhancing, improving and restoring, and about minimising new damage and delivering a better situation for traffic, pedestrians and skylarks. But there’s a fundamental unvoiced problem. None of those aspirations, whether they’re beneficial or not, is protection or conservation and it’s an undeniable fact that no matter how or where a short tunnel is designed or positioned it WOULD involve substantial harm and destruction, which are the antonyms of protection and conservation.

Hence, it’s surely the case that if we wish to abide by the Convention we simply can’t build a short tunnel (or indeed construct surface dual carriageways). On the other hand, if we are determined to go ahead we’ll have to ditch the Convention. Or flout it. Or use fancy words to lie about what we thought it meant when we signed it. Anyone who has followed what EH and The Trust have been saying will know that process has started, with frankly partial and selective accounts being employed to win the public over.

It would be great if 2016 saw a rising tide of archaeologists, lawyers and others saying hang on a moment, have you actually read what the Convention says? The Stonehenge Alliance has already done so and the CBA and others – notably ICOMOS UK, have indicated that they are very troubled about how building a short tunnel can be reconciled with our Convention commitments. It’s likely they will need a lot more than lyrical words and videos to convince them a short tunnel is supportable.

It would be easy to justify building a short tunnel if the Convention was ambiguous. But it’s all too clear, so we anticipate that some desperate tactics and interpretations will be put forward. A compliant Attorney General and a dodgy dossier are not unknown in our recent history, so who knows? Something reminiscent of a dodgy dossier at least, seems already to exist – the scary and false claim that if a short tunnel can’t be had a surface dual carriageway may be imposed. Fortunately the Stonehenge Alliance has utterly discredited that, rather forensically!

Nevertheless the short tunnel agenda has many powerful supporters and we can anticipate all sorts of claims. In particular, look out for a re-working of the Vietnam war quotation, “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it”. We are confident a version of that will be voiced: “It was necessary to cause damage to the World Heritage Site in order to unify and enhance it.” Unfortunately for the short tunnel supporters the Convention doesn’t offer the option to interpret its provisions creatively merely because to do so would be financially convenient. No matter how it is dressed up a short tunnel would break the solemn promise we’ve made to the world.

Please don't let them tell the World it's not.

Please don’t let them tell the World it’s not.

A design consultant has just been appointed to develop “a preferred option” at Stonehenge. That sounds innocuous but it’s the opposite. Their remit is limited to examining which short tunnel would be best not which option would cause no damage (and who in their right mind wouldn’t say that was preferable?)

So it’s beyond dispute that to establish the term “preferred option” in respect of a limited number of options all of which will be massively damaging, is to mislead the public, to put it politely. It cannot be “preferable” to flout the World Heritage Convention, especially with the aid of cheap linguistic tricks worthy of a banana republic.

It is to be hoped that this attempt to manipulate the debate so as to confine discussions to unacceptable options not options that are best for the World Heritage Site will be seen for what it is. In particular, let ICOMOS UK and UNESCO stand fast in support of the Convention and the whole WHS and let the public understand that although they will hear the phrase “the preferred option” many thousands of times in the coming years it’s literal meaning is “the preferred unacceptable option”.

stonehenge mince

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There are signs that the solstice at Stonehenge is increasingly being celebrated in the way the evidence suggests is “authentic”. See this….

Amesbury Museum and Heritage Trust
At 6pm on 21st December Amesbury will be holding its 5th Annual Solstice Eve lantern procession from the Melor hall, to the Abbey for mulled wine & mince pies and then to the Mesolithic Spring, where the public will find the Solstice lantern lit by the dying embers of light at Stonehenge a little earlier in the afternoon. Do please join in this amazing experience and take part in a 5000 year old tradition.

and this …..

Stonehenge Solstice Sunset Tour
Stonehenge is carefully aligned on a sight-line that points to the winter solstice sunset. It is thought that the Winter Solstice was actually more important to the people who constructed Stonehenge than the Summer Solstice and exciting recent archaeological revelations prove this theory….. We will be there for sunset! Witness the sun setting at Stonehenge from the ceremonial Avenue….. A unique opportunity and a truly magical experience!”

What’s not to like? Right day, right time, right place instead of wrong day, wrong time, wrong place! Shouldn’t English Heritage be encouraging those thousands who claim a traditional “right” to do it all wrong to start doing it right? After all, apart from watching the wrong phenomenon at the wrong time they’re doing so from the wrong place so the effect intended by the builders is completely lost to them and they are doing it in such numbers that both damage and disrespect (and a lot of expense) have resulted previously. It’s a funny way to show they care for the monument. They really don’t have a leg to stand on.

Eight years ago ( on Thursday 6th December 2007) the plan to create extensive new damage to the Stonehenge landscape was finally abandoned. The Journal carried this statement:

“We are delighted to join with many other concerned bodies such as the National Trust and the Stonehenge Alliance in welcoming the government’s announcement…… We can do no better than to quote from the statement by “Save Stonehenge”: “It’s an absolute scandal that English Heritage has actively campaigned to bulldoze a dual carriageway through the Stonehenge World Heritage Site for almost a decade. With the Highways Agency, it has squandered millions of pounds of public money designing a wholly inappropriate road scheme that would have wrecked this iconic landscape forever. It’s good riddance to the road, but serious questions now have to be asked about why English Heritage was trying to destroy a sizeable chunk of England’s heritage.”

How times change! The “absolute scandal” is back, with English Heritage once again actively campaigning to bulldoze a dual carriageway through the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. Not a complete surprise perhaps as there seems to be a problem with its corporate DNA (ask the people of Oswestry!) but this time, unlike the first time when they were vehemently opposed, the National Trust is actively campaigning for the creation of massive new damage too! Anyone who knows why they’ve done such an astonishing U-turn, please say. The Trust hasn’t said and it’s possible no-one now in the organisation knows the answer and they might be grateful for an explanation. We hear some of them are very unhappy and embarrassed!

We wonder if the National Trust is feeling nervous about its inconsistent approach to protection of World Heritage Sites. It is striking that a member’s question asked in advance, about the National Trust’s stance on the 2.9 km tunnel at Stonehenge, resulted in no reply at the Trust’s AGM on 7 November:

“In view of its firm objection to the temporary visual impact (for 25 years) of the proposed Navitus Bay Wind Park on the setting of the Dorset and East Devon Coast World Heritage Site, is the Trust now prepared to reconsider its position on proposals for widening the A303 within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site and actively demand a road solution that would not cause permanent major physical damage to the archaeological landscape of the World Heritage Site and its setting?”

The questioner pointed out that the Trust had said in its objection to the wind park:
“We are deeply concerned about the visual impact on the setting of UNESCO designated World Heritage Jurassic coast”.

The reply from the Trust (sent later by email) was as follows:
“Proposals to develop within or near World Heritage Sites always require careful consideration. We continue to support the principle of a tunnel of at least 2.9km under the Stonehenge Landscape. We believe that a well-designed and carefully located tunnel of that length could provide a significant overall benefit to the World Heritage Site landscape.

In respect of Navitus Bay there was no pre-existing harm to the setting of the World Heritage Site. We opposed the development because it was the wrong scale in the wrong place and was only resulting in harm which the developer had failed to mitigate.”

So it’s OK to object to temporarily harming the setting of one World Heritage Site while actively promoting permanent harm to the setting and fabric of another?

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NT 2 faces

From a correspondent …

not holding water

From a personal blog post, ‘Tunnel truths’, we learn of Council for British Archaeology (CBA) trustees being guided by National Trust and Historic England representatives on a tunnel tour of the Stonehenge landscape. The National Trust’s Archaeologist for Stonehenge and Avebury reblogged this post and @HistoricEngland and @EH_Stonehenge retweeted it, as did someone from English Heritage PR. This influentially placed support appears to be endorsing the impressions recorded in that blog, giving rise to concerns about what the CBA made of it all, because the case as presented doesn’t hold water.

  • It is claimed a tunnel had been accepted in principle a decade ago: but not quite by the CBA or National Trust it hadn’t, as a 2006 press release made clear.
  • It is asserted that ‘Outstanding Universal Value’ is something new, but it is fundamental to the 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention.
  • An attempt is also made to dismiss as ‘premature’, concerns about threats to the archaeology at Blick Mead. There are, however, genuine fears for vulnerable spring-associated organic remains and the prehistoric land surface which is rare in apparently being well preserved.  The extent of the site is unknown and could conceivably run beneath the A303 carriageway. It is therefore not unreasonable to express concerns when adverse impacts could result from a graded junction at Countess Roundabout and tunnel entrances at King Barrow Ridge that might require piling for an elevated road section nearby. Surface water disposal and temporary and permanent effects of tunnelling might also have dramatic effects on the water table, again affecting the site and its archaeology.
  • Let us not overlook that the importance of Blick Mead is only now being recognised, powerfully demonstrating how little is known about this World Heritage Site (WHS) whose caretakers are advocating potentially devastating portals and infrastructure.
  • No mention is made of a radical initiative to divert the A303 route to mop up Salisbury’s traffic problems as well. It apparently wouldn’t add significant mileage and would be far cheaper than any tunnel. This idea may come to nothing, or it could prove a game changer, but for the sake of the WHS it deserves to be given every possible chance.
  • New damage to the WHS being unacceptable should be the adopted line. The tunnels favoured in ‘Tunnel truths’ would appear to cut through the course of the Avenue to the East and, to the West, leave twin portals and a new dual carriageway not far from the Wilsford Shaft and adversely impacting on a remarkable cluster of Neolithic long barrows. Fortunately ICOMOS-UK has set out its stall ‘…we are concerned that associated portals and dual carriageways could have a highly adverse impact on other parts of the World Heritage landscape that cannot be set aside, however great the benefits of a tunnel.’

One usually protects and cares for in its entirety whatever is loved and considered truly precious: family, home, paintings, books, even landscapes. Caring for the Stonehenge WHS simply doesn’t equate with support for a tunnel proposal that would destroy large areas of protected landscape for road engineering, whose purpose may be short-lived in the timescale over which Stonehenge is valued.

Culture Minister, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, recently told Parliament: “We are committed to working with UNESCO and its advisory bodies to ensure that the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage Site is taken into consideration in any forthcoming road scheme”

In addition, archaeologists have discovered a significant site at Blick Mead which they fear will be damaged if construction work raises the water table but in a joint statement, Historic England, English Heritage and the National Trust said: “We are confident that its importance will be taken into consideration as the various options for the Government’s road scheme are developed.”

Coincidence? Or use of the same hymn sheet? Who knows? What is known is that building a “short” tunnel will involve removing millions of cubic feet from the surface layers of a specific piece of archaeologically significant acreage about which Britain has solemnly promised the rest of the world “protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generations”. Consequently, contemplating a plan to cause it massive new damage was always going to necessitate resorting to Orwellian “newspeak”, a language designed for just such tricky occasions. In particular it requires what Orwell termed blackwhite – “a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary.” (The National Trust, in particular springs to mind).

If anyone can show that “taken into consideration” doesn’t mean “damaged or destroyed in contravention of our promises to the world” let them promptly do so, using nothing but plain English, in their next press release.

This week UNESCO and ICOMOS International will be at Stonehenge seeking opinions on the tunnel from “stakeholders” (who was invited? How were they selected?). Let’s hope everyone sings from the same hymn sheet, the one that says a short tunnel is unacceptable. In particular, let’s hope they express the following crucial points from an excellent article that has just appeared in “The Pipeline” ….

When asked about the Government’s commitment to Stonehenge as a UNESCO World Heritage Site Culture Minister, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, told Parliament: “This Government will continue to honour its obligations under article 4 of the World Heritage Convention regarding the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. We are committed to working with UNESCO and its advisory bodies to ensure that the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage Site is taken into consideration in any forthcoming road scheme. We will be closely monitoring the development of any such scheme as it progresses.”

This answer, and particularly the phrase “taken into consideration”, was seen by critics as equivocal at best and in a further written response, which the Stonehenge Alliance found highly disturbing, Lord Ahmad also revealed that Highways England’s preliminary  planning for the tunnel scheme had not included any consultation with the UK branch of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS-UK).  Critics would suggest that this is because they know precisely what answer they would get about anything other than the long tunnel option, and did not want to have such a response reported to Parliament, released under a Freedom of Information Act request or cited in a potential judicial review of any go ahead for a tunnel.  That particular Whitehall ruse has failed because in November 2014 ICAMOS-UK  stated in a letter seen by the BBC; “We appreciate the very real need to address the issue of the A303 and recognise that a tunnel could have beneficial impacts on parts of the World Heritage property,” adding in a crucial caveat; “However, we are concerned that associated portals and dual carriageways could have a highly adverse impact on other parts of the World Heritage landscape that cannot be set aside, however great the benefits of a tunnel.”

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