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Dear Heritage Journal,

I’ve just seen on BBC iplayer a very interesting programme about the Oseberg Viking Burial Ship. This is one of Norway’s most prized archaeological finds due to the extraordinarily well-preserved 1,200-year-old artefacts. Amazingly around 90% of the original longship has been preserved for display, complete with most of the ornately detailed carvings on the boat. All of this preservation is because the site remained permanently damp for 1,200 years and so a lot could be preserved, carbon-dated, and accurately interpreted.

The reason I am saying this is because in Britain we have a hugely important and rich archaeological site which has remained continuously damp for over 10,000 years. That site is called Blick Mead and it is just beginning to reveal how hunter-gatherers evolved to become the culture of people who built the wider Stonehenge World Heritage Site.

Despite its importance, the British Government, English Heritage, and National Trust think it’s acceptable to bore a massive tunnel with a four-lane dual carriageway and a flyover very close to it. Even though it is a scientific fact that this will eventually dry out Blick Mead and seriously damage it – forever!

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More money is needed in the fight against the Stonehenge short tunnel scheme which hands a near-monopoly over even seeing Stonehenge to a quango. If you possibly can, please contribute to the fight opposing it here. ___________________________________________________________

Following last week’s news that a date has been set for the High Court challenge against the decision to go ahead with the tunnel at Stonehenge, SSWHS issued a further press release as follows:

Dear supporter,

Success at the first hurdle! On Wednesday (24th Feb) we learnt that our challenge to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ shocking decision to go ahead with the A303 Stonehenge scheme would be heard in the High Court on 23 – 25 June.

Apart from the Department for Transport defending our challenge, Highways England and Historic England will also be taking part as interested parties.

We’re contesting the decision on the following grounds:

* Harm to each heritage asset within the project should have been weighed in the balance, instead of considering the “historic environment” as a whole.

* None of the advice provided by Historic England provided the evidential basis for the Secretary of State’s conclusion of “less than substantial harm” to any of the assets impacted by the project.

* He allowed purported “heritage benefits” to be weighed against heritage harm, before deciding whether that overall harm was “substantial” or “less than substantial”, which was unlawful under the National Policy Statement

* He failed to take into account that development consent would breach the World Heritage Convention

* He left out of account mandatory material considerations: the breach of various local policies; the impact of his finding of heritage harm which undermined the business case for the proposal and the existence of at least one alternative

Thanks to your generosity we reached our initial target of £50,000 very quickly and this enabled us to go forward with the necessary preparation work for the judicial review. However, due to the complicated nature of the case and the amount of work needed for a three-day hearing, we are having to raise our target to £80,000. We hope you understand and feel able to continue to support us. Legal action is expensive and although our lawyers are working for us at a heavily discounted rate, costs mount up. We also have to bear in mind that any decision could be appealed which we would potentially have to fundraise for as well.

Nevertheless, we are firmly committed to the fight to save Stonehenge World Heritage Site from irreparable damage and with your help we have successfully negotiated the first hurdle. Now we need to prepare for the hearing.

Thanks for your support so far, we cannot do this without you.

With best wishes,

John, Mike, Chris and Kate

Donations are still being accepted on the SSWHS CrowdJustice page. Please donate if you are able, every penny helps.

Save Stonehenge WHS Ltd. (SSWHS – a company established by individual Stonehenge Alliance supporters to take forward the legal action) heard this week that a three-day High Court hearing will take place from 23rd to 25th June. SSWHS is challenging Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ decision to go ahead with the highly damaging A303 dual carriageway through the World Heritage Site (WHS). His decision was taken against the advice of a panel of five senior Planning Inspectors (the Examining Authority) who formally examined the scheme in 2019.

The Inspectors considered that the scheme’s benefits “would not outweigh the harm arising from the excavation of a deep, wide cutting and other engineering works, within the WHS and its setting, of a scale and nature not previously experienced historically in this ‘landscape without parallel’”. UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, who gave the WHS its international designation in 1986, has also condemned the road scheme.

The complexity of the case has obliged SSWHS to raise its funding target for the legal challenge, including the three-day hearing.

Kate Fielden, Hon Secretary the Stonehenge Alliance and SSWHS, said:

“Having a date for the court hearing gives us something to aim for in preparing for our challenge to Grant Shapps’ outrageous decision. We urge our supporters to help us to continue the fight to save our famous World Heritage Site from this appalling scheme. There can be no more iconic symbol of the global heritage of mankind than Stonehenge and we have a duty to safeguard it for future generations.”

The Stonehenge Alliance supporter-organisations are: Ancient Sacred Landscape Network; CPRE; FoE; Rescue, the British Archaeological Trust; and Transport Action Network.

Highways England’s misleading use of words become ever more Trumpian. “You’ll not be seeing bulldozers at Stonehenge”. How come?” Because the only equipment (above ground) in the World Heritage Site will be at the tunnel entrances and cuttings”. How blatant. Those “tunnel entrances and cuttings” stretch for about a mile across the World Heritage Site and will be full of bulldozers!

But physical bulldozing isn’t the only technique being employed by the Government. There is legal bulldozing. Thus, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has 1. ignored UNESCO’s opposition, 2. disregarded the independent planning advisors, and now, it seems, 3. disregarded the Government’s own climate policy.

As a correspondent wrote to us: “English Heritage & the National Trust will not allow as much as a tent peg to be hammered down into the ground near Stonehenge in case it ‘damages any sensitive archaeology’. Yet, they are supporting the potential construction of two massive dual carriageway tunnel portals within the World Heritage Site

Here’s a funny thing. A map by Historic England of scheduled and other sites targeted by nighthawks. But one of the most important is missing. So we’ve added it (in yellow).

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Does the omission matter, one blob in so many? Actually, it does, for that’s the Staffordshire Hoard field and we’ve posted 22 articles about a number of raids by nighthawks and begging for the inadequate original official searches to be repeated to see if anything is still there.

Yet nothing has happened. Will that be the final fate of the Hoard? World famous, and mostly on display in a number of museums, but partly still in a field in Hammerwich and being progressively removed by nocturnal scruffs, and not even accorded a blob?

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From British Archaeology…..

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However, as we’ve long said, military-grade detectors were not up to this task. They were Ebex 420H models, in use by UK and US forces to find mines in Afghanistan, with little depth capability (mines being at shallow depth) and not recommended by manufacturers to find very small targets.

Modern hobby machines are vastly superior at finding small pieces of gold deep down; they were designed for it.  Minelab say their GPX 5000 can “easily find small objects at 24 inches” (i.e. more than 2X the depth achieved by the Home Office team), Blisstool’s LTC64 V3 can too and the GPZ “can find gold 40% deeper than that” (so nearly 3X deeper than the Home Office). The use of such machines by detectorists is widespread, including by nighthawks.

And yet: The purpose of the search was to recover or prove the absence of finds “at shallow depth”! The Hoard deserves better than this. All that “intensive conservation and expert research” cannot deliver the full story until a further search is held. When will that be?


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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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If ever the folly of building a mile of destructive new roads across the Stonehenge World Heritage landscape needed stressing to the world (see yesterday’s article) then this is it. There is still so much to learn at Stonehenge, and destroying huge amounts of precious evidence by driving a mile of new dual carriageways across the Stonehenge World Heritage Site is unconscionable.


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It has long been known the bluestones were transported from ancient quarries near Preseli and erected on Salisbury Plain. But why? Most stone circles come from nearby quarries, so why were the bluestones transported 175 miles? Now a reason may have been discovered. It wasn’t just the stones that were brought, but a whole pre-existing stone circle!

It seems there was a 500-year gap between the blue stones being quarried and being erected at Stonehenge and in 2015 Professor Mike Parker Pearson suggested that it was “likely that the stones were first used in a local monument, somewhere near the quarries, that was then dismantled and dragged off to Wiltshire.” Now it has been revealed that a stone circle named Waun Mawn, discovered during filming for a BBC programme, has remarkable similarities to the original bluestone circle at Stonehenge and it is suggested that ancient people of the Preseli region migrated 175 miles taking their monuments with them, as a sign of their ancestral identity!

Only four monoliths remain at the Welsh site but an archaeological dig in 2018 revealed holes where stones would have stood, indicating a wider circle of 30-50 stones. There are 42 Welsh blue stones at Stonehenge, some from the same quarry as Waun Mawn, and one of them with an unusual cross-section which matches one of the holes left at Waun Mawn. Even more significantly, the Welsh circle seems to have been aligned on the solstice and had a diameter of 360m, the same as the ditch that encloses Stonehenge!

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Confused or overwhelmed by the torrent of pro-tunnel words from pro-tunnel quangos? Sometimes simple expressions of fact say more than massive dossiers presented by self-interested bodies. After all, like UNESCO says (effectively):

It’s the Outstanding Universal Value, stupid!

And you can’t get more clear or more true than that. All else is secondary and excuses that limp. Here are some recent succinct iterations of the non-quangoid truth of what’s going on:

This is the approach to a tunnel on HS2 but let no-one tell you the approach to the Stonehenge tunnel will be much different.

It’s easily forgotten that Stonehenge is owned by the public alone and English Heritage is only licensed to administer it (or indeed, to have anything to do with it) until April 2023. That means English Heritage has the mandate to do no more than write a brief and inconsequential page in the long history of Stonehenge, not an enduring one.

And yet, it is trying to achieve a truly profound change in which Stonehenge will be hidden from tens of millions of travellers, not just until 2023 but forever!

What does this say about a heritage organisation’s understanding of the broad sweep of history beyond its own petty span and its understanding of the fleeting significance of mere quangos? Here’s a teeshirt we’re thinking of marketing that makes the point nicely. Anyone want one? £11 each. Proceeds to charity.

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Sir Antony Gormley has said he fears that planned improvements to the A1 south of Gateshead will have a “heartbreaking” impact on views of his sculpture the Angel of the North and that it would need to remain “100% visible” to retain its significance. In response, Highways England says it will try to “mitigate” the loss.

By contrast, the Stonehenge tunnel won’t merely have a heartbreaking impact on the view of the stones experienced by tens of millions of travellers, it will entirely eliminate it!

Plus, they insult the public by offering the silliest mitigation possible: “But it’s not the whole story. By removing the old A303, walkers, cyclists, and horse riders will be able to see Stonehenge whenever they like using a new dedicated public right of way being created along the route of the current road.” Yet walkers, cyclists, and horse riders already can see Stonehenge whenever they like so it’s ridiculous to offer that as compensation for the loss of the free view for tens of millions of travellers!

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It’s not just English Heritage that talks the public engagement talk while shutting down the public’s ability to engage (by hiding the “Turner View” of Stonehenge). It’s also that other tunnel-supporting public engagement pretender, the National Trust.

Here’s the very last image captured by the Avebury webcam on 5 May 2004. The camera had been mounted on the outside of the Old Chapel overlooking the centre of the circle in 2002 by Kennet council but was repeatedly vandalised. After a gap we were informed that it would be reinstated in the summer of 2005 and would provide new images every 10 seconds as well as a facility for live streaming if required. We suggested that if it was angled a little higher and 24/7 coverage was provided then moonrises could be observed.

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It never came back. But now The National Trust owns that chapel so there’s every opportunity to set it up again, inside the building, where it couldn’t be vandalised. Thousands of people all over the world would enjoy it and isn’t that the very least the organisation which owns the Avebury World Heritage site and which constantly boasts it is there “for everyone forever” should provide? Or is hiding Stonehenge AND Avebury from the wider public the Trust’s preference?

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