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It’s exactly a year since PAS got the begging bowl out. They probably wish they hadn’t for only 22 people have contributed and the total is only £901. Not all of the contributors were detectorists (there’s us for a start!) and we reckon probably just 18 detectorists out of 10,000 have given anything at all.
Since the very existence of PAS is an acknowledgment that metal detecting does damage the archaeological record, the figures seem to be a particularly spectacular failure of an attempt to apply the “polluter pays” principle. Particularly so given that every detectorists at every farm gate declares their undying support for the PAS whereas 70% of them fail to report all their finds to PAS and 99.5% of their clubs don’t make reporting to PAS compulsory.
Actually, it’s not just unacceptable, it’s a scandal. On Thursday Simon Jenkins in the Guardian called for the restoration of war damaged monuments in Syria, saying “we can redress the murder of memories”. In Britain the murder of memories caused by the mass failure to report metal detecting finds is utterly impossible to redress. Instead, ten thousand British detectorists have deigned to mitigate it at a rate of only about 8p each per year.
Dear Fellow Landowners,
Last Sunday a bloke offered me £500 to allow a detecting rally in my top field! I asked him what he thought they might find. “Nothing probably” he said, “we’re only interested in history – but if any treasure comes up you’ll get half”.
Talk like that should trigger alarm bells for any farmer. The truth is that 99.95% of the saleable artefacts they find aren’t treasure items so I was being offered only 0.025% of what they found and they were going to keep 99.975%. In MY bloody field! Think I’m making it up? Look at the Southern Detectorists Group pitch to landowners. It’s the same!
I sent my little “history lover” packing. It’s ironic that he came last Sunday, Hen Harrier Day when lots of selfless conservation-minded people (including my grandson Simon) were out demonstrating against their persecution. Bonkers Britain’s countryside is full of contrasting groups.
Grunters Hollow Farm
“Egypt and the United Nations agreed yesterday to reroute a nearly completed motorway from the Giza Pyramids, saying the cost did not matter when it came to rescuing the only surviving wonders of the ancient world.
The eight-lane motorway, which passes within two miles of the three 4,500- year-old pyramids and the Sphinx, could be dismantled as early as next week, said Abdel-Halim Noureddin, Egypt’s chief antiquities official.
Mr Noureddin acknowledged the Egyptian government made a mistake in 1985 when it approved plans for the road near the plateau, listed as one of 440 UN World Heritage Sites. However, the important thing was rectifying the error.”
[ Cairo agrees diversion for pyramid motorway, The Independent 5 April 2005 ]
(Note: Stonehenge is not in Egypt it is in Britain. It is not in the care of the Egyptian Government but the British one together with The National Trust and English Heritage who claim to be world exemplars in good conservation practice.)
A range of leading naturalists plus the former heads of Natural England, English Nature, the RSPB and the National Trust have issued grave warnings about the potential effect of Brexit on Britain’s countryside. We’re highlighting their letter here because the bulk of archaeological protection is closely linked to environmental protection measures (and mainly financed by European money) and therefore of equal concern. Telling excerpts from their letter include the following:
- “Far from being ‘red tape’, the rules and regulations coming out of Brussels have been “critical” to improving the quality of Britain’s water, air and natural environment”
- “It’s vital to recognise that virtually the entire legal protection for our environment here in Britain derives from European safeguards”
- “UK politics has a tendency to be short term and see the natural environment as an impediment to economic growth, and EU agreements help mitigate this by encouraging us to be more long term in our public policy.”
- “If the UK were to pull out of the EU the Government would be under huge pressure from industry to water down environmental protections in areas like energy efficiency to help the UK to become more competitive against our former European partners.”
- Our air, water and land are kept clean by European laws. And rightly so, because pollution knows no national boundaries. We ignore these protections at our peril.”
Why have staff from the National Trust (NT) been suggesting the short Stonehenge tunnel would be beneficial for wildlife?
It is proposed that only a little over half of the present road would be inside a tunnel – the remainder either side would be converted into four lanes of traffic travelling much faster through the World Heritage Site (WHS). And to quote a National Road Death Survey dating from the early part of this century: “High traffic speed increased the likelihood of many mammal species, including fox, badger and roe deer, and also the tawny owl, falling victim to vehicles as it reduces the time available for drivers and animals to react to danger.” This supposed ‘benefit’ projected onto the short tunnel depends then on which side of the National Trust fence the wildlife happens to be on!
It seems that the likelihood of a short tunnel at Stonehenge has increased now that Historic England has published guidance which legitimises major works at World Heritage sites if there are “important planning justifications“. Such a proposition, which is little more than an assertion of central power, is likely to be frequently heard during any public consultation period. It is not a proposition that will necessarily play well beyond Britain. Will the Government be able to quietly persuade UNESCO to say a short tunnel is OK? It may not be easy, as shown by the following excerpts from two ICOMOS publications. The idea of UNESCO being “got at” is a controversial and disrespectful one, for which we apologise, but almost every word below suggests they are themselves acutely aware there’s a real risk:
It hasn’t happened so far (Lord Ahmad has revealed that Highways England’s preliminary planning for the tunnel scheme has not included any consultation with ICOMOS-UK). But UNESCO will have to be formally approached sooner or later. What if they won’t play? Well, we could defy them and let them chuck us out. Or we could withdraw on the pretext they were wasting money, like we threatened to do 5 years ago. Or we could actually withdraw, citing anti-Western bias and financial mismanagement like Margaret Thatcher did in 1985. It seems certain that one of those three consequences would have to come about. What is less certain is that UNESCO would disregard it’s own ethical safeguards and give the short tunnel (or a pragmatic compromise version of it) it’s blessing. It’s not that sort of organisation.
Addendum: Incidentally, we notice the Head of International Advice for Historic England is about to deliver a public lecture in Birmingham. The introductory text says “the UK can sometimes find itself at odds with the broad consensus view about how best to manage and protect WHSs. In particular the concept of “constructive conservation” can clash with less flexible approaches to protection.”
One has to wonder whether that puzzling term “constructive conservation” is another phrase we may be hearing a lot of during the short tunnel consultation period?
Addendum 2: In addition, last month the Principle Inspector of Historic England spoke at an academic conference on “Constructive Conservation at the Heart of Place Making”. Something’s definitely up! But will UNESCO get on board?
We have nothing useful to add to the widespread indignation expressed about Channel 5’s decision to air a re-branded version of “Nazi War Diggers” tonight.
Update: it has now happened. Two excellent accounts of it are here and here. Quotes of the night from the participants, surely: “There’s black diggers over there. We’ve got to be thorah as if we leave anything they’ll ‘ave it!” and from his colleague (who sells Nazi memorabia for a living: “they want to get the artifact out of the ground, History be damned and go sell it and I have a problem with that”. Idiots indeed (and ditto the universal mindless praise coming from detecting forums. Are you watching, Mr Government?)
So instead, here’s a lighthearted January puzzle to take everyone’s mind off all self-seeking grubbers!
(Answer next week!)