The Stonehenge We Deserve

By Wainwright, Geoffrey | Antiquity, June 2000 | Go to article overview

The Stonehenge We Deserve

Wainwright, Geoffrey, Antiquity


Stonehenge is Britain's greatest prehistoric archaeological monument and one of the most powerful landmarks in the world. It stands at the centre of over 2000 hectares of ancient landscape which contains 196 scheduled monuments -- mainly prehistoric burial mounds -- and a dense concentration of buried archaeological sites which combine to create a unique cultural landscape of international importance. For England it is a national heritage icon -- extensively used in advertising and the media as a readily recognized and accessible image, which conveys a compelling sense of power and mystery. The management of the monument and its setting therefore provides a litmus test for millions of people across the world as to how we care for our heritage. In 1986, Stonehenge, Avebury and its associated sites were inscribed as a single cultural World Heritage Site (WHS) under the UNESCO World Heritage Convention of 1972. The 630 sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List, of which 20 are within the UK and its overseas territories, are internationally recognized for their outstanding universal value. There is an international obligation under the World Heritage Convention for the careful protection and management of these sites and the production of Management Plans which will ensure their survival for future generations.

The UK Government therefore has ultimate responsibility for what happens within the Stonehenge WHS, but exercises that in partnership with others. English Heritage is responsible for the Stones and the five hectares of land immediately surrounding them on behalf of the nation. In 1927, 587 ha of the surrounding land (about a quarter of the WHS) were purchased by the National Trust following a national public appeal. The National Trust recently acquired Countess Farm within the WHS, bringing a further 172 ha within its Stonehenge estate. This land now links Woodhenge near the A345 with Stonehenge via King Barrow Ridge, under National Trust ownership. The Ministry of Defence owns Larkhill and its surrounding farmland in the northern part of the WHS and the majority of the WHS is owned by six private owners and is used for farming. At Amesbury, Durrington and along the Woodford Valley, there are a number of private houses within the WHS boundaries. The existing visitor facilities at Stonehenge are operated by English Heritage on land to the northwest of Stonehenge leased from the National Trust. The business provides access to Stonehenge with a car park, small shop, a pedestrian subway under the A344 and light catering facilities.

It will be apparent that a number of Government Departments, statutory bodies, agencies, landowners and tenants have responsibilities and interests which should influence the future management of Stonehenge and the World Heritage Site. They are the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR), the Highways Agency, the Ministry of Defence (MOD), the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), English Heritage, the National Trust, Wiltshire County Council, Salisbury District Council, Amesbury Town Council, English Nature and the Countryside Agency. Add to these the landowners, local communities and their representatives, the Wiltshire Constabulary and special interest groups and clearly there is a challenge for anyone wishing to channel the energies of such a large and volatile group towards a solution which will reconcile the sometimes conflicting demands of international legislation with local aspirations.

The problems confronting the proper management of Stonehenge and its landscape are well known and have been rightly described by the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons as a `national disgrace'. The present visitor facilities are too small for the existing numbers of visitors to Stonehenge and are too close to the monument. These difficulties are compounded by the large number of motorists and tour coaches who use the free Stonehenge car park as a roadside stop with refreshments and lavatories. …

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