The traffic-choked roads still roaring past Stonehenge in Wiltshire have earned the world’s most famous prehistoric monument a place on a list of the world’s most threatened sites.
The government’s decision to abandon, on cost grounds, a plan to bury roads around Stonehenge in a tunnel underground and the consequent collapse of the plans for a new visitor centre, have put the site on the Threatened Wonders list of Wanderlust magazine, along with the 4×4-scarred Wadi Rum in Jordan, and the tourist-eroded paths and steps of the great Inca site at Machu Picchu in Peru.
Lyn Hughes, editor in chief of Wanderlust, said the A303 and A344 junctions near Stonehenge meant the site was “brutally divorced from its context”. She said: “Seeing it without its surrounding landscape is to experience only a fraction of this historical wonder. The fact that the government and various planning bodies cannot agree on implementing a radical solution to this problem is a national disgrace.”
The first great earth banks and ditches of the monument date back 5,000 years, and it was then repeatedly remodelled, with the addition of the circle of sarsen stones the size of doubledecker buses, and smaller bluestones brought from west Wales, and said to have healing powers.
Hughes was echoing the words 21 years ago of the parliamentary public accounts committee, which in 1989 damned the presentation of the site and the facilities for tourists as “a national disgrace”.
Since then millions have been spent on alternative road plans and architectural designs for the visitor centre, on exhibitions, consultations and public inquiries, without a sod of earth being turned.
Argument about how to care for the site raged throughout the 20th century: the circle itself is in the guardianship of English Heritage, while the National Trust owns thousands of acres of surrounding countryside, studded with hundreds more henges, barrows and other prehistoric monuments.
At the moment the best hope is that a much simpler and cheaper visitor centre can still be created, two kilometres from the site, in time for London’s hosting of the 2012 Olympics.