| 8 March 2004
Farm ploughing threatens Thornborough henges
Experts say the immediate threat to archaeology around the 5,500-year-old Thornborough Henges in North Yorkshire (England) is not an expansion of sand and gravel quarrying but the annual ploughing of land by farmers. Now the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is working with English Heritage to investigate the possibility of paying them not to plough in an area around the scheduled ancient monuments.
Concern is growing for the wider landscape around the three banked and ditched circular enclosures or henges because Tarmac wants to expand its sand and gravel quarry at Nosterfield, near Ripon, where reserves will be exhausted within three years. Archaeologist Jan Harding says the three ritual earthworks at Thornborough – each 240 metres across – are Britain's best-kept prehistoric secret, part of a sacred landscape that extends as far south as the Devil's Arrows at Boroughbridge.
Tarmac is expected to submit a planning application later this year to extend its quarry on to Ladybridge Farm, which lies to the north of the existing site. When North Yorkshire County Council granted planning permission for the existing workings it required a watching brief by archaeologists.
Former county council archaeologist Mike Griffiths, who is now retained as a consultant by Tarmac and has worked at Nosterfield since 1991, said he had heard criticism that quarrying resulted in the destruction of archaeology and accepted that was correct. But permission to extract sand and gravel included a requirement to carry out archaeological work, he said. "In this area I would say that we have learned more about the Neolithic and other periods as a direct consequence of the mineral workings than has come from other sources. The biggest threat is not the quarrying. It is actually ploughing. That is what is wiping out the archaeology in this area," he said.
Mr Griffiths said English Heritage would carry out a judgment on what should be done about the archaeology of the area. "If nothing is done the archaeology will disappear. Either things have to be stopped and that will delay destruction or the archaeology has to be managed so that before it is destroyed the archaeology is recovered." Warning that each ploughing destroyed more archaeology, he added: "If nothing is done, within 20 to 30 years there will be virtually no archaeology. You will have three henges but nothing to put them in context."
English Heritage's inspector of ancient monuments in North Yorkshire, Keith Emerick, said the way forward could be a conservation plan in which all stakeholders, including the Friends of Thornborough, would say what they regarded as significant. Mr Emerick said Defra was willing to offer funding to protect the archaeology by paying farmers to stop ploughing and English Heritage was pursuing such a project, but he added: "You cannot make a farmer join."
Mr Griffiths said finds with-in the quarrying area so far had, however, been sparse. "We have examined 40 hectares and volumes are extremely small. I am reading things that suggest archaeology is screaming out of the ground. It is not," he said. But he added that what had been found was informative and suggested Neolithic man had lived around a large lake, but once you moved away from the lake the evidence of Neolithic activity was "virtually nil".
Source: Yorkshire Post Today (8 march 2004)
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