|15 February 2009
Pagans will be able to camp in Avebury for festivals
The residents of Avebury, Britain's only village set inside a Neolithic stone circle, have reluctantly voted to back allowing pagans to camp there for their festivals – because they fear banning them would lead to 'significant problems'.
But people in Avebury told heritage bosses they must continue to try to solve the conflicts between them and pagan worshippers who descend on their community for equinoxes and solstices.
The results of a consultation between all the sides in what has been a complex problem were released recently – and it appears likely the National Trust will continue to allow limited access to the stones during key festivals. Villagers said they didn't want a return to the days when hundreds of cars blocked the main A361 through the Wiltshire village, and thousands of people packed the stone circle. In 2005 and 2006, residents complained of chaos and anti-social behaviour with complaints of drunken revellers urinating in gardens, rubbish left everywhere and emergency service vehicles unable to get through the village. The situation has improved in the since with first police and council officials clamping down on cars parked outside the designated car parks and then the National Trust not allowing camper vans and travellers' vehicles into the main car park. It has meant numbers at the solstice have more than halved, with many travelling on to Stonehenge.
But the issue of whether people should be allowed to stay overnight remains.
The National Trust, which owns much of the village, has found itself caught in the middle of several different interest groups: English Heritage wants to preserve the stones, the council wants to keep roads open, the police want to stop anti-social behaviour, the pagans want to uphold their right to their religious observances and residents want the three-day 'invasion' kept to a minimum. Residents were given three options by the trust. The first was to ban overnight camping in the large village car park, the second was to create a new campsite east of West Kennet Avenue, away from the homes, and the third was to continue to allow limited camping in the overflow car park.
The trust said results showed villagers wanted a temporary campsite. "It was felt the option of doing nothing could create significant problems," said Mr Green. "Although there is no definitive outcome, the trend of responses points towards the continued use of the overflow car park for a limited number of tents as being the least offensive option."
Sources: Western Daily Press, This is Bristol (5 February 2009), Heritage Action Journal (7 February 2009)
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