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Druids and pagans stop Seahenge being moved

A MIXED group of Druids, pagans, eco-warriors and tree lovers frustrated attempts yesterday by the Government's archaeological advisers, English Heritage, to dig up Seahenge, the 4,000-year-old tree circle recently uncovered by erosion on the Norfolk coast.

Armed only with a didgeridoo, a handful of poems and a brown dog, the group occupied the circle on the foreshore at Holme-next-the-Sea near Hunstanton, and successfully defied English Heritage's mech- anical diggers and 20 accompanying archaeologists.

The monument, believed to be a temple associated with death, had been covered by a protective layer of peat since the Bronze Age. It reappeared late last year and its existence was disclosed by The Independent in January. Experts say there is a danger of erosion if it is left exposed to the weather and tides.

However, people such as Michael "Buster" Nolan and the Council of British Druid Orders feel the circle of 54 oak trunks, each a metre high, around an upside-down oak that was probably an altar, is a sacred relic that should not be touched. Yesterday a small crowd of walkers and bird-watchers gathered on the remote beach to watch the protesters confront officialdom in the shape of English Heritage, members of Norfolk County Council's archaeologoical unit and four slightly baffled policemen.

Buster and another protester, who insists on being known only as Crow, stood on the biggest stump and railed against the authorities who were planning to remove Seahenge from its site. "They are just vandals," said Buster, 50, who stood unsuccessfully at the 1997 general election as a Legalise Hemp candidate in his home town of Braintree, Essex.

"They are destroying our heritage and culture. If they were smashing up a sculpture or defacing a work of art they would be locked up. Yet here they are legally wrecking a site that belongs to every- one and which has been here for more than 4,000 years," he declared.

English Heritage staff were patient, but as the tide began to turn they admitted defeat and ordered the two yellow mechanical diggers, hired to lift the one-ton central altar out of the silt, to leave the sands. English Heritage's chief archaeologist, David Miles, who took over his post only six weeks ago, tried to rea- son with the protesters but failed to shift them as they claimed a moral - if temporary - victory

"People have got the wrong idea," he said. "We would dearly love to leave the circle where it is but if we did that it would be destroyed. There was another one a few miles away that was uncovered by erosion in the 1970s and that has already vanished.

"We want to take the timbers away and preserve them. Now that they are uncovered they have to be treated or they will simply crumble."