Hadrian's Wall repels the new marauders

When the Romans built their great edifice they did not predict hordes of tourists
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A mere 1,850 years after the Emperor Hadrian built his wall across northern Britain to keep out the marauding Barbarians, the whole 73-mile length is to benefit from a single strategy to combat the more prosaic menaces of the tourist boot, and insensitive farmers.

Some 1.5 million people a year visit the wall, homing in on the central section where they like to scramble on the three-metre-thick stone barrier and gaze across the rugged fells, a legionnaire in mind. But the result, in places, has been damage to the fragile archaeology of an acclaimed World Heritage Site (WHS) and a nuisance to farmers and wildlife. Farmers, too, have exacted a toll on the wall.

In past centuries, its stones were plundered for barns and fields. Today the complaint is of farm buildings and land use which jar with the setting for the finest preserved frontier of the Roman world.

To deal with the competing pressures of visitors and land use, while helping the local economy grow, English Nature yesterday produced the first long-term management strategy for the wall since Hadrian's.

Quite why Hadrian built the wall, beyond wanting to mark out his northern frontier, remains uncertain. According to a Roman biographer its purpose was "to separate the Romans from the Barbarians". That is no offence to the Picts and Scots, who did not appear over the hill until later.

Started in AD122, the fortifications extend from Wallsend on the River Tyne, through Newcastle and its suburbs, west over the craggy uplands of the northern Pennines and on past Carlisle to Bowness-on-Solway. The various ditches, exposed wall, milecastles, forts and civilian settlements all form part of the WHS.

The strategy published yesterday by English Heritage is the result of a 12-month exercise in consultation and compromise. Farmers and land- owners, who were appalled at the first draft, fearing bureaucratic interference in their activities alongside the wall, gave the revised plan a cautious welcome. But conservationists, who had hoped to restore more of the wild feel to the wall's surroundings, were correspondingly disappointed.

Launching the management plan at Cawfields, site of one of the encampments along the wall, Sir Jocelyn Stevens, chairman of English Heritage, said the role of the private landowner was crucial. Only about 10 per cent of the remains are owned and managed purely for the purposes of preservation. "It is neither desirable nor possible to attempt to fossilise or homogenise the character of the land which has to earn its keep," Sir Jocelyn told his audience, which included several landowners and their representatives .

The production of an overall plan should enable English Heritage and other bodies to win European Union funding to improve tourist services, protect sections of the wall vulnerable to erosion under and enhance the landscape.

The biggest change over the consultation period has been the shrinking of the buffer zone alongside the wall. This has come down from some 5km on either side in open country to between 500 metres and 1km. The farmers' anxieties were forcefully put at public meetings. But conservationists regret the back-pedalling. Ian Brodie, secretary of the Friends of the Lake District described it as "timid", adding that more could have been done to protect the setting.

A Hadrian's Wall Co-ordination Unit has been set up under director Christopher Young.

He will be working with a representative of the wall tourism partnership and a Countryside Commission officer responsible for the Hadrian's Wall National Trail - a coast-to-coast walk in the footsteps of the Roman legionnaires.