Prehistorians attack 'flawed' heritage plan

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ENGLISH HERITAGE's plan to dispose of half its archaeological and historical sites will involve jettisoning more than 90 per cent of its prehistoric monuments.

Prehistory - the stone, bronze and iron ages which account for 99 per cent of England's human story - will suffer most from the disposal programme, announced earlier this week.

Although the list of sites provisionally earmarked has not been made public, its contents have been leaked.

English Heritage aims to retain only five prehistoric monuments, and to get rid of the management of 47.

Richard Morris, director of the Council for British Archaeology said: 'The plans have the potential to seriously distort the public's perception of the nation's past.

'Out of the tens of thousands of years of England's past, only a few centuries would be adequately represented by English Heritage sites if this plan goes ahead.

'In English Heritage's plan, a disproportionately large number of prehistoric sites are proposed for disposal.

'What's more, there is an over- intense stress on unusual and amazing sites at the expense of more typical and culturally representative ones.'

Among those proposed for disposal are the neolithic (new stone age) monuments of Stanton Drew (Somerset), Arbor Low (Derbyshire), Castlerigg (Cumbria), Avebury (Wiltshire) and Rollright (Oxfordshire) stone circles; Wayland Smithy (Oxfordshire) and Belas Knap (Gloucestershire) 6,000-year-old tombs; the bronze age monuments of Grimspound village (Devon); and the iron age sites of Bratton (Wiltshire) and Blackbury (Devon) hill forts, Uffington White Horse (Oxfordshire), and Stanwick fortifications in Yorkshire.

Prehistorians say they are appalled by the plan. Alan Saville, of the Prehistoric Society, said: 'At least half the prehistoric monuments on British Heritage's proposed disposal list are, in our view, of international importance.

'The whole approach is flawed. We consider it vital that any policy on ancient monuments should take more account of archeological and historical factors than appears to have been the case.

Jennifer Page, English Heritage's chief executive, said: 'Most of the prehistoric monuments don't need as much specialist knowledge to maintain. They are simpler and cheaper to manage properly than, for example, medieval ruins are.'

English Heritage plans to hand over the managment of the disposed sites to charities, trusts and local authorities.