The nine Ladies of Stanton Moor have stood for 4,000 years amid the birch woodlands and open heather that create one of the most haunting landscapes in the Peak District. But they have never known attention quite like yesterday's.
Already the subject of the biggest ongoing eco-protest in England, the Ladies, a circle of Bronze Age stones, found themselves swamped by nearly 100 Pagans who arrived for a "protection ceremony" to forestall the site's feared mutilation by the quarry industry.
Stanton Moor, a scheduled ancient monument dotted with circles such as the Nine Ladies and some 70 neolithic burial chambers, is already scored with at least 70 active and dormant quarries because of its mineral riches.
Peak District planners had reached a deal to protect Stanton, permitting a local quarrying company to extract more minerals from the New Pilough quarry, away on the edge of the moor, in return for giving up old permits on two other sites: one close to the Ladies. But the plans infuriated local people, who observed that the sacrificed permits related to less profitable quarries that had been shut for years. The deal was rejected by the National Park Authority. An adjudication on an appeal from the quarrying firm has just been deferred, apparently because the firm has new plans on the table.
Another firm has submitted plans to work two further dormant gritstone quarries at Lees Cross and Endcliffe, even nearer the Ladies, cutting a 30-acre strip from the side of the moor and excavating 60 million tons of gritstone annually for the next 42 years.
The Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) says the National Park and other rural planning authorities across Britain are being held to ransom by quarry owners with old permits to quarry more than six billion tons of aggregates – enough to construct more than 112 million homes or 85,000 miles of motorway and far more than is needed.
Large areas of the West Country have been affected by the same problems, as have the upper Thames valley in Wiltshire and a prominent area of Kent to the north of the Pilgrims' Way.
In last year's Budget, a levy on aggregates (sand, gravel and crushed rock) was announced but the CPRE wants the scrapping of a system of earmarking "landbanks" years in advance and a requirement that developers use more recycled material as a condition of planning permission.
Yesterday the Pagans said their claim on the site had been overshadowed by environmentalists. "The [planning] applications are not only [a threat] because the stones are in a National Park but because they are a sacred site of antiquity," a spokesman said.
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