15
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Friends of Grampian Stones Spring 2000 newsletter vol.XI#2

SPRING EQUINOX NEWSLETTER Volume XI number 2 March 2000

Brandsbutt stone Inverurie ogham and serpent

Brandsbutt carved Pictish stone Inverurie

Holding the Fort
WINTER provides a magnificent opportunity for study and photography of our ancient monuments, but it also allows closer inspection of any damage which has occurred. We are particularly aware of ever-encroaching ‘progress’ and of potential alteration to the land left us in trust by our ancestors. Current farming practice, while generally not too threatening to ‘scheduled’ antiquities, thinks nothing of bulldozing and burying 18th century drystane dykes whose stones were gathered so laboriously as necessary enclosures in times before barbed wire. How soon will the NE landscape become one without stone altogether, a place of billboards and development signs and barbed wire fences?

OUR worries on this score may be needless, if those who heed our warnings act promptly and deal with the miscreants. But recent activities in this corner of Scotland do not indicate a general tendency towards conservation and respect for the past. Rather is it a current theme in agricultural business to ‘make the most’ of a loophole in legislation and make a profit from an endless round of grants and subsidies; and for those in charge of our heritage to let them.

map of Scotland with Neolithic and Pictish heritage

Neolithic, Bronze Age and Pictish sites in Scotland

TO clarify the situation: Antiquities and heritage in stone in Scotland are now under the protection of the Scottish Executive, with ‘operational responsibility for safeguarding Scotland’s built heritage’ in the hands of Historic Scotland – the north-of-the-border equivalent of English Heritage. The offices of this executive arm are in Edinburgh, at Longmore House, Salisbury Place EH9 1SH, telephone 0131-668 8777. It has jurisdiction over 7,000 scheduled monuments in Scotland and is essentially in charge of deciding which monuments countrywide meet the criteria for ‘national importance’.

If an ancient site is considered worthy, it is added to the List of Scheduled Monuments. If not, it is not. As a government agency, it is by its own remit, only able to prosecute those who are caught doing damage to a scheduled antiquity.

Damage or defacement of ‘unscheduled’ stones is not their concern. In a recent letter, Historic Scotland reminded FOGS that ‘the responsibility for keeping monuments in good order lies with owners.’ This was probably safe in the hands of farming proprietors who took pride in maintaining boundary walls, shelterbelt planting and wildlife conservation. Stones were an organic part of that landscape.

BUT land changes hands.

AND in certain areas, backed by our so-called ‘public servants’, interest is now in how much farmland can be turned over for housing, or if retained for agricultural practice, how much more land can be brought under the plough or is eligible for a forestry planting grant. Half a century of blanket forestry planting by a single agency has shown how much damage occurs to antiquities either in root growth or in logging mature trees. Yet, the responsibility for such monuments lies with owners.

SINCE the acquisition in 1991 by Historic Scotland of the responsibilities previously shouldered by Historic Buildings & Monuments and, before that, by the Ministry of Works, a laudable 50% has been added to the number of scheduled monuments. However, the Northeast, with by far the largest number of antiquities in Scotland, has protection of only a fraction of the national total (16%), and only one warden assigned to an area half the size of Switzerland. She cannot possibly visit all the monuments in her charge more than once in five years.

IN a letter from the First Minister to a colleague who questioned, in support of FOGS, whether enough was being done, the Rt. Hon. Donald Dewar MP indicated he felt coverage was ‘adequate’. However in light of the bureaucratic nod given to a track dredged through woodland in Durris to create a 4WD off-road playground – thereby damaging an unscheduled 4000-year old monument without penalty or legal consequences – we are not convinced.

Activity in the arena has speeded up. In this climate it is a short step to losing sight of the picture altogether. If owners themselves are becoming seduced by profit margins, who but FOGS will still be around to hold high the banner or guard the fort? ©2000-2009MCY

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