Stonehenge closed after Extinction Rebellion holds 'mass trespass' protest

5 December 2020, 16:51 | Updated: 5 December 2020, 17:45

Stonehenge is closed for the remainder of Saturday due to the protest, but plans to reopen on Sunday.
Stonehenge is closed for the remainder of Saturday due to the protest, but plans to reopen on Sunday. Picture: Extinction Rebellion Derby

By Joe Cook

Stonehenge has closed after a "mass trespass" by Extinction Rebellion protesters against controversial government plans to dig a £1.7bn tunnel near the prehistoric monument.

The group of protests, who described themselves as an alliance of local residents, ecologists, activists, archaeologists and pagans, gathered at the Wiltshire site at about noon on Saturday.

English Heritage closed the site to the public following the arrival of the protesters, but said it is expected to reopen "as normal" on Sunday.

They added: "We can confirm the demonstration is over, there were no arrests on site and no damage."

The protesters were demonstrating against the Government's planned £27.4bn investment in the road network across the country, as well as a controversial £1.7bn plan to dig a road tunnel near Stonehenge.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps gave the go-ahead to the scheme in November, despite planning officials warning it would cause "permanent, irreversible harm" to the World Heritage Site.

Read more: Transport Secretary approves plans for controversial Stonehenge tunnel

Protesters said they also gathered in support of Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site, which has launched a legal challenge to Mr Shapps' decision.

A spokeswoman for English Heritage said: "It is an offence under the Ancient Monuments Act (1979) for people to enter the monument area without English Heritage's permission.

"Whilst we respect people's right to demonstrate peacefully, we do not condone behaviour that disrupts and endangers the site and the people who visit or work here."

Read more: Eco-campaigner 'King Arthur' criticises Stonehenge tunnel plan approval

Highways England say the two-mile tunnel will remove the sight and sound of traffic passing the site, and cut journey times.

The A303, which is a popular route for motorists travelling to and from the South West, is often severely congested on the single carriageway stretch near the stones in Wiltshire.

But some environmentalists and archaeologists have voiced their opposition to the plan due to its potential impact on the area.

Today we're joining a mass trespass protest at Stonehenge to say we're in a climate and ecological emergency so...

Posted by Extinction Rebellion Derby on Saturday, December 5, 2020

Environmental activist Dan Hooper, known as Swampy, who took part in the protest said: "This is the coming together of people who are saying we have had enough.

"The Stonehenge tunnel is just one scheme in a £27 billion roads programme. As road transport is the single largest source of carbon emissions in the UK, this is insane."

Simon Bramwell, a pagan, described the site as "hallowed ground" and said the cost of the scheme would "be better spent elsewhere".

"We are here today to reclaim our heritage," Mr Bramwell said.

"Stonehenge has stood for 5,000 years as a testament to the strength, belief and commitment of our people to this land of ours."

Preparatory work is due to begin in spring next year, with the five-year construction phase expected to start by 2023.