Stonehenge archaeology 'under threat' from Highways England diggers

Longbarrow Roundabout, near Stonehenge, Wiltshire Image copyright Stonehenge Alliance
Image caption Stonehenge Alliance said using heavy machinery on wet ground could "devastate any fragile archaeological deposits"

Heavy diggers being used by Highways England near Stonehenge are threatening its "fragile archaeology", campaigners have warned.

The agency has been surveying the proposed site of a controversial tunnel near the monument since January.

Stonehenge Alliance said archaeological evidence may be lost due to heavy machinery being used on wet ground.

Highways England said the claims were "alarmist and untrue" and "due care" was being "exercised at all times".

Plans for 1.8-mile (2.9km) underground dual carriageway as part of a £1.6bn upgrade of the A303, were unveiled by the government in January.

But Dr Kate Fielden, from Stonehenge Alliance - a campaign group which includes archaeologists and environmental campaigners - said what Highways England were doing in the area "beggars belief".

"If we designate it [Stonehenge] as a World Heritage Site we should treat it as a World Heritage Site, but it's being treated the same as everywhere else," she said.

Image copyright Department for Transport
Image caption Highways England claims the scheme will "remove the sight and sound of traffic from the iconic monument and reduce intrusion in the wider World Heritage Site"

She said Highways England were carrying out archaeological evaluations in a "rushed manner" which threatened "more and more destruction".

"Every time you take heavy machinery out [on to site] you diminish the record for future generations because it gets too badly disturbed," she said.

"And when it's muddy and the ground is wet, it gets compressed and any fragile archaeology could potentially be crushed."

'Alarmist and untrue'

A spokeswoman for Highways England said "no work" had been carried out during "unsuitable conditions".

"The suggestion that survey work will destroy layers of archaeology is alarmist and untrue," she said.

"The recent wet weather has resulted in the plant operations being stood down at times to avoid any risk to archaeology.

"The works are being undertaken in a highly professional manner with due care being exercised at all times."

A public consultation to gather views of drivers and residents is due to end on Monday.

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