by Matthew Magill
"Events such as this have led to stronger bonds forming within them: 'We don't have to be friends, necessarily, but we are comrades'."
Starting over a year ago, and after surviving storms that tore open the Millennium Dome, the Stonehenge Action Camp continues to resist the plans to widen the A303 trunk road, which has been proposed as a solution to traffic issues.
From their petition, the group explains that, "the proposal is to put the road into a tunnel where it passes the stones, but the tunnel would be, at most, only 2.9 km long". The issue comes with the remaining 1.6 km of road that would continue above ground and requires trenches to access this tunnel with the possibility of additional road infrastructure. This network around the tunnel portals threatens not only local ecosystems but all of the archeological material in the wide area that surrounds the stones.
This fear of lost heritage is not without precedent. Despite existing since 3000 BC, our archeological understanding of Stonehenge is still developing. Milestones within the field range from the investigation into the Aubrey Holes, chalk pits surrounding the stones with evidence of human remains and potential timber supports, to the ambitious Stonehenge Hidden Landscape Project which endeavours to create a geophysical survey of the surrounding area and hidden sub-surface. The potential discoveries of future research could redefine Stonehenge's place in history and thus its potential loss is incalculable.
Stonehenge HAG are fighting to resist this loss of ancient culture. Aiming to dismiss the plan altogether, the group has also suggested a lesser compromise of a 4.5 km deep-bored tunnel that would avoid damages caused by entry and exit ports. Both options would negate these risks to a World Heritage Site which in turn would breach the World Heritage Convention. As I traveled from St Pancreas to Salisbury train station to Stonehenge and, finally, to the camp in Amesbury, I held on to this anger and upset at the impending destruction.
Nestled into a woodland grove by the Amesbury bypass off the A303, the camp announced itself with bedsheet banners and wooden placards.
Guided by Spoons, a resident of several months, the camp had the expected amenities: two greenhouses for growing food, an accessible toilet, a wooden hut kitchen, and multiple tents and vans for sleeping, storage, and communal space.
But beyond this, I was shown a tent for displaying art, a shared library, a market stall offering miscellaneous supplies (all free), a covered stage, and the equivalent of a multi-faith room: a recently constructed hut for introspection and seclusion.
Having never visited a fixed protest camp, I was amazed by the homeliness. Spoons explained that the materials were scavenged, donated, or reused from dismantled protests such as the HS2 camps that many of the residents came from.
As we returned to the heart of the camp, a smoky fire pit used to heat cast-iron kettles, I was led to the busy kitchen where the conversation turned to the properties of turmeric, recipes for banana pancakes, and the best way to incorporate spices into a meal.
I felt the anxiety of the journey and the surrounding tension of the A303 extension begin to dissipate. Over the sound of céilí music playing from a phone, charged by the camp's solar panel, Spoons explained that Stonehenge HAG was a FINT (Female, Intersex, Nonbinary, and Transgender) camp.
With marginalised groups leading the camp's communal ideology, she and many of the other residents spoke of the masculine tension common in protest camps; a sort of apocalypse-prepping attitude that results in a continual pressure to prove yourself as a resident.
In rejection of that atmosphere, they talked about the recent group event they held to share their fears and worries with each other. Events such as this have led to stronger bonds forming within them: "We don't have to be friends, necessarily, but we are comrades".
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The bonds formed from living in camps together were mentioned several times. As I sat by the fire and listened to impromptu guitar sessions, new ways to reuse tetra pack