The flutter of wings: A new future for Stonehenge

Stonehenge archaeologist Dr Nick Snashall on why plans for an A303 tunnel at Stonehenge means we can look forward to the sound of skylarks and the fluttering of Adonis Blue butterflies at the World Heritage Site in the years to come.

Perched on the high chalk uplands of Salisbury Plain, the Stonehenge landscape is one of the world’s most extraordinary places. Here, using only the simplest tools, our ancestors created monuments of such staggering scale and ingenuity that they still cause our jaws to drop 5,000 years later.
It’s a landscape of the imagination that has endured for thousands of years inspiring painters, kings and poets, but for decades it has been blighted by the A303. Now with the announcement that the Government are committed to placing the road at Stonehenge into a 2.9km (1.8 mile) tunnel, we’re on the threshold of transforming the most iconic prehistoric landscape on the planet.

Human interventions in the landscape

UNESCO recognised just how special Stonehenge was by making it a World Heritage Site in 1986. It’s packed with Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments, exceptional both for their sheer numbers and the scale of the ambition, effort and achievement of the people who built them.
They include a 2.7km (1.7 mile) long cursus (linear earthwork) enclosure built with nothing but antler picks and bloody-minded determination, the stones themselves – erected and shaped before the use of metals – and the densest concentration of Bronze Age burial mounds in Britain.
And yet the biggest single human intervention has been the A303. It hacks the Stonehenge landscape in two, cutting off the southern two thirds for visitors and wildlife alike. For most people, visiting the stones is associated with traffic jams, HGVs and the drone of vehicle engines.

Rediscovering an authentic Stonehenge

But that’s not the real Stonehenge. To discover that you have to step out of your car and pull on your walking boots. The creation of a tunnel, reuniting the landscape either side of the A303 will enable everyone to discover that and will bring huge benefits for wildlife.
Visitors will be able to fill their lungs with good clean Wiltshire air and stroll south from Stonehenge on a clear spring day hearing nothing but the song of skylarks. They’ll see brown hares zig-zagging left and right in front of the Normanton Barrows and will barely notice the pale line of turf marking the line of what was once the A303.
The removal of the road will ensure future generations will be able to experience the stones and barrows as their builders intended, interrupted only by the fluttering wings of an Adonis Blue butterfly. This ancient place will finally have the future it deserves.

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As the UK's biggest land owner, we look after a lot of nature and wildlife. We strive to maintain our land as an environment that supports a rich diversity of life.