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Extinction Rebellion ‘Deface’ Protected English Landscape

Extinction Rebellion ‘Deface’ Protected English Landscape

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Extinction Rebellion defaced a famous English White Horse weeks after schoolchildren helped restore the ancient monument. The material used was temporary, but the discontent could be lasting.

The Alton Barnes White Horse is a chalk hill figure located on Milk Hill about a kilometer north of the village of Alton, Wiltshire, England. Eco-activists, arguably terrorists, representing Extinction Rebellion created a dark cloth hourglass symbol on the historic monument which measured approximately 180 feet (50 meters) high and 160 feet (49 meters) long.

What peeved locals more than their monument being the center of a political attention seeking stunt was that they had only re-chalked the horse back in August with the help of school children. In a Daily Mail report local man Graham Newland described the activists as vandals and “cheap anarchists”, however, the protest group claim care had been taken not to damage the monument and they have removed it with “no trace of it ever being there”.

Ignorance Or Vandalism?

The horse which featured at the center of the crime was commissioned and cut in 1812 by local farmer Robert Pile amidst an ancient and sacred landscape. The monument can be seen from hills some 22 miles (35 km) distant, and at the chalk horse a footpath leads from nearby parking spaces with a fence protecting the horse from wild stock and tourists, yet doing little to protect the site from eco-warriors who committed their crime in the shadow of two Iron Age hill-forts and Adam's Grave Neolithic long barrow.

The August 2019 local project which re-chalked the horse applied 51 tons of rock which were dumped from an RAF Chinook helicopter - but this was not the first aerial assistance in this ancient landscape. In 1987 army helicopters scoured the horse with fresh chalk and in October 2009 the Alton Barnes Parish Council permitted landowner Tim Carson to fully restore the horse, which required helicopters delivering 165 tons of fresh chalk in time for its 2012 bicentenary anniversary - at a cost of £21,000.

Did The Eco-protestors Poison The Protected Landscape?

A 2009 Swindon Advertiser report further clarifies why locals are so angered with Extinction Rebellion’s actions in that it says the reason the 2009 re-chalking project cost £21,000 is because the white horse stands in the middle of a site of “special scientific interest” (SSSI) on a national nature reserve with European protection. Parish councilor Steve Hepworth said in the article that Natural England controls the management of the land and all vehicles are banned from driving through the SSSI.

The white horse has recently been re-chalked. (Brian Robert Marshall / Alton Barnes White Horse / CC BY-SA 2.0)

The white horse has recently been re-chalked. (Brian Robert Marshall / Alton Barnes White Horse / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Consider all these efforts and costs to avoid upsetting the balance and natural harmony at this ancient site for even an hour, then, in trample Extinction Rebellion with no consideration of heritage laws that tax payers pay “a lot” to uphold. No wonder Graham Newland blasting the activists as “cheap anarchists” adding that their wanton act of vandalism also disrespects the children who they claim to act for. What’s more, the group have angered the entire community who “lovingly restored” the fragile chalk environment and Newland goes so far as to accuse the eco-protectors of “poisoning” the chalk with chemicals.”

The huge head of the Alton Barnes White Horse. (Steve Simmons UK / Adobe Stock)

The huge head of the Alton Barnes White Horse. (Steve Simmons UK / Adobe Stock)

Should Flash Art Be Allowed To Challenge English Law?

In an article in The Guardian about the defacing of an English SSSI a spokesman for Extinction Rebellion's Vale of Pewsey group said the protesters had laid out soft fabrics to create a piece of “flash art” and I find two questions arise from this statement. 1. At what moment in the last week were British heritage and ecology laws changed to accommodate flash art? 2. When did “flash art” become “political pop-art”? With all of the ancient symbols representing passing time available to the group, they settled for the uber-predictable hourglass to represent time running out in our chance to turn climate change around. And in an attempt to justify their act the spokesperson said the group did it out of “love” of community, landscape, children and our planet.

Meanwhile, in the world the rest of us live in, that dull one where you cannot go about breaking laws even when “love” made you do it, the group have pissed-off a community, damaged a landscape, insulted children and they trod all over an SSSI - harming the planet. This is a solid four out of four “fail” where they disrespected everything they claim to love. And perhaps it is number 4 that is hardest for everyone to swallow: the group trekked across a protected SSSI and created calamity in a peaceful English environment bringing with them severe “climate change”.

It might be the sheer hypocrisy of number 4 that the locals, and certainly I, find hardest to swallow.

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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