Litter at the ‘S’ Word…

Stonehenge_sun_through_trilith_April_2005Ok. I’m going to step up to the breach and write about the S word. The S word being Stonehenge.

Since the exclusion zone that was set up during the Thatcher years to prevent people getting to the stones and to hammer the death knell into the memory that was the Stonehenge Free Festival this world heritage site has been the topic of arguments, flame wars, political posturing, and also a lot of really positive spiritual discussion and ritual. But I’ve noticed that you open your mouth to speak your mind about the site with a sense of impending peril.

Why am I writing about Stonehenge? After the Solstice, for the first time that I can remember, the focus of some newspaper reports was on the litter left behind. This resulted in me receiving a number of Facebook PMs and emails outraged at the ‘Pagans’ and particularly the ‘Druids’ leaving behind such a huge amount of litter at such an important ancient site. I get the outrage, but I think the anger is a little misdirected. The Summer Solstice celebrations at Stonehenge attract a vast range of people – from Druids and other Pagans, to partiers out for a good night, to people stopping off on their way to Glastonbury Festival. We just don’t really know what percentage of the people attending are actually Pagan and are there for the spiritual aspect of the Solstice sunrise.

Am I then blaming the non-Pagans for the litter?

Well, I would hope that those who follow an earth-centred spiritual path would walk their talk and take care of the planet they revere by placing rubbish in bins or taking it home with them. But I also know that this is not always the case. People are people.

Let it be known that I have never been to Stonehenge for the Solstice but I’m writing this to address all of the people who have contacted me about it, just so you know I listened, and you’re not being ignored. But also there might be others out there who may be thinking the same way.

The thing is that the Solstice has been open at Stonehenge for years now, and this is the first time I’ve seen pictures of the litter. So to me this suggests that something fundamental to the organisation of the event changed this time. It was the first one since the new visitors centre was opened, so was a new system was being introduced? Did people have to park further away? Were there enough bins? Were there food vendors on site (this always increases rubbish)? What was it that had changed so that the focus was on the rubbish left behind?

Maybe there is always rubbish after. The main moaning came from the Daily Mail, a rag I detest and will not link to from this blog as I don’t want to increase the traffic to their horrible publication.

The Daily Mail has never been the Pagans’ friend.

Maybe the litter has always been there. Maybe it’s an accepted thing when you get 35,000 people staying overnight at a space with food and drinks vendors, and some of those don’t have as much of a vested interest in the preservation of the space. When I heard that the stones were opening up for general access at the Solstice I knew in my heart that this kind of thing might happen. Being at the centre of such violence, with riot police and protests, the stones became a symbol of freedom, a symbol of defiance against authority. The arguments that still go on around them are really an echo of that struggle.

Either the litter has always been there after the Solstice, or something changed this year. If something changed, then maybe more bins are needed. Make sure the vendors have bins nearby. If it’s always been there, well, more bins would still be good! If English Heritage need help with the clear up, and you go to the stones for your deep spiritual connection at Solstice time, then maybe next time stay behind and help pick up any litter. Hopefully by next year they will have registered the problem, and will have put procedures in place to deal with it.

So I’ve written about Stonehenge.

Be gentle with me…

23 responses to “Litter at the ‘S’ Word…”

  1. We attend the winter solstive when we can, it’s a bit of a family tradition now. But summer? By the Gods no! It would be like attending St Paul’s on Good Friday and finding out there was a rave on.

    I know people who go and have a great time, but not for the likes of me. And the litter? Looks like a non-news story. The outraged pagans seem to have little sense of the real issues. Stonehenge as a spiritual site being dis-respected by people? It’s been occuring for quite some time, and much of it has been undertaken by those claiming it as a spiritual pagan site.

    I blame Thatcher.

  2. We went once to Stonehenge on the Solstice and once was enough, it seemed 10% pagan like people and 90% others who turned up after the pub was shut to carry on the party. My Dad (70 +) who was dozing on a blanket was being trodden on at 2am by drunken teenagers. We now go to one of the private druid events a few days before or after the solstice. I can promise they leave NO litter. I agree more litter bins would be good but there will always be the need for a good clean up afterwards.

    • I agree with you, Janet, that once is enough. I brought my daughter all the way from the U.S. to experience the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge when she was 11, in 2009. We arrived at 4:00am and hiked in, in hopes of watching the sun rise with other like-spirited individuals. The scene was a stinking mess of drunken, stoned, loud and/or passed out party animals. It was certainly no place to bring a child, not to mention anyone with soulful intentions. I’ve made a half dozen or so pilgrimages to Stonehenge, Avebury and other megalithic sites to the north, such as Castlerigg, but never before on the Solstice. I actually wrote a letter of complaint to English Heritage, but they wrote back defending the annual disgraceful hog fest. The rancid behavior of some that we witnessed caused genuine concern for the safety of the monument.

  3. I can confirm all bins overflowing (although i managed to take my litter home, not too hard!) and can also confirm a fair amount of party goers definately not of a spiritual grounding and food vendors certainly did not help

  4. The UK isn’t a very clean place any more and frankly it doesn’t surprise me that people are are being disrespectful. .

    A huge increase in the available litter bins would probably make a considerable difference as if it is just a question of holding out you hand to drop something in people will use them..

    Very, very sad though.

    • I am privileged to be one of the trusted individuals to know about a little shepherds hut in the Pennines, many miles from Stonehenge. The same principal applies however and I have put up a note to this effect; it reads “You carried it in full, now carry it home empty”.
      And to me, this is the thing; we (the collective we) are prepared to carry full bottles, bags, cans, boxes and so forth because when we reach our destination we are rewarded by the contents being available to us, which makes us happy.
      The collective ‘we’ diverges here however, with those who, once the immediate reward is consumed, see the container as a burden.
      The (hopefully) majority see it as a means to an end and in the first instance think about the need to drag lots of packaging about versus the expected reward and then TAKE IT HOME. The second (or is it joint first) should be “how can I re-use/recycle/return this”? I dunno, maybe I’m just old fashioned, I can’t conceive of dropping so much as a sweet wrapper as it is an invasion into the natural world we all belong to. I can do fruit, or fruit skins – they’re degradeable rapidly, but I would never dream of ‘dumping’ something that either would not degrade naturally (and swiftly) or leaving it for someone else to clear up. It is not their responsibility, it is mine. Sorry for rambling on, it just annoys me that so many see their responsibility to this Earth of ours ends with the re-useable bags from the supermarket.

      • Depends on the fruit and the weater Jeff. My experience of being at the top of Sacfell is forever marred by the presence of a large number of banana skins, not something that grows or decays rapidly in the UK climate!

    • As a outsider from the States and looking at the photo aftermath of the trash that was left behind. I’ve left wondering if our own Spiritual Essence has been disconnected because of this Fast Pace World that we are living in with the Texting and the quick advancement of technology from different parts of the world.
      Things that once were Sacred from the Past and now being exploited by the general public as a Selfie!
      I’d still have dreams in visiting Stonehenge, one day and my love of the History and Lore of the Ancient Lands. I hold so dear even as a child. Also I’ve based my yoga teachings and principles around. My dreams to able to teach a yoga class on the site someday! /l\

  5. I think it’s long past time for an adjustment of the general mindset of the country. I’ve been to England, and it’s filthy. Recycling is almost non-existent. In Canada, for many decades we have had strict litter laws with hefty fines for littering on highways, etc. Recycling is the law. It’s takes being raised that way, but for the most part, folks that live in Canada are just used to NOT chucking their junk. It’s not perfect but it is a lot better than other countries I’ve visited. It becomes a cultural thing- having enough pride in one’s country to keep it clean.

    • Janet,
      Your comment “I’ve been to England, and it’s filthy” struck me as the observation of a neophyte traveler. How many times have you been to England, and to what parts, and over what period of time? I’ve been going to England regularly since 1964 and have lived there for periods of up to 3 years, twice. I’ve visited almost every county and several major cities. Sure, parts of it are filthy, as are parts of any country in the world. But I have been struck by visits to rural Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex, and the Lake District and Yorkshire Moors by the cleanliness (and lack of litter) in public footpaths. Perhaps another visit or two or three to England would show you that it’s not (all) “filthy” by any means.

    • Recycling is required in the UK to meet EU requirements. I’ll agree we’re not perfect, I’ll agree there are areas which need to up their game, but as someone who is from the UK and currently living in California, I’d say they are on par in terms of cleanliness and recycling.

  6. I was there this year. All the infra structure was in place for a festival the only thing missing was the stage and a band. The majority of people were revellers the main presence from any spiritual group were the moonies who seemed to have permission for a cart. I can remember thinking it was a shame not to see any Druids that I know. In regard to the litter once again the infra structure was in place for any clean up operation needed. Much better than the thatcher days but far from ideal. However lets face it people have been drawn to Stonehenge for years despite governmental suppression and I believe they will continue to do so whatever the authorities decide

  7. Aarrgh! Litter! Complete anathema to me. Can you imagine leaving mounds of junk inside a cathedral or a mosque? I applaud the opening of these ancient sacred sites to the general public, but the level of ignorance and disrespect of the significance of these places just beggars belief. Stonehenge, sadly, has succumbed to the “I was there” army of bandwagon passengers, with all the spiritual sensibility of a pneumatic drill! I have certainly no intention of visiting Stonehenge during the Summer Solstice.

    As for the excuse for a newspaper which you mention…

    No! I’ll stay calm.

  8. No need to be gentle with you at all – you put it all very clearly and nicely said. I have never been either, but it seems to me that 36,000 in one place at one time is rather a lot of people. I read that there were vendors, and I also read that there were not enough bins. In my mind there is no excuse to litter, but not everyone is brought up with the same beliefs. If food vendors are selling food and presumably making a nice profit from it they should be required to supply plenty of bins or at least garbage bags. Either that or English Heritage should take a portion of the rent (I’m guessing they charge the food vendors a fee to be there), and using that supply adequate bins and or bags. And YES, everyone should pull together to show respect and keep the space clean. Sorry… I guess I just repeated your post 😉

  9. I enjoyed some of the early open access summer solstices, but stopped 7 years ago as it became more like a festival without bands, most people stood around being bored or on the phone/texting.
    I was at the last free festival and the area around the stones was a spiritual place set away from the 50, 000 + celebration. I saw a couple of people drop litter, but someone nearby would pick it up and give it back, the shared community spirit just worked
    As solstice fell on the weekend there was bound to be a big attendance, but didn’t look like much litter. The litter at large music festivals is far worse

  10. Interesting and gentle editorial about Stonehenge’s litter problem.
    I had two thoughts: one, why is the focus on the need to pick up and bin litter, and not on recycling? I wasn’t there and didn’t (and won’t) read the DAILY MAIL piece, but I pick up litter every day from the beach where I live in Florida, and a good proportion of it — probably more than 50% — is plastic that can be recycled.

    Two: litter doesn’t harm the stones.


  11. P.S. The DAILY MAIL may not be a friend to pagans, but neither is it a friend to any nonprofit or religious group, so far as I can tell. The MAIL, like others of its ilk, is a friend to profits and expansion. News of 35,000 quietly enjoying solstice at Stonehenge doesn’t sell papers: faux outrage about litter might.

  12. Hi Damh,
    I’ve never been to Stonehenge for the actual Solstice Sunrise either and having heard from others what it’s like I’m unlikely to go. I’ve heard in the past how dreadful the litter problem is at Stonehenge on that particular day. A TV presenter has even written about it in a book describing it being ‘as though half a dozen bin-lorries had backed up to Stonehenge from all points on the compass and tipped their loads……There was rubbish everywhere’ and this is describing the aftermath of the Summer Solstice in 2010, so it’s sadly not a new problem. Why can’t people just take their litter home with them?! It’s not difficult!

  13. Many do take their litter home and there are others who remain to clear up after. A photo an hour or so later, after most folk had left, would have shown an amazing difference. Food vendors supply bins but are slow to empty them during the night. There are not many bins close to the stones which is part of the problem. Perhaps volunteers walking around with bin bags might help but that is asking a lot of those folk.
    litter is a problem, but good old Daily Fail made the most of their antipaganism.
    I also agree that those who see SH as a temple or spiritually significant do not litter, but as the census showed we are only 0.1% at best of the population.
    In peace.

  14. When we look at Stonehenge we look at the heart of the land, symbolically it’s high temple,
    The festivals, beatings, exclusion zones barbed wire, the present scenario of controlled “allowance” of access all take on a depth profundity a poetry of their own when seen through these eyes,. The litter is not new, as word has spread about open access and more people have come to join the “party” the litter has got progressively worse,,, it’s part of the song of the land, our youth so disenfranchised that sacredness has so little meaning now, nowhere relevant to them to turn to, and yet, and yet reaching out or being drawn to something deep and ancient and relevant beyond the words of britains contemporary lexicon, unroll we as Druids can reach out effectively to the people to help the poetry of the sacred find its echo on all lips and in all the hearts of the disenfranchised tribes,,, then I for one would volunteer to clean up the debris that sings so hauntingly in the wake of the seasonal ritual at Stonehenge.

  15. I went to Stonehenge for the solstice this year and sure there was litter. As others have pointed out there was also food vans doing roaring trade and very few bins. It’s clear the solstice night is run a little like a festival in that its simpler to have an army of litter pickers going in afterwards. I’m sure by the time the place opened to the public it was back to normal.

    What was also clear however was that whilst many people young and and old had come to party many were also extremely curious about druidry and the stones. Myself and my friends had several interesting conversations with curious folks who wanted to know more. They may not have been pagans or druids, but something had nonetheless made them journey to the stones to watch the sun. I for one, celebrate that fact. It was also clear that when we started to pick up litter after the sunrise and before being herded out, there were many others young and old, drunk and sober who followed our lead and picked up litter as well.

    So instead of getting angry and pointlessly complaining about disrespectful people, as a druid I personally feel its better to accept that we are none of us perfect and to embrace the challenge of talking to people, educating people and above all leading by example.

  16. Thank you Jan for pointing out both sides of the story so nicely. The images I saw of the trash littering the site deeply affected me. But a snapshot is always out of context. Yet it happened and we should neither minimize that it DID happen nor point fingers. What happened is a warning that our culture does not respect the earth, even some pagans may have been among the culprits, but we are all responsible because we all contribute to society being the way it is by how we live our own lives. You cannot change others by force, only through inspiration. and the way to do that is to lead by example. As Druids we can help the world at large remember that ALL of nature – not just the popular places like Stonehenge, Avebury, or even Niagra Falls, are sacred. When was the last time Saint Peters or Windsor Castle or the White House was trashed like this? Why is Stonehenge seen as less sacred then the Vatican and thought of more as a good place to host all-night barbecue or carnivale? Because we – all of us – let it be so.

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