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Sunday, June 20, 1999 Published at 17:07 GMT 18:07 UK


Police drop Stonehenge exclusion zone

English Heritage looks after the site in the interests of the nation

Hundreds of worshippers are heading for Stonehenge to celebrate the summer solstice, which will be marked at sunrise on Monday.

For the first time in a decade, police will not be enforcing a four-mile exclusion zone around the ancient monument on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England.

The exclusion was first put in place after violent clashes between police and hippies at the so-called "Battle of the Beanfield" in 1985.

But a landmark ruling in the House of Lords allowing peaceful assembly in the area means the zone will not operate this year.

Select few

Nonetheless, Wiltshire police have been given permission to close the nearby A344 over the solstice period, and only a select few will be allowed through the outer fence and into the inner circle.

[ image: Up to 100 druids will be allowed inside the inner circle]
Up to 100 druids will be allowed inside the inner circle
This follows last year's successful experiment when up to 100 worshippers, including members of six druid groups, held a traditional festival right in the heart of the ancient monument.

English Heritage, the conservation body which looks after the historic site, announced on Tuesday that all those who had applied for access had been granted a pass.

It believes limited access will help diffuse tension and prevent some of the trouble seen in the area in recent years.

Some druid groups will hold a ceremony outside the main fence for those who do not have a pass to the inner circle.

Mystical significance

The druids say the summer solstice, which this year will be marked at sunrise on 21 June, carries deep mystical and religious significance.

Stonehenge is one of the great megalithic monuments in Europe.

It was constructed between 3,000 and 1,500 BC. Its precise purpose is not known.

But scientists say when the stones were erected, the sun would have risen exactly above the main horseshoe of stones (today, the solstice is slightly out of line with the stones).

This has led many to believe Stonehenge was a giant astronomical calendar used by ancient peoples to measure the passing of the seasons.

Vandalism at Avebury

Wiltshire police will be keeping a close eye on Stonehenge following vandalism at another ancient stone circle, Avebury near Marlborough, Wilts, on Friday.

Two stones were daubed with paint and a caller rang the BBC claiming the attack was an attempt to draw attention to the controversial planting of genetically modified crops.

Police have been unable to confirm whether the vandalism was politically-inspired but a spokesman for the anti-GM food group Genetix Snowball called BBC News Online on Sunday to deny they were responsible.

Martin Shaw said: "The desecration of ancient monuments is not the right way to go about opposing GM crops."

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