Left: English Heritage Inspector of Ancient Monuments, Phil McMahon surveys part of the damage to the Roman site. © English Heritage.
Experts at English Heritage are dismayed at the horrific damage caused by drivers of 4x4 vehicles to a treasured Roman site near Malmesbury in Wiltshire.
Easton Grey was once a small town that grew on the spot where the ancient Fosse Way, the arterial route between the West Country and the Midlands, crossed the River Avon. But now the landscape has been churned up by tyres, which have left ruts, up to three feet deep, in the site.
It appears the drivers have been leaving the main path and driving into the water, not only threatening archaeology but causing severe damage to the ecology of the river and its rare wildlife.
Right: traders and messengers on imperial business would have passed along the ancient Fosse Way 2000 years ago. © English Heritage.
Damage to the river banks has now become so bad, English Heritage has joined Wiltshire County Council, the Environment Agency, Wiltshire Police and landowners to call for an immediate end to the illegal activities.
“In spite of repeated attempts by English Heritage and Wiltshire County Council and surveillance by landowners to prevent vehicle access to the banks, a hard core of 4x4 drivers persists in tearing up the barriers,” said Phil McMahon, English Heritage Inspector of Ancient Monuments.
“They don't seem to care about the massive damage they are causing. We would like the wider community to be aware of the threat to their heritage and environment and to be vigilant in reporting any suspicious activity.”
Left: ruts up to three feet deep have been cut into the ancient monument. © English Heritage.
It is believed that Easton Grey began life as a Roman fort on the Fosse Way, an early frontier of Roman Britain.
Around 2000 years ago traders and imperial messengers would have passed through what was once a thriving community, perhaps stopping to rest or buy supplies.
Traces of buildings, built between the second and fourth centuries AD, are still visible in nearby fields, as well as the remains of what appears to have been a bridge. However, it is the archaeology preserved below the surface that is now causing experts the most concern.
Right: PC Bob Prior of Wiltshire Constabulary inspects the substantial damage, the causing of which is against the law and is punishable with a potentially huge fine. © English Heritage.
Wiltshire County Council Archaeologist Roy Canham explained the significance of the area: “The Roman site is especially important because it did not continue in use after the Roman period and was not disturbed by medieval or modern development.”
“The archaeology is very valuable and sensitive – the Roman remains are just six to nine inches from the surface. The low-lying part of the town and the Fosse Way are damp areas adjacent to the stream and are easily damaged by vehicles.”
An important habitat for rare wildlife, the river and bank is home to the brown trout, bullhead and protected native white-clawed crayfish, re-introduced to the Avon by the Environment Agency in the 1980s. Despite showing encouraging signs of recovery, the species is still endangered and could suffer further if the irresponsible use of 4x4 vehicles is allowed to continue.
Left: it is feared that Roman remains, a mere six to nine inches below the surface, could be seriously damaged. © English Heritage.
Under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, it is illegal to interfere with a Scheduled Ancient Monument without authorisation. Anyone who does so is liable to prosecution and a substantial fine if found guilty.
Additionally a Road Traffic Closure Order was made in 2002 prohibiting vehicles from the Easton Grey site. Furthermore the native crayfish is protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981. Wiltshire Police are anxious to hear from anyone who has information about the off-road activities that are destroying the site.
“We are pleased to support an initiative which helps to improve the quality of the countryside for people who want to enjoy it lawfully,” added Chief Superintendent Amanda Evely.