Farmer assesses the damage to Stonehenge after Just Stop Oil vandalism 

Tim Daw, who farms near Stonehenge, said he is concerned about the damage to the rare lichen on the stones, following the Just Stop Oil attack.

activists spraying Stonehenge with orange paint
Image: Just Stop Oil

Wiltshire farmer Tim Daw, a former volunteer at Stonehenge, was featured on BBC Breakfast discussing the damage to the prehistoric megalithic structure.

Stonehenge was sprayed with orange powder paint by activists from Just Stop Oil on Wednesday (19th June) – the day before Summer Solstice celebrations at the site.

Activists claim the powder was a mix of cornflour and food dye, which will wash off in the rain.

Local farmer Tim, however, is concerned the damage could be more lasting. 

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In the pores of the stone

Tim conducted an experiment using sarsen – the same stone as Stonehenge – taken from his own farm. 

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, he explained he had sprayed the small piece of stone with a mix of cornflour and food dye, then washed it off gently.

“On this surface, the little black dots are the lichen which is the very rare plant organism which grows on rocks. It takes hundreds of years to grow because there’s no nutrition. In sarsen there’s tiny pores where it grows,” he explained.

After washing the cornflour mixture off he said: “You can see the cornflour is in the pores of the stone, displacing the lichen. That’s what I’m worried about.”

David Nash, a professor of Physical Geography at the University of Brighton, raised similar concerns on X:

‘I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the sarsen stones at Stonehenge, including under petrographic and scanning electron microscopes. 

‘They might look solid but the stone is full of pore spaces. 

‘The orange dye sprayed on the stones today is going to be around for a very long time.’

“Shocked and saddened”

Describing his feelings on hearing of the vandalism of Stonehenge, Tim said: “I was shocked and saddened. I couldn’t believe it. 

“Stonehenge is so precious not just to me but to so many people. To do this act which I think has worked against their cause just seemed pointless and damaging.”

The Summer Solstice celebrations at Stonehenge are going ahead, and kicked off yesterday evening (20th June).

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Tim added: “I think it’s going to be a very sad occasion for a lot of people because for a large number of people who come here […] the stones have spiritual or even religious significance. 

“Just Stop Oil called them inert, well they’re not to a lot of the people who come here, they’ve got a physicality and life to them, they’re something that is worshipped and cared for. And to have that desecrated is deeply shocking and very very insensitive.” 

English Heritage update on the damage

The orange powder has now been removed from the stones by English Heritage experts.

In a statement the charity said: ‘We moved quickly due to the risk that the powder would harm the important and rare lichens growing on the stones and that if the powder came into contact with water, it would leave difficult-to-remove streaks. 

‘And while we are relieved that there appears to be no visible damage, the very act of removing the powder can – in itself – have a harmful impact by eroding the already fragile stone and damaging the lichens.’

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The charity said it was ‘deeply saddened’ by the vandalism, and noted the cost of such acts:

‘[…] As a charity we would much rather be spending our limited funds – and time – on essential conservation work. […]’

Dr Nick Merriman OBE, chief executive of English Heritage, added:

“Thankfully, there appears to be no visible damage but that’s in no way saying there hasn’t been harm, from the very act of having to clean the stones to the distress caused to those for whom Stonehenge holds a spiritual significance.”

just stop oil activists sitting in front of Stonehenge, with orange spray paint on it
Activists Niamh Lynch, 21, and Rajan Naidu, 73, sprayed the iconic rocks near Salisbury. Image: Just Stop Oil.

“Will soon wash away with the rain”

The monument was targeted by two Just Stop Oil protestors at around 12pm on Wednesday.

In the video posted on the group’s social media, people can be heard shouting “no” and trying to intervene as the activists sprayed paint on the stones.

Activists Niamh Lynch, 21, and Rajan Naidu, 73, sprayed the iconic rocks near Salisbury.   

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Just Stop Oil is demanding that the next UK government ‘sign up to a legally binding treaty to phase out fossil fuels by 2030’.

Rajan said: “The orange cornflour we used to create an eye-catching spectacle will soon wash away with the rain, but the urgent need for effective government action to mitigate the catastrophic consequences of the climate and ecological crisis will not. Sign the treaty!”

Watch the shocking moment activists sprayed Stonehenge:

Party leaders condemn attack

Leaders of the major parties condemned the group’s actions. Sir Keir Starmer said on X: ‘The damage done to Stonehenge is outrageous. Just Stop Oil are pathetic. Those responsible must face the full force of the law.’

Rishi Sunak also responded: “This is a disgraceful act of vandalism to one of the UK’s and the world’s oldest and most important monuments.”

He added that Just Stop Oil “should be ashamed of their activists”.

Similarly Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said on X: ‘The damage to Stonehenge is a total disgrace and the full force of the law should be brought down on the perpetrators.’

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Activists out on bail

Wiltshire Police has confirmed two people were arrested and released on bail following the incident.

It said in a statement: 

‘Two people, arrested following an incident at Stonehenge yesterday (19/06), have been released on bail pending further enquiries.

‘This is to allow us additional time to work with specialists and progress our enquiries.

‘A man in his 70s and a woman in her 20s were arrested on suspicion of criminal damage, damaging an ancient monument and deterring a person from engaging in a lawful activity.

‘It follows reports that an orange substance had been sprayed on some of the stones by two suspects.

‘We also continue to work closely with English Heritage.’

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