A new management plan for Stonehenge


This lesson idea has been a long time in the planning. The concept is simple; students are given an informative Google Earth file that allows them to view an Ordnance Survey map extract, pictures and video clips. These resources form the background of a simple decision making exercise, suitable for most ages and abilities. More able students will appreciate that the issues surrounding the management of Stonehenge are both complex and contentious. The recently published Action Plan for Geography KS3 support materials found on the Geography Teaching Today web site include a scheme of work called Fantastic Places. The scheme includes a lesson entitled Stonehenge - Seventh Wonder or National Disgrace? and this activity has been written as a kind of extension activity.

The issue

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument of worldwide importance. The standing stones were erected some 2000 years ago, though the accompanying earthworks were begun over 1000 years earlier. There is evidence for human activity on the site dating back 8000 years. The original purpose of the site remains open to speculation.

Stonehenge Stonehenge

It is widely agreed that the current visitor facilities require urgent improvement. In 1993 Stonehenge, which is owned by the nation, was criticised by Parliament's House of Commons Public Accounts Committee as 'a national disgrace'. The visitor experience is marred by several problems. The site itself is located between two busy roads that easily become congested, and the visitor centre, while designed to be low profile, is unattractive and dated.

shops Visitor Centre

The stones themselves are fenced off to prevent unauthorized access.

fence Fencing

A management plan for Stonehenge is urgently needed in order to restore some of the tranquility of the unique setting and to conserve the surrounding landscape and archeology while meeting the needs of the many thousands of annual visitors.


The management plans

Two management plans have been proposed in recent years...

The Stonehenge Project(web site)
Eight years of consultation and planning culminated in the World Heritage Site Management Plan. Jointly developed by English Heritage, the National Trust and the Highways Agency, together with local and national government bodies. The Plan called for the building of a £67 million visitor centre at Countess Roundabout to replace the existing facilities adjacent to the Stones. Crucial to the plan was the closure of the A344 and a road scheme for the A303 that called for the construction of a bored tunnel to hide the part of the road that is visible from the Stones. The scheme also comprised roundabout improvements at Countess East and Longbarrow crossroads and a bypass for the village of Winterbourne Stoke. The A303 itself was to be upgraded to a dual carriageway. Visitors would park at Countess East and travel part way to the stones on a land train.

stonehenge map

map source (used by permission)

Achievable Stonehenge
An alternative plan suggested by the pressure group Heritage Action makes the case for a simpler management strategy. The plan involves closing and grassing over the A344 road from its junction with the A303 up to the far end of the visitors’ car park, de-commissioning the pedestrian tunnel and moving the nearest fences much further away from the stones. The question of the relocation of the visitor centre is treated as a separate issue.

Current situation
Planning permission for the new visitor centre that is part of the Stonehenge Project plan was granted in March 2007. However the government subsequently refused to sanction the A303 road scheme which effectively means that the Stonehenge Project cannot proceed. English Heritage are very disappointed with the decision and intend to look at alternative ways to improve the setting of the stones (source) Heritage Action on the other hand are delighted, claiming that the Stonehenge Project "... aimed to improve the immediate setting of the stones but at the cost of vast collateral damage to the wider surrounding landscape and was consequently strongly opposed by most archaeological and heritage bodies."(source)


Both parties agree on the urgent need to improve the current situation. Given the combined failure of government, landowners and pressure groups to agree on a workable solution, the time has arrived for young people to have their say!

Update: 21/5/09 BBC News report (Thanks to Alan Parkinson)

Student Activity

The activity is best undertaken in small groups each with access to a PC with access to Google Earth and Flickr. If the students have not used Google Earth before they would benefit from a pre-learning activity that teaches some basic concepts including how to create a placemark, how to use and organize the Layers and My Places panels, the use of the transparency slider tool and how to create polygons and paths. Google have a comprehensive user guide here.


videoIntroductory video (can also be played within Google Earth file) high quality download (70mb Quick Time file)

word docBriefing paper (link to Geography Teaching Today site)

geiconGoogle Earth file

flickrFlickr photoset


Learning sequence:

Begin the lesson by showing the starter video. The video is best shown from within the Google Earth file.

Students then read the briefing paper found on the GTT site.

The next stage is to introduce students to the Google Earth file. They should use the file to learn more about the Stonehenge site and the management issues. The OS map overlay can be used to identify the key locations mentioned by the Stonehenge Project. There are a variety of visitor opinions expressed in the videos. Some students might be persuaded by them - for example should visitors be able to touch the stones? Should it be free to enter the site? Is the road noise intrusive? At this point the teacher should be encouraging students to ask as many questions as possible.


Groups are then given free reign to design their own management plan using the tools in the free version of Google Earth. They can also use any of the photos from my Flickr set. The outcome will be a Google Earth KML file that may include some or any of the following:
Paths to indicate any planned changes to roads / paths
Polygons to indicate the locations of new visitor facilities
Annotated placemarks to describe their decisions

The key Google Earth functions for this task.

From L to R: new placemark, new polygon, new path

The various lines shapes and placemarks created during the task need to kept in a folder within the My Places panel. This means that students can easily save their work to a shared folder, and the work of a whole class can be viewed on a large screen. Simply right click on the folder and choose "save as"
save as dialogue

Here is an example of a very basic exemplar outcome. The screenshot is from Google Earth 4.3.

screenshotlarge version

geiconGoogle Earth exemplar file

The best work will demonstrate that all the resources, including the Ordnance Survey map have been used to inform the outcome. The decisions will be carefully justified, realistic and achievable. It would be absolutely fine for students to base their decision on one of the existing plans, providing they explain their reasons. I recommend that teachers devise an assessment mark scheme with class involvement so that students understand what a good piece of work will look like.

Extension ideas:

The lesson may be concluded with some form of role-play as groups present their ideas to each other.
Some students may go further with Google tools and use Sketchup to make a 3D model of an alternative visitor centre.
Students interested in exercising their "pupil voice" may like to write to English Heritage or the Minister of State for the Environment with their ideas.

Teachers are welcome to send me examples of their student's work.



English Heritage
Geography Teaching Today
The Stonehenge Project
Heritage Action
Stonehenge page on Wikipedia


Thanks to English Heritage for permission to access the site and take photographs and videos
The Ordnance Survey kindly donated the map extract for the Google Earth file. Special thanks to Roger Jeans!
Jon Wolton at the RGS produced the briefing paper
The RGS for permission to use the map on this page
Laura Jenkins assisted with fieldwork


This lesson is for Chris Durbin - get well soon!