The guardians of Hadrian’s Wall, the most tangible man-made symbol of division on the British mainland, today utter a rallying cry, urging us to unite in protecting the famous monument.
This has nothing whatsoever to do with the looming possibility of Scottish independence and the need to bolster ancient defences. As so often these days, it has everything to do with money.
The Hadrian’s Wall Trust, the charity which co-ordinates the management of the 150-mile Hadrian’s Wall frontier (actually stretching from the Arbeia Roman Fort in South Shields, across to Bowness-on-Solway and down the west coast to Ravenglass), sees a crisis looming if it can’t replace public funding which is draining away from it.
Linda Tuttiett, chief executive of the Trust, says recent severe cuts mean an extra £170,000 a year must be found in order to meet the standards essential for protecting the famous World Heritage Site - a title conferred by Unesco (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) which brings prestige and responsibilities but no money.
Hence the launch today of an Adopt-a-Stone fundraising website and a call for volunteers to join a Wall Watch scheme, which is designed to monitor the impact of visitors and climate change on our great regional asset.
The initiative, enabling individual or business sponsors to attach their name to stones or larger Roman features on a virtual wall, is fun. Children aside, a swift Google search reveals you can adopt a duck, a bat, a book, a beehive... pretty much anything. Now you can claim a Hadrian’s Wall virtual stone as your own. But the offer didn’t arise out of a sense of frivolity.
“It is a serious situation for Hadrian’s Wall,” says Linda.
“I think we were reasonably well funded by the development agencies (One North East and the Northwest Regional Development Agency) but when they collapsed we lost over £1m a year.”
Core funding this year for managing Hadrian’s Wall amounted to £440,000 but that is likely to fall to about £350,000 next year, estimates Linda.
Following the line of Hadrian’s Wall through Cumbria, Northumberland and Tyne & Wear is the Hadrian’s Wall Path, one of 15 officially designated National Trails administered by Natural England, a Government quango.
More feet tramp along this route these days than ever they did in Roman times. Hundreds of thousands of them, in fact, and heavily booted rather than clad in sandals. Walkers on the trail, lured by the ancient monument, the landscape and the resonance of history, help to sustain an extraordinary number of rural businesses.
“We deal regularly with 900 businesses, including hundreds of B&Bs,” says Linda. “We’ve been encouraging these to grow their association with the World Heritage Site because it can bring them more business.”
But the path needs maintaining. According to the Hadrian’s Wall Trust, it costs £2,800 per mile per year to keep it in the condition which, in 2011, saw BBC Countryfile judge it the best walking trail in Britain.
“We asked all the local authorities along the wall if they could make a contribution to maintaining the World Heritage Site and they’ve all done that and we’re very grateful,” says Linda.
“But what has come as a real blow is there’s to be an additional 40% cut in the money for the National Trail, which costs just over £200,000 a year to keep in good condition.
“Obviously the Government is having to say no to all sorts of requests for funding and we do understand that. But we know what it costs to keep the monument and the surrounding archaeology safe and keeping the trail in good condition is key to that.”
A major challenge for any organisation charged with caring for and promoting Hadrian’s Wall is that it passes through land owned by some 300 stakeholders.
Hadrian’s Wall Heritage - it became Hadrian’s Wall Trust last year - was established in 2006 to provide unity of purpose. Hadrian’s Wall was made a World Heritage Site in 1987 – the same year as the Great Wall of China – but it had suffered because different agencies were responsible for different aspects of its management.
Lack of money threatens to undermine the achievements of the past few years, highlighting what Linda calls “the real problem”.
“We’re funded from several major sources and each funder doesn’t really understand the impact if everyone takes a little bit of funding away,” she says. “The net effect can be catastrophic.”
With the development agencies abolished and Natural England and local authorities feeling the pinch, Linda’s team at Hadrian’s Wall Trust has shrunk from 21 staff members to 16 and now 10. Another post may yet have to go.
Under these circumstances, warns Linda, it will be difficult to subject the 84-mile National Trail to the close scrutiny that makes it a favourite with walkers from this country and around the world (20% of actual visitors to Hadrian’s Wall are from abroad, as are 40% – potentially 250,000 international visitors – of requests for information).
Hence today’s appeal to our generosity. If we care about Hadrian’s Wall and our Roman heritage then the message is clear. We must unite behind it. We must give of our time and/or adopt a stone... or several. To find out how, go to www.adoptastone.co.uk