HADRIAN’S Wall is in such a dire state of deterioration that parts of it should be closed to the public, a report has concluded.
Peter Fowler, an archaeologist and a World Heritage consultant for Unesco, said in his report that the Roman wall’s condition is much worse than he had feared and that sections of the 73-mile frontier need immediate attention.
“By immediate, I mean this week, today — now,” he said. “Very little is being done to stop the destruction of such an important World Heritage Site. The situation is desperate.”
Although the wall has survived invasions and battles during its 2,000-year history, parts of it could collapse under the weight of an army of walkers. Some 400,000 people have used a walking trail that opened nearly two years ago. But no more than 20,000 people a year were expected when the trail was planned in the early 1990s.
After all, when the Emperor Hadrian ordered a wall to be built in AD122 to define the northwestern frontier of the Roman Empire, only the sentry guards would have walked along it originally.
Professor Fowler, former head of Archaeology at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and former Secretary to the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, has been so alarmed by the damage that he has recommended that parts are closed. “People rationing” would be another option, he said.
He called for urgent action from English Heritage, the Countryside Agency and highways authorities, which are among the bodies responsible for the wall — particularly as more people are expected to visit the site during the school holidays.
His report, Hadrian’s Wall and the National Trail, was submitted to the bodies yesterday.
Professor Fowler said: “To put it mildly, I was somewhat disconcerted at what I found . . . serious inadequacies in the management of the trail are apparent . . . the commitment by the Countryside Agency and the highway authorities ‘to manage the trail effectively’ was not apparent on the ground.
“And if the Agency does indeed see the trail as a ‘significant contribution to, and essential part of’ conserving and managing Hadrian’s Wall ‘in ways that matched its international profile’, it appears to be looking through the wrong end of the telescope.”
The Countryside Agency said that it could not comment on the criticisms until it had fully digested the report but said that there was “a robust system” to monitor and manage the trail.
But Professor Fowler said that the facts and figures he picked up along the wall are more alarming than those produced by English Heritage, which said that “large numbers of visitors can be accommodated without damage”.
While the heritage body said that nearly 80 per cent of the trail needs some treatment, Professor Fowler said that 40 per cent of it needed immediate attention.
He said: “Erosion, once established, accelerates. The deterioration needs to be reversed.”
He said that most of the stretch from Gilsland, north of Brampton, to Chapel House needed attention. He added: “It’s very alarming. The trail at Limestone Corner is on the stones that have fallen down from where the wall was. People are walking on archaeology — the stones from the wall itself.”