Stonehenge expert fears rare lichen in rock could be irreparably damaged after Just Stop Oil paint attack as JK Rowling leads social media mockery of eco zealots

Rare plant organisms on Stonehenge could be damaged after Just Stop Oil eco fanatics targeted the monument with orange powder paint, an expert said today.

Environmental campaigners Rajan Naidu, 73, and Niamh Lynch, 21, ran up to the stones yesterday and attacked them as members of the public tried to intervene.

Video footage showed two people wearing white shirts with the Just Stop Oil slogan, approaching the stone circle with canisters and spraying orange powder paint.

English Heritage said today there appeared to be ‘no visible damage’ to Stonehenge, but one expert revealed his concerns for the lichen plant organism on the stones.

Tim Daw, a local farmer and historic property steward who used to volunteer at the site, carried out an experiment this morning by mixing cornflour and food dye then applying it to a small piece of sarsen, which is the same stone as Stonehenge.

On the piece of sarsen a series of little back dots are visible, which are the lichen. Mr Daw described this on BBC Breakfast as a ‘very, very rare plant organism that grows on rocks’ which ‘takes hundreds of years to grow because there’s no nutrition’.

He then washed the bottom half of the stone before gently rubbing it – and noticed that the cornflour was is in the stone’s pores and therefore ‘displacing the lichen’. 

Tim Daw, a Stonehenge expert who used to volunteer at the site, carried out an experiment today by mixing cornflour and food dye and applying it to a small piece of sarsen stone

Mr Daw washed the bottom half of the piece of stone before gently rubbing it ¿ and noticed that the cornflour was is in the stone¿s pores and therefore ¿displacing the lichen¿

Mr Daw washed the bottom half of the piece of stone before gently rubbing it – and noticed that the cornflour was is in the stone’s pores and therefore ‘displacing the lichen’

Mr Daw told the show that he was ‘worried’ about the lichen on the monument, and said of yesterday’s attack: ‘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 seems pointless and damaging.’

It comes after JK Rowling mocked Just Stop Oil over the incident, claiming that the group is ‘funded by Big Oil’.

Just Stop Oil said of the attack yesterday: ‘The orange cornflour we used 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.’

But Harry Potter author Rowling reposted this on X, adding: ‘Public opinion’s definitely moving, mostly towards the conclusion that you’re funded by Big Oil.’

One person tried to halt the protest by Just Stop Oil on the Stonehenge stones yesterday

One person tried to halt the protest by Just Stop Oil on the Stonehenge stones yesterday

Harry Potter author JK Rowling has mocked Just Stop Oil after activists targeted Stonehenge

Harry Potter author JK Rowling has mocked Just Stop Oil after activists targeted Stonehenge

Another X user then replied to Rowling’s post, saying: ‘I don’t understand why they thought this would win anybody over.’

And Rowling added: ‘Let’s not target anyone or anything remotely responsible for climate change. Let’s attack a unique ancient monument to which everyone’s hugely attached, incidentally endangering rare lichen that only grows there’.’

It comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described it as a ‘ disgraceful act of vandalism to one of the UK’s and the world’s oldest and most important monuments’, while Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer branded the group ‘pathetic’.

In a reference to green energy entrepreneur Dale Vince, Mr Sunak added: ‘Just Stop Oil should be ashamed of their activists, and they and anyone associated with them, including a certain Labour Party donor, should issue a condemnation of this shameful act immediately.’

Rajan Naidu, 73, and Niamh Lynch, 21, ran up to the stone circle at around 12pm yesterday

Rajan Naidu, 73, and Niamh Lynch, 21, ran up to the stone circle at around 12pm yesterday

Mr Vince’s Ecotricity firm gave Labour £1.5million according to the Electoral Commission data for the first quarter of 2024.

The green energy industrialist also reportedly gave another £1million to the Opposition party the day after the General Election was called, taking his total donations to £5million.

He has previously donated to Just Stop Oil, although last year he said he was diverting his funding to a campaign to encourage voter registration.

However, Mr Vince stated that he did not support yesterday’s protest. He said: ‘Since Rishi Sunak has asked me personally to comment, I will. I don’t support what JSO did today, it’s that simple.

‘But there are far worse actions we could focus on, far more harmful ones, like pushing two million children and their families into poverty. This is what Sunak and the Conservatives have done with their two-child cap on benefits.

Other members of the public tried to help a women wrestle the canister off the protesters

Other members of the public tried to help a women wrestle the canister off the protesters

‘One in three of our children now live in poverty in our country. That’s my definition of a shameful act, and one deserving of all our condemnation – it has mine.’

Sir Keir said: ‘The damage done to Stonehenge is outrageous. Just Stop Oil are pathetic. Those responsible must face the full force of the law.’

But Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho accused Labour of ‘faux outrage’ at Just Stop Oil and claimed the Opposition’s net zero policy had been ‘dictated by fanatics’ in the environmental protest group.

Conservative minister Simon Hoare joined the chorus of criticism, saying: ‘The full weight of the law is needed. I would incarcerate them on an old oil rig.’

And fellow Tory Alex Stafford said: ‘It’s absolutely disgusting – these mindless vandals have no appreciation for our history and heritage. All they can do is destroy rather than create.’

Rajan Naidu and Niamh Lynch were arrested on suspicion of damaging the monument

Rajan Naidu and Niamh Lynch were arrested on suspicion of damaging the monument

Nick Kendrick, 55, who has been a Stonehenge tour guide for more than 30 years, said: ‘There are 79 different species of lichen which grow on those rocks.

‘These lichen are alive and help protect the stone and (they) will definitely have been harmed by this idiotic stunt.’

Wiltshire Police said officers had attended the scene and arrested two people.

A spokesman for the force said: ‘At around noon, we responded to a report that orange paint had been sprayed on some of the stones by two suspects.

‘Officers attended the scene and arrested two people on suspicion of damaging the ancient monument. Our inquiries are ongoing, and we are working closely with English Heritage.’

English Heritage chief executive Dr Nick Merriman said this morning that there appeared to be ‘no visible damage’ to Stonehenge.

Dr Merriman told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘It’s difficult to understand and we’re deeply saddened about this vandalism, but we’ve been really touched by the messages of sympathy and support we’ve had.

‘Our experts have already managed to clean the orange powder from the stones because we were really worried about what would happen if they got in contact with water.

‘So far, there seems to be no visible damage. The site is open to the public again and for the solstice tomorrow.’

Discussing the action by Just Stop Oil, Dr Merriman said: ‘It’s vandalism to one of the world’s most celebrated ancient monuments.

‘We wish people would channel their protests away from cultural heritage sites, museums and galleries because we feel that doesn’t actually help their cause, and causes huge upset and disruption to the operation of these important sites.’

It comes after English Heritage said yesterday that experts were assessing the ‘extent of the damage’ on the stones.

Stones were covered in the substance before the protesters stopped and sat on the grass

Stones were covered in the substance before the protesters stopped and sat on the grass

A spokeswoman said: ‘Orange powdered paint has been thrown at a number of the stones at Stonehenge.

‘Obviously, this is extremely upsetting and our curators are investigating the extent of the damage. Stonehenge remains open to the public.’

Senior druid and pagan priest, King Arthur Pendragon, said he ‘totally’ disapproves of the protest and that the group’s actions ‘alienate any sympathy’ for their cause.

Mr Pendragon, who is standing as an independent parliamentary candidate for the area, said: ‘Stonehenge is a living working temple at times of celebration and pilgrimage such as the summer solstice and, as a well-known protester myself, I totally disapprove of such behaviour as demonstrated by these people who do nothing to enhance and everything to alienate any sympathy anyone has or had for their cause.’

Members of the public were seen trying to prevent the protesters by dragging them away

The pagan priest has previously been involved in several protests at the monument and lost a legal challenge over a £15 car parking charge at the site in 2017, claiming the fee breached his human rights.

In a statement, Just Stop Oil said its action was to demand that the incoming UK government should agree a plan with other governments to end the extraction and burning of oil, gas and coal by 2030.

A spokesperson for the group said: ‘The UK’s government-in-waiting has committed to enacting Just Stop Oil’s original demand of ‘no new oil and gas’. However, we all know this is not enough.

‘Continuing to burn coal, oil and gas will result in the death of millions. We have to come together to defend humanity or we risk everything.

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

Just Stop Oil protesters sprayed Stonehenge with orange paint in their latest stunt yesterday

Just Stop Oil protesters sprayed Stonehenge with orange paint in their latest stunt yesterday

The group said it used orange cornflour paint to spray onto the stones, which it claimed would ‘soon wash away with the rain’.

Responding to the group’s statement, Ms Coutinho said: ‘Labour’s faux outrage at the Stonehenge vandalism would carry a lot more weight if Just Stop Oil hadn’t also thanked Labour for enacting ‘their demands’ in their press release today.

‘We must not allow Britain’s energy policy to be dictated by fanatics.’

The incident happened yesterday at about 12pm, the day before the summer solstice is celebrated at Stonehenge, which is at the heart of a World Heritage site.

Around 8,000 people gathered at Stonehenge to mark the longest day of the year in 2023, with similar numbers expected today.

The solstice will be celebrated from 7pm this evening until 8am tomorrow.

An English Heritage spokeswoman said: ‘It won’t be affected, we are still planning on having the solstice go ahead.’

John Adams, chair of the Stonehenge Alliance group, told MailOnline: ‘The Stonehenge Alliance does not condone any action with potential to damage the stones.

‘Our campaign is about protecting the World Heritage Site from harm, especially the government’s current road building proposals which have been condemned by UNESCO.

‘This direct action is unacceptable but is relatively minor compared to the huge gash that will be cut across the World Heritage Site by the tunnel cuttings and which at the western end will run through a bronze age settlement.

‘It’s sad that this should happen on the eve of the summer solstice when hundreds of people visit Stonehenge to celebrate its majesty and solar alignment and for some this site has spiritual meaning.

‘Just Stop Oil is not part of the Stonehenge Alliance and whilst we share their deeply held concerns about the climate crisis, we don’t support direct action with the potential to cause damage to the megaliths.’

In a statement released by Just Stop Oil, Miss Lynch, a student from Oxford, said the continued burning of fossil fuels was leading to ‘death and suffering’.

‘It’s time for us to think about what our civilisation will leave behind – what is our legacy?’ she said.

‘Standing inert for generations works well for stones – not climate policy.’

Mr Naidu, who is understood to be a Quaker from Birmingham, added: ‘Either we end the fossil-fuel era, or the fossil-fuel era will end us.

‘Just as 50 years ago, when the world used international treaties to defuse the threats posed by nuclear weapons, today the world needs a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty to phase out fossil fuels and to support dependent economies, workers and communities to move away from oil, gas and coal.’

Just Stop Oil supporter Ben Lawson

Sky News presenter Matt Barbet

Just Stop Oil supporter Ben Lawson (left) said the protest had resulted in a ‘a bit of orange dust on a rock’ during in an interview on Sky News yesterday with presenter Matt Barbet (right)

In an interview on Sky News yesterday, Just Stop Oil supporter Ben Lawson said the protest had resulted in a ‘a bit of orange dust on a rock’.

Presenter Matt Barbet asked him: ‘Why these tactics in particular, which for the most part amount to criminal damage?’

And Lawson replied: ‘Well you can call them criminal damage if you like, it’s a bit of orange dust on a rock that’s weathered 5,000 years of British weather.’

Barbet then said: ‘Now Come on, that’s disingenuous. It’s not a rock, it’s an ancient monument that’s a Unesco world heritage site.’

But Lawson responded: ‘It’s a beautiful ancient monument but this is orange dust. It’s orange dust on stone. All that we need to do is wait for it to rain and all this will be washed off.

‘And these have been the 18 wettest months on record. So we’re not going to have to wait very long even. It’s unwise to get hung up on tactics.’

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