DISMAYED residents are challenging approval given to dig up over three kilometres of hedges around an ancient site dubbed the 'Stonehenge of the North.'

Thornborough Henges, which date back 5,000 years are a series of mounds and pits near Bedale, thought to have been used as a ritual centre and funeral site in the Neolothic and Bronze Age.

Historic England have done an about turn and say hedges planted around the site over 20 years ago with their backing, are an “alien” invasion, they want to see the site returned to its original state.

However residents, the Yorkshire Wildlife trust and Tanfield Parish council fear loss of the hedges will affect birdlife and the site and have challenged Hambleton district council granting permission. They claim it was done in 25 days, before the issues could be considered properly.

Resident Julie Kane said the latest move is in complete contrast to comments made in 1997 when the hedges were planted under a countryside stewardship scheme to physically link the scheduled monuments and provide a boundary between the stewardship area and farmland.

She said that is what the hedges had done with up to 180 birds nests now in the hedges. “This premier sacred site of religious ritual and funerary significance is presently framed somewhat like the aisle of a church. A living aisle which is now of ecological value to birds and other wildlife,” added Ms Kane who has called for an ecological survey.

Simon Midcalf, also from Thornborough, said rather than removing the hedges they should be dealing with the rabbit population which is damaging the structure. “The henges are widely used recreationally, by locals and interested members of the public and have been for many years. I question whether this rapid decision is in the public interest,” he added.

Keith Emerick, Ancient Monument Inspector for Historic England said the henges are among the top ten most important complexes in the country. Quarry firm Tarmac negotiated to transfer the monument to public ownership in return for extended quarrying rights and removing the hedges is part of that.

Mr Emerick added:”In order to present the site to the public and manage it in a manner appropriate to its national importance it is necessary to remove the hedges as they limit the understanding of the complex and introduce an alien landform to the monuments and their landscaping setting.”

A spokesman for Hambleton council said:”The hedgerow in question is not over 30 years old so it is not important under Schedule 1, part 11, criteria 2 and 3 of the Hedgerow Regulations 1997, as such the hedges cannot be made the subject of a retention notice.”