Climate Activists Deface Ancient Stonehenge Monument with Orange Paint in Effort to ‘Fight Climate Change’

By: Alex Trent | Published: Jun 20, 2024

Two climate activists were arrested on Wednesday after spraying paint on one of the world’s most famous prehistoric monuments: Stonehenge.

The activists belong to the group Just Stop Oil, which celebrated the action online and cited the motivation for the act as trying to get the UK government to hold to its promise to phase out fossil fuels by 2030.

Defacing Stonehenge

In a press release on Wednesday following the protest event, Just Stop Oil described the actions of their two climate activist supporters.

A closeup of Stonehenge as the sun sets.

Source: Hulki Okan/Unsplash

“At around 12pm, the two supporters began spraying the iconic rocks at the ancient site near Salisbury. Tomorrow thousands are expected to descend on the site to celebrate the Summer Solstice,” the statement said.


Decorating the Monument

In their statement, Just Stop Oil characterized the orange spray paint as merely decoration, expressing a commitment to saving the environment.

Protestors smear Stonehenge with orange paint.

Source: Stonehenge/X

“Two Just Stop Oil supporters have decorated Stonehenge in orange powder paint. They are demanding that the incoming UK government commit to working with other governments to agree an equitable plan to end the extraction and burning of oil, gas and coal by 2030,” said Just Stop Oil.

Call For Resistance

Just Stop Oil in its press release is encouraging others to join in on the protests, calling for an international campaign of citizens to take to defacing stones in their own communities this summer.

A person holds a sign about global warming outside during a protest.

Source: Markus Spiske/Unsplash

“Failure to commit to defending our communities will mean Just Stop Oil supporters, along with citizens from Austria, Canada, Norway, the Netherlands and Switzerland will join in resistance this summer, if their own Governments do not take meaningful action. Stone circles can be found in every part of Europe showing how we’ve always cooperated across vast distances – we’re building on that legacy,” said the statement.

Supporters Arrested

In a statement, Wilshire Police confirmed the arrest of the two Just Stop Oil supporters who had damaged the Stonehenge monument with orange paint.

A person raises their hands who are bound by handcuffs.

Source: Niu Niu/Unsplash

“We have arrested two people following an incident at Stonehenge this afternoon (19/06). 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,” said the police statement.

Reaction to the Protest

As news broke of the climate protest, a deluge of outrage was generated online over the defacing of the ancient monument, even from sympathetic climate supporters.

A white BMW electric vehicle connected to a blue-light charging station in an indoor parking area

Source: Eren Goldman/Unsplash

“I now drive an EV. I try and recycle as much as possible. I turn off lights when not needed. I’m all for Solar and wind and less coal and oil. I’m kind of with you on your campaign. But this? This doesn’t work. This doesn’t get people on side. It does the opposite. It’s vandalism,” said X user David Smith.


Just Rocks

Supporters of Just Stop Oil’s actions online viewed the reaction to the protest as over-the-top, saying it’s not a big deal because Stonehenge is just a pile of rocks. 

The monument Stonehenge seen in silhouette and the sun behind it.

Source: Shaow Nik/Unsplash

“This is so f*cking funny Onlookers crying as if they’re destroying the planet itself. F*ck stonehenge its just a bunch of dumb rocks,” said one X user.


Harmless Paint

Some supporters of the protest asserted that the stunt is ultimately harmless because the orange paint can just be simply washed off and the monument is not ruined.

A close-up image captures a paintbrush with bristles coated in brown paint touching a wooden artist's palette. The palette is smeared with vibrant dabs of red, yellow, and white oil paint

Source: Daian Gan/Pexels

“ooh strong condemnation here against people who sprayed harmless cornstarch paint against some massive rocks,” said an X user in response to Labour party leader Keir Starmer calling for the protestors to face “the full force of the law.”


Activist Statement

A member of Just Stop Oil confirmed the paint would simply wash off with the rain, and thought the stunt was worth doing for its eye-catching spectacle.

A close-up on a protestor’s sign about climate justice.

Source: Markus Spiske/Unsplash

“The orange cornflour we used to create an eye-catching spectacle 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,” said activist Rajan Naidu from Birmingham.


Lichens and Stonehenge

While the protesters may have thought that the blend of orange cornstarch paint is harmless to the monument, it’s possible that it may have permanently damaged it even if the paint is washed off.

The Stonehenge monument seen against a clear blue sky.

Source: Ana Paula/Unsplash

Stonehenge Expert Tim Daw in the wake of the protest action said that the cornflour and food dye mixture of the paint could result in “displacing” a rare lichen plant that grows on the rocks. These lichen plants act like a barrier that protects Stonehenge from weather erosion and the consequences of elemental exposure.


Outrage Over Paint

Other supporters of the protest online contrasted the paint defacement with other human-caused factors that are already damaging Stonehenge, relating them to climate change.

Stonehenge seen next to a busy road.

Source: @BladeoftheS/X

“If a bit of wash off paint on Stonehenge has got you outraged, wait until you hear about the giant 6 lane bypass that is to be built 150m from it. That will actually give off corrosive fumes that will actually destroy the rocks,” said one X user.


Pushing the Overton Window

James Skeet, a spokesperson for Just Stop Oil, gave an interview to PoliticsJOE addressing the backlash his group has received online for the Stonehenge defacement and other protest actions, asserting that the negative outrage is worth it if their actions save the climate.

The famous monument Stonehenge sitting on green grass.

Source: Brooke Bell/Unsplash

“We’re not seeking a positive perception of Just Stop Oil. What we are seeking to do is force this issue up the news agendas…There’s ample research on this that suggests that though people don’t like Just Stop Oil, they tend to dissociate it from the issue itself… it’s called the radical flank effect, it shifts the Overton Window,” Skeet said. “Either we end the fossil fuel era, or the fossil fuel era will end us.”