What is Heritage at Risk?
English Heritage published the first national Heritage at Risk Register in 2008. It involved a systematic review of the condition of all problem buildings. Since then it has expanded and now covers all types of heritage asset. The Register is published annually as a national register and as a series of regional registers.
All heritage assets are considered to be at risk, with those in optimal condition and no known threat considered to be at Low risk. Heritage assets facing threats or suffering from particular vulnerabilities will be assessed as being at High or Medium risk, depending on the type of site, their vulnerability, the threats they face and the management systems in place.
The Heritage at Risk concept helps to raise awareness of our shared heritage, the risks and challenges that it faces and helps us respond more effectively to ensure our heritage survives for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations.
What is the Heritage at Risk Project
The Northumberland National Park’s Heritage at Risk project aims to create a better understood and sustainably managed historic environment. It will do this by working with volunteers and local people to:
- Conduct condition surveys to collect up-to-date information on the current state of the National Park’s Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAMs);
- Identify priority monuments at risk within the National Park;
- Undertake targeted conservation actions of priority at risk sites within the National Park;
- Reduce the number of SAMs in the National Park that are at High and Medium Risk.
What is a Scheduled Ancient Monument?
A Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM) is a site that has been given special legal protection because it is recognised as a nationally important site. Scheduling is the only form of legal protection designed specifically for archaeological sites, and makes certain activities illegal without Scheduled Monument Consent.
For example, under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 it is a criminal offence to destroy or damage a Scheduled Ancient Monument. Or execute, cause or permit any works that could damage, destroy, demolish, remove, alter, repair or add to a SAM without specific consent.
What is so special about the Scheduled Ancient Monuments within the Northumberland National Park?
The Northumberland National Park covers an area of 405 sq miles, and it contains a unique, complex and well preserved historic and prehistoric landscape. People have lived in the areas that now make up Northumberland National Park for at least 10,000 years, and they have left physical remains of their presence behind, many of which are visible in the landscape.
The Northumberland National Park contains 424 Scheduled Ancient Monuments. Many of these are exceptionally well preserved and survive as visible, upstanding landscape features and archaeological earthworks, contributing to the special qualities and character of the National Park.
What are archaeological earthworks?
The term archaeological earthwork can cover a whole range of monuments, but can be generally defined as an archaeological context or group of contexts that are expressed on the ground surface as either a mound or as a hollow (Rimmington 2004).
Why are archaeological earthworks and Scheduled Ancient Monuments so important?
Archaeological remains are a finite resource, any damage they suffer is irreversible and results in the loss of archaeological contexts, and consequently a loss of knowledge about the past. They are also important because…
- they make an important contribution to the landscape;
- people use them in their recreational activities;
- they are important to people and local communities because of their associations with people, memories, beliefs and events;
- they are often also important ecologically (Rimmington 2004).
What makes earthworks and Scheduled Ancient Monuments vulnerable?
Each earthwork or SAM is different, and so will face different threats or vulnerabilities. The monuments vulnerabilities and the threats it faces depend on:
- The nature of the monument and earthworks – its form, material and composition
- The geology of the site – soil and bedrock type
- The location of the site – altitude, aspect, ground cover, surrounding vegetation and surrounding structure
- The land-use of the site and the wider area
- Environmental Conditions
What is condition monitoring?
Condition monitoring is a type of survey, which assesses the state of a monument or earthwork at a particular point in time by conducting a field visit to the site. It involves the collection of evidence concerning the current state of the monument by the production of a survey form, sketch plans and photographs.
How does condition monitoring help?
Only through monitoring sites and identifying the threats, issues and vulnerabilities they face can effective management and conservation steps be taken. Up-to-date and accurate records of a monument’s condition, and how this is changing over time, are essential for a monument to be fully understood.
Unless a monument is fully understood effective and appropriate management and conservation actions cannot be implemented. Monitoring helps to ensure that resources are focused and prioritised on the sites and monuments most in need and are used effectively, and to assess the success and effectiveness of management techniques or protective measures put in place.
Why is it important to conduct condition surveys on the Scheduled Ancient Monuments within the Northumberland National Park?
In order to manage the landscape of the National Park successfully, for the present and for the future, it is important to fully understand the past. Condition monitoring and surveying of the SAMs within the National Park makes a vitally important contribution to increasing our understanding of the past. It greatly assists in the management of such sites and the wider landscape, ensuring our heritage treasures are valued and preserved for future generations to enjoy.
Who conducts Condition Monitoring of the Scheduled Ancient Monuments within the Northumberland National Park?
Condition Surveys of SAMs within the Northumberland National Park are carried out by trained Heritage at Risk volunteers. Anyone can become a Heritage at Risk volunteer and help look after these special, nationally important sites. Find out more about being a Heritage at Risk Volunteer here.
Where can I find more information?
There are a number of publications available that detail different types of damage and threats to archaeological sites, and how to manage archaeological remains effectively (see list below).
- English Heritage (2003) Ripping up History. Archaeology under the plough.
- Forestry Commission (2004) Trees and Forestry on Archaeological sites in the UK.
- Oxford Archaeology (2009) Nighthawks and Nighthawking. Damage to Archaeological Sites in the UK and Crown Dependencies caused by Illegal Searching and Removal of Antiquities.
- Natural England (2008) Bracken. Species Information Note SIN011
- Natural England (2008) Bracken management: ecological, archaeological and landscape issues and priorities Technical Information Note TIN047.
- Natural England (1999) Lowland Grassland Management Handbook
- Rimmington J N (2004) Managing Earthwork Monuments. A guidance manual for the care of archaeological earthworks under grassland management.