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The results and recommendations of the ’Condition and Management Survey of the Archaeological Resource’ (CAMSAR), in Northern Ireland, have just been summarised in the Summer 2009 issue of ‘Archaeology Ireland‘. Damage to historic and prehistoric monuments is sometimes noticed, but more often takes place ‘under the radar‘, so this type of information is vital to an understanding of how our Heritage is faring and where the danger points exist. Some care should, of course, be exercised in applying data, specific to a sample of one area, to the rest of the U.K. and Ireland, however it would be surprising if the results were not broadly representative – see below, an image from a site in the Republic.
Stone Circle at Carrigagrenane SW, Co. Cork.
Stone Circle at Carrigagrenane SW, Co. Cork.

Commencing in 2004, a random sample of 1500 Northern Irish sites were visited. Their condition and any present or possible threat to that condition was recorded, and this information was compared to the site files in the Sites and Monuments Record (NISMR). Among the findings were the following, here numbered 1 to 3:

(1) “In general, sites located on arable, improved grassland and those within urban areas had the worst rates of survival and were in the poorest condition. Those located on unimproved grasslands, within woodlands and within wetlands survived best. For example, 74% of sites in woodland have survived well, while only 13% of sites on arable land can be so described.”

The other relevant percentages were; 21% for monuments on improved grassland, 53% on wetlands and 65% on unimproved grassland.

(2) “Over 90% of sites that had special protection through State Care, Scheduling or Agri-Environmental agreements were in good condition – a clear indication of the success of these protective measures”

(3) 26.5% of all sites sampled had suffered damage within the previous 5 years, but:

“When one focuses on sites that were largely complete, substantial or had some definable features, it was found that a much higher figure – 48% – had been damaged in the previous five years. Agricultural activity was identified as being the main cause of such damage, along with the growth of vegetation.”

The identification of the most threatening area types, as landscapes where the levels of human and animal activity were highest, is not surprising, but the 48% (recent damage) figure is disappointing in the extreme. Granted the aforementioned reservation about over-applying the results of the sample, it is nonetheless implicit in these figures that about a quarter of all U.K. and Irish sites may have deteriorated structurally in this five year period, this figure rising to a half when the more complete sites are considered.

Even the special protection statistic , though heartening at 90%, shows that a tenth of all protected sites were not in good condition, an analysis that could well be applied to the national monument at Bremore, Co. Dublin (see below).

Every effort has to be made to engage with landowners, particularly in heavily managed landscapes, but also where scrub overgrowth is an issue. More sites may need the security of special protection in these areas. Any serious damage, anywhere, must be exposed, lest it lead to destruction.

Gormley, S., Donnelly, C., Hartwell, B. & Bell, J. 2009 Monumental Change? in Archaeology Ireland Vol. 23 No.2 Issue No.88, 11-13 ISSN 0790-892x

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