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English Heritage has just published its annual Heritage at Risk report. Prehistory enthusiasts will note that of nearly 20,000 at risk monuments more than two thirds are threatened by either “arable cultivation” or “unrestricted plant, scrub and tree growth” – and a large number of them are likely to be prehistoric.

Considering the law is clear that it is an offence to damage a scheduled monument, it shouldn’t be happening at all – in an ideal world. But in reality it is hard to prevent damage as mostly it isn’t dramatic like at Priddy Henges but slow and incremental – but with the same result.

One of many thousands of ploughed out burial mounds

It seems the authorities are doing as much as they can do within the current financial constraints – English Heritage inspects monuments (albeit very infrequently in most cases), makes landowners aware of their responsibilities and has offered grants this year totalling £357,000. DEFRA pays out millions to those farmers that are willing to adopt conservation-friendly farming methods. As a result 399 sites have been removed from the Register since 2009 due to “positive reasons” (though how many have been added or removed for “negative reasons” isn’t clear).

EH has just issued tender documents for an outside organisation to undertake a national assessment of monuments vulnerable to arable cultivationso so their and DEFRA’s resources can be better targeted. But at risk of nagging, as we said in August, there may be some value in…

“…harnessing and collating the efforts of the hundreds of ordinary members of the public that visit all the sites in question on a regular basis and who could be relied upon to provide accurate (and very up-to-date and entirely free!) structured eye-witness accounts. The sort of people that use websites like The Modern Antiquarian, The Megalithic Portal and others. Needless to say there would be additional advantages… the opportunity to foster a sense of public engagement and stimulate public involvement in monument guardianship on an ongoing basis.”

And as we said again in September

Isn’t this a golden opportunity for English Heritage to demonstrate that “Public Engagement” is more than just a slogan?”


October 2011

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