‘Some day it looks as if the priory is rising out of the ground!’
At a recent meeting at Binham Priory, a member of the Local History and Archaeology group commented that when they walked across the fields to the priory, it seemed like the remains of the old buildings, the ones usually hidden beneath the soil, were rising up. Following this meeting, a walk around the precinct revealed that some of the buried remains, such as the walls of St Thomas’ Chapel were beginning to appear above ground.
This summer was very dry in East Anglia, and like wet weather and very cold weather, a dry summer can have an impact on ancient monuments. In particular, as the soil dries out, it shrinks back revealing masonry once safe underground, and as old walls appear, they become vulnerable to damage. These kinds of changes seen at our sites have led NAT to start exploring how climate change may impact the monuments in our care.
Although exploring climate change and heritage is relatively recent, new guidance and information is beginning to emerge to review what sorts of impact we might expect to see on both above and below ground monuments. The range of sites owned and looked after by NAT present a number of potential issues. As noted, sites such as Binham Priory may suffer from soil shrinkage, whereas sites such as St Benet’s Abbey may suffer with damage from flooding and increased water in the soil. We might also see the chemical conditions of the soil change, impacting on buried remains. In addition, where we experience warmer summers we may see increased fungal and plant growth, or more insects making fragments of old walls their home. Extreme weather events might also have an impact on our historic monuments, testing the structural integrity of some.
Over the coming years, NAT will continue to monitor the state of its above-ground monuments and below ground archaeology, seek to understand the changes that might affect them, and find ways of mitigating them, to ensure they survive for future generations to research, learn from, and enjoy.
Image: Walls of St Thomas’ Chapel, Binham, appearing as the soil shrinks back in dry weather.