On heritage still at risk

Recently published statistics on the number of scheduled monuments at risk nationally serve as a sharp reminder of why we are lucky that the Norfolk Archaeological Trust exists.

Towards the end of October Historic England published the latest update of the national Heritage at Risk Register. The 2015 Register identifies that, nationally, barrows are the heritage asset type currently most at risk, making up 15.6 % of all sites on the register, and that 15.5% of all enclosures at risk are in the East of England region.

Barrows are the most numerous pre-historic monument recorded in Norfolk but sadly most of them have been flattened long ago as a result of agricultural practises. Fewer than 400 barrows still survive as recognisable mounds above ground. As Peter Wade-Martins noted in his article on the history of the Trust ‘bulldozing of earthworks and ploughing became ever more destructive in the 1950s and 1960s’ (1). It was the destructive force of the modern tractor which changed the focus of the Trust in the 1980s away from historic buildings and towards rural monuments at risk. In this day and age it’s shocking to read in the Register’s introduction that loss and damage as a consequence of arable cultivation remains the greatest source of risk to scheduled monuments on the Register. At the other end of the scale, lack of management, which permits the spread of tree, scrub and bracken growth, is the cause of widespread long-term damage to archaeological sites.

These statistics are rather depressing, but it’s worth noting that the Higher-level Stewardship scheme (HLS) managed by Natural England has had a positive impact on reducing the number of monuments at risk, and this is set to continue under the new Countryside Stewardship scheme. The Trust currently manages five of its sites under HLS – South Creake Hill Fort, Burgh Castle Roman Fort, Burnham Norton Friary, Caistor Roman Town and Tasburgh earthworks.

fiddlers hill

Most of these were under the plough and very much at risk prior to Trust acquisition, and HLS funding has contributed greatly to our capacity to manage and maintain these monuments for public benefit. We also look after one of those barrows still visible above ground in the county. Fiddler’s Hill near Binham is perhaps one of our less well known sites – but is particularly worth visiting at this time of year when its orchard of unusual varieties of apple and pear trees are bearing their fruit.

(1)  Wade-Martins, Peter ‘An Experiment in Conservation: The early years of the Norfolk Archaeological Trust’ in Landscapes and Artefacts: Studies in East Anglian Archaeology presented to Andrew Rogerson Ashley, Steven & Marsden, Adrian (eds) Archaeopress Archaeology 2014 pp 235-249

News in brief

  • Norfolk County Council consultation on proposed cuts to Historic Environment Service: if you would like to contribute to the consultation on the proposed cuts to the HES, you can read the background and respond online at https://norfolk.citizenspace.com/consultation/re-imaginingnorfolkbudget/consultation/subpage.2015-10-08.0526887604/.
  • Special offer: Lost Country Houses of Norfolk, History, Archaeology and Myth by Tom Williamson, Ivan Ringwood and Sarah Spooner: Publisher Boydell & Brewer is offering members a 25% discount on this new book which explores the reasons why so many Norfolk country houses were abandoned and later destroyed, and explores the archaeological traces which these places, their gardens and parks, have left in the modern landscape. Orders can be placed by phone on 01394 610600, by fax on 01394 610316, by email at trading@boydell.co.uk or on-line at www.boydellandbrewer.com. The discount will make the price £22.46 (instead of £29.95 RRP). Postage is £3.00 in the UK, £7.50 per book (up to a maximum of £30.00) to mainland Europe and £13.50 per book outside Europe. Please quote the offer code 15650 to ensure that the discount is given. The offer ends 31st December 2015.
  • Caistor Roman Town Interpretation: now installed on site. Download the app before you visit and experience the Roman Town in 3-D! Download here
  • Saturday 21 November  NAHRG lecture programme: The Binham Hoard: Gold and Power in Early Anglo-Saxon Norfolk. Tim Pestell (Curator of Archaeology, Norwich Castle Museum). For more info http://www.nahrg.org.uk/lecture.php
  • Saturday 14 November NNAS lecture programme: The archaeology of Itter Crescent, Peterborough: An Iron Age enclosure, a Roman villa and a Saxon cemetery Alice Lyons (Oxford Archaeology East) For more info: http://www.nnas.info/lectures