What Is Rural Heritage?
England's rural landscape is a jewel of our national heritage, formed by people living on and working the land over thousands of years.
It includes a great range of heritage assets from historic buildings to archaeological remains. Some of these survive as functioning or disused structures. Others are monuments, earthworks or may be concealed under layers of change in our landscape. All offer different opportunities for change in the future.
Settlement and land use
Historic patterns of settlement and land use continue to influence the character of the whole rural historic environment, and the survival and development of this rural heritage.
Settlement in England varies from areas where most houses are in villages to parts of eastern and western England where dispersed settlement of small hamlets, isolated houses and farmsteads dominate. The buildings, archaeological remains and landscape settings of these different settlement patterns tell a complex story of England’s variety of farming regimes, rural industries, economies and ways of life.
Rural heritage is also detectable in the ways in which farmland and other resources such as woodland and rough ground were managed. Improving our understanding of these ways provides opportunities to work with the direction of future change and inform habitat restoration and connections.
The best-preserved upstanding archaeological remains are found in land unploughed for generations, especially in England’s uplands. Significant remains also survive buried below ground and we can use a variety of remote sensing techniques to discover and record these.
The irregular, semi-regular and regular patterns of fields result from the ancient, gradual or survey-planned enclosure of medieval or earlier farmland or of previously unfarmed land. Improving our knowledge of these fieldscapes helps us better understand agricultural processes and the historic buildings and archaeological remains that resulted from them.
The trees or hedges, wood pastures and parkland can also have their own historic value, as well as being significant wildlife habitats. Recent work is showing how much apparently ancient woodland dates from after the medieval period.
Our historic estates have also shaped many areas of England, combining agricultural land, designed landscapes and significant buildings. Nearly half of the historic parkland recorded in 1918 has been lost; in some places, these losses have been as high as 70%. Designed landscapes often stretch beyond the park and include sites and features such as model farms, estate cottages and plantations.
People today live and work in these landscapes, actively managing and safeguarding them for future generations.
Millions of people spend their free time enjoying England’s magnificent countryside. As a nation it fills us with more pride than even the NHS (DCMS Taking Part 2015).
We go there to spend quality time with our families or find some peace from our hectic lives.
We go to improve our physical and mental health, to recharge our batteries.
It’s not just the natural beauty of our countryside that makes it so special but also its heritage. For millennia we have shaped our rural landscapes and the remnants of our shared past.
The dry stones walls, hedgerows, farm buildings and archaeological sites beneath our feet are as an integral part of the countryside as its rivers, mountains and valleys.