Protected Wreck Sites at Risk
There are more than 37,000 sunken ships in England's territorial sea, a legacy of more than 6,000 years of maritime trade, exploration and warfare. At present, a relatively small number are protected by law in England.
Wrecks are threatened by both natural elements and commercial exploitation of the seabed. Their survival depends on sound management and the shared commitment of all the users of the seabed.
The current situation
Wrecks are affected by both environmental and human factors. Because they are often in remote locations, their management can be challenging and changes to their condition are difficult to predict.
We regularly audit and assess all designated wreck sites to better understand their condition and vulnerability. As a result, there are three wreck sites on the 2019 Register, deemed to be most at risk.
The wreck of HMS Invincible has been removed from the Heritage at Risk Register since 2018, following three seasons of excavation undertaken by the Maritime Archaeology Sea Trust (MAST) and project partners Bournemouth University, the National Museum of the Royal Navy and Licensee Dan Pascoe of Pascoe Archaeological Services.
Historic England and others are funding ongoing monitoring work and will continue to ensure sites are prevented from becoming at risk. This will then allow them to be removed from the Heritage at Risk Register in the future.
The challenge ahead
Historic England has a statutory power to allocate funds to help preserve and maintain protected wreck sites. However, our financial resources can only solve a small fraction of the problems.
Other partners also play a vital role in stabilising these important sites. Concerted efforts by owners, local government, national government departments and agencies and the organisations that make decisions about our environment can all help to make a real difference.
There are inherent difficulties with caring for this type of site. Despite these, careful management must be maintained if we are to pass them on to future generations in as good a condition as reasonably possible.