Scheduled Monuments at Risk

The 19,855 archaeological sites currently on the Schedule of Monuments are recognised as being amongst the most significant archaeological remains in England.

They range from prehistoric burial mounds and hillforts to 20th century industrial and military sites. They provide immense historical depth to the places and landscapes in which we live. However, they are often fragile and easily damaged. Once gone, they can never be replaced.

Prehistoric stone circle on Birkrigg Common, Cumbria,and a group of volunteer bracken bashers, seen here in the middle of the cleared stone circle.
The prehistoric stone circle on Birkrigg Common, Cumbria, was at risk due to invasive bracken growth. It was removed from the Register in 2017 thanks to the work of volunteer bracken bashers, seen here in the middle of the cleared stone circle © Historic England DP174639

The current situation

As in previous years, damage from ploughing is the greatest threat, affecting over 33.5% of scheduled monuments on the Register.

The Conservation of Scheduled Monuments in Cultivation (COSMIC) project assessed ways to avoid further damage, whilst enabling cultivation to continue wherever possible.

Management decisions are being made, leading to the removal of significant numbers of scheduled monuments from the Register. COSMIC was prioritised in the historic environment sector's heritage protection plan, known as Heritage 2020.

Although generally more long term and gradual in their effects, degradation and decay as a result of natural processes, such as scrub and tree growth, erosion and burrowing animals, remain the second greatest threat.

There are 2,151 archaeology entries on the 2018 Heritage at Risk Register. Over a hundred (104) archaeology entries were removed from the 2017 Register for positive reasons, but 58 sites were added.

The challenge ahead

Because they are likely to have few practical economic uses, scheduled monuments may be more at risk from neglect and decay than buildings or landscapes, particularly where owners already face difficult economic choices.

However, in many cases the steps needed to stabilise the condition of scheduled monuments can be relatively simple and inexpensive.

We can positively state that the majority of rural sites at risk can be restored to good condition in ways that deliver other environmental objectives, or contribute to rural economies.

Some monuments do require significant investment and in these cases close co-operation is needed between owners, land managers and Historic England to discuss potential sources of grant aid.

The Countryside Stewardship Scheme, run by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, managed by Natural England, targets archaeological sites at risk, helping with their conservation and management. The scheme (and its predecessor Environmental Stewardship) has been very successful in improving the condition of many hundreds of monuments. Our work in partnership with Natural England has removed well over 800 scheduled monuments from the Register since 2009 and we therefore welcomed the recognition given to the value and importance of heritage within the 25 Year Environment Plan and the Agriculture Bill. The Bill proposes that the conservation of rural heritage will be one of environmental public goods funded through the domestic successor to the Common Agricultural Policy after the UK leaves the European Union. 

Historic England Management Agreements, Monument Management Schemes and Heritage Partnership Agreements can also play a key role in helping improve the condition of many archaeological sites and monuments.

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