Scheduled Monuments at Risk
The 19,850 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.
The current situation
There has been significant progress over the last year, with 378 monuments being removed from the Heritage at Risk Register for positive reasons. However, 70 new archaeology entries were added. The result is that the total percentage of scheduled monuments on the Register has now fallen to 13.6%.
As in previous years, damage from ploughing is the greatest threat, affecting over 34% of scheduled monuments on the Register.
The recent Conservation of Scheduled Monuments in Cultivation (COSMIC) project assessed in detail 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, including 153 sites last year. 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.
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.
The good news is 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 Environmental Stewardship Scheme, run by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, managed by Natural England, has been very successful in improving the condition of many hundreds of monuments. It helped Historic England meet our target to remove 25% of entries from the 2010 Register by 2015.
Natural England shares our commitment to reducing risk to scheduled monuments. Thanks to Natural England environmental stewardship agreements, 135 entries were removed from the 2014 Register.
Environmental Stewardship's successor, the new Countryside Stewardship Scheme, will continue to target historic sites at risk, helping with their conservation and management.
Historic England Management Agreements and Heritage Partnership Agreements can also play a key role in helping improve the condition of many archaeological sites and monuments.