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Battlefields at Risk

The Register of Historic Battlefields includes 46 sites where the most important military battles on English soil took place. These were often dramatic turning points in English history, places where fortunes and dynasties changed.

They are places where people risked, gave or were told to give their lives for a cause. But they are also events that live on in memory and thoughts of subsequent generations.

Battlefields are vulnerable to different modern-day pressures, many of which are outside the planning process, and are therefore difficult to manage. The battlefields range in date from Maldon (AD 991) to Sedgemoor (1685), representing many different phases in the history of the nation.

Location of Newburn Ford battlefield with power plant in the background
The battlefield at Newburn Ford, where in 1640 a Scottish Army of 20,000 captured the ford by defeating the English forces defending it, has been on the Heritage at Risk Register since 2009.

The current situation

The number of battlefields on the Heritage at Risk Register in 2016 remains as it did in 2015. Six of the 46 registered battlefields - 13% of the total - are at risk.

In 2014, Lostwithiel Battlefield in Cornwall was added to the National Heritage List for England and Register of Historic Battlefields. This battle, fought over two main phases in August 1644, was a victory for the Royalist cause, but one they failed to exploit. For the Parliamentarians, the outcome was an understanding that a professional army had to be created. The result was the formation of the New Model Army.

A number of events throughout the year continued to jog the memory and interest in battlefields.

In 2015 the resolution of the debate about the final resting place of Richard III, who died in battle, was a major news item. Coverage of his funeral procession created a dramatic link between past and present.

2014 and 2015 saw many national and local events organised to commemorate the centenary of the First World War.

Projects unveiled in 2014 continue to gather pace. The War Memorials Listing Project is a five year project to add 2,500 war memorials to the National Heritage List for England. In 2016 we saw the commemoration of the Battle of Jutland and the Battle of the Somme. Work on this project will continue on up to and beyond the Armistice commemorations of 2018.

This continuing level of activity supports and generates community participation. It is important that this continues, and that the management of battlefields matches this growing public interest and expectation.

The battlefields might be conserved, but are they being interpreted and understood? And are there opportunities for the public to be able to become involved in their interpretation and management?

The challenge ahead

At national level Historic England is planning to review the extent of the boundary of a number of Registered Battlefields. This will involve public consultation - which is now underway for Towton and Adwalton battlefields in Yorkshire.

The responses to these consultations could be seen as a barometer of public interest. They could be used to set out plans for expanding public participation through Friends groups or local heritage, history and archaeology societies.

Adding new sites to the National Heritage List for England means that we all have to work hard to ensure that those sites are not also added to the Heritage at Risk Register.

The successes of Heritage at Risk illustrate that effective management of our cultural heritage relies on community involvement and wide participation. It is only through a greater and wider sense of understanding and ownership that 'risk' can be tackled and reduced. We need to be sure that this message is adopted by all so that the battlefields survive and can be appreciated by future generations.

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