This browser is not fully supported by Historic England. Please update your browser to the latest version so that you get the best from our website.

World Heritage Sites

The UK Government is signatory to the World Heritage Convention (1) which was established in 1972 by UNESCO. The Convention initiated a list of World Heritage Sites.

World Heritage Sites are sites, places, monuments or buildings of "Outstanding Universal Value" to all humanity - today and in future generations. The World Heritage List includes a wide variety of exceptional cultural and natural sites, such as landscapes, cities, monuments, technological sites and modern buildings. There are approximately 981 (June 2013) World Heritage Sites worldwide, including the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids, the Great Barrier Reef and Venice.

There are 28 World Heritage Sites in the UK in 2011 including Stonehenge, Canterbury Cathedral, Saltaire, Hadrian’s Wall and the whole of the City of Bath.  

The protection of a World Heritage Site is the responsibility of national governments. Signature of the Convention is a commitment by that government to identify, protect and conserve their World Heritage Sites for future generations.

It is UK Government policy that each nomination of a new site to UNESCO must be accompanied by a World Heritage Site management plan to ensure that  sites are managed in a sustainable way. All UK sites have management plans in place, which are regularly reviewed.

Designation of a World Heritage Site by UNESCO brings no additional statutory controls, but protection is afforded through the planning system as well as through the other designations (listed buildings, scheduled monuments etc) that cover elements, if not the whole, of the site. The heritage significance of a World Heritage Site (its Outstanding Universal Value) will inevitably be reflected, at least in part, in the significance of any listed building, scheduled monument etc that forms part of it. The planning controls that apply to any such elements within a World Heritage Site will be an important part of the recognition and protection of the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage Site.

The NPPF (2) defines a World Heritage Site as a designated heritage asset. Accordingly, great weight should be given to its conservation and substantial harm to a World Heritage Site’s significance (the heritage aspects of its Outstanding Universal Value) or total loss of the site should be wholly exceptional (2).

Further information is available in the Planning Practice Guidance and UNESCO has published guidance on how all those involved in the care of World Heritage Sites can comply with the requirements of the Convention (3).


(1Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Heritage Cultural and Natural Heritage, 16 November 1972

(2) Paragraph 132, National Planning Policy Framework, Department for Communities and Local Government, March 2012

(3) Managing Cultural World Heritage, UNESCO, 2013

Was this page helpful?

Related publications

Also of interest...

External links

  • The leading non-governmental organisation for the protection of the cultural heritage - World Monuments Fund

    International non-governmental organisation of professionals dedicated to the conservation of the world's historic monuments - ICOMOS

    International Union for Conservation of Nature - IUCN