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Historic Environment Records

Historic Environment Records (HERs) are sources of, and signposts to, information relating to landscapes, buildings , monuments, sites, places, areas and archaeological finds spanning more than 700,000 years of human endeavour. Based mainly in local authorities, they are used for planning and development control but they also fulfil an educational role.

These records were previously known as Sites and Monuments Records (SMRs), but have been developing into systems representing the wider historic environment.

From early origins as records based on Ordnance Survey Archaeology Branch index cards, SMRs and then HERs have developed into sophisticated digital databases, usually integrated with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to provide the mapping component.  The data contained has been developed and added to through desk-based research and fieldwork reports as well as through statutory data and thematic enhancements.  

Selected major historic towns and cities are covered by Urban Archaeological Databases (UADs). In many cases, UADs are held as part of, and are accessible via, the local HER.

There are over 80 HERs in England which are maintained and managed by local authorities as the essential core of historic environment services. These are mainly county council based but include joint services (i.e. more than one authority working together), district councils, unitary authorities, national parks and major landowners such as the National Trust. Contact details for all English HERs may be found on the Heritage Gateway website (as well as cross-searchable data for many HERs).

HERs are used internally by local authorities (and authorities in different tiers of Government) for planning, development-control work and other areas of land management. They are also consulted by statutory undertakers (e.g. electricity suppliers etc) and developers in advance of planning applications. HERs have a role to play in education, being consulted by students at all levels from school children working on projects to post-graduate academic researchers. HERs operate public services for anyone interested in the archaeology, built heritage and history of an area.  

Content and structure of HERs

Most HERs maintain three complementary types of record dealing with monuments (these can definine any type of heritage feature, including buildings), events (fieldwork such as excavation or buildings survey) and sources and archives. These are then combined in a single database with monuments and events linked to layers in a GIS.

As well as database records, HERs have physical reference collections that can be consulted, such as reports originating from archaeological and building investigations respectively as a result of conditions placed on planning applications. Increasingly these are held digitally for on-line access (for example via the Heritage Gateway).

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