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World Heritage

This page sets out Historic England's role to advise Government on its obligations to world heritage. These are set out under the 1972 World Heritage Convention, and focus on protection of World Heritage Sites in the United Kingdom.

The International Advice team at Historic England works closely with the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), which acts as the UK 'State Party' to the Convention. 

This work helps DCMS to meet its international obligations to identify, protect, preserve, promote and transmit the Outstanding Universal Value of World Heritage Sites in England for the benefit of this and future generations.  

The International Advice team can also assist the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, the Scottish Government, Historic Environment Scotland, Cadw and Overseas Territories heritage agencies in advising DCMS on obligations in respect of World Heritage properties in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and overseas.

Durham Castle and Cathedral, World Heritage Site
Durham Castle and Cathedral, World Heritage Site

World Heritage Sites in the UK

There are currently (March 2016) 29 World Heritage Sites in the UK and its Overseas Territories, 18 of which are located entirely or partly in England. Further details of the UK's World Heritage Sites can be found on the UNESCO World Heritage Centre Website

Each World Heritage Site now has its own 'Statement of Outstanding Universal Value' (SOUV), which can be found on the UNESCO World Heritage website and clicking on the individual site. SOUV's provide a brief description of the property's significance, integrity and authenticity and of the management arrangements that are in place. 

SOUVs are particularly useful when assessing whether proposals for change will have a positive or negative impact on the World Heritage Site's Outstanding Universal Value. 

They also form an essential component of the management plans for World Heritage Sites, which set out how the OUV of each property will be sustained and enhanced. 

Management plans are usually posted on the websites of each individual property and are reviewed on a regular basis - a process that includes public consultation and engagement.

View of Ironbridge, World Heritage Site
View of Ironbridge, World Heritage Site © English Heritage Photo Library N060049

Identifying new World Heritage Sites

As part of its responsibility to identify properties that may merit World Heritage Site status, the UK Government, taking advice from an expert panel, published a "Tentative List" of candidate sites in 2011. The Panel report explains the rationale for the selection of the properties for the Tentative List. It is likely that that the Tentative List will next be reviewed between 2019 and 2021.

Once candidate sites for World Heritage status have been placed on the UK Tentative List they are invited to put forward a more detailed case for nomination. These submissions are then subject to 'technical evaluation' by an expert panel convened by the UK National Commission for UNESCO. 

Only those places that have made a convincing case that they meet the UNESCO tests for inscription on the World Heritage List are taken forward.

In order to develop a more balanced and credible World Heritage List, State Parties that already have significant representation on the list have agreed to submit a maximum of one nomination per year for consideration by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.

Following 'technical evaluation' the UK government has agreed that the nomination for the Forth Bridge in Scotland should go forward in 2015, the Gibraltar Neanderthal Caves and Environments in 2016 and the Lake District in 2017.

Protecting World Heritage

In the UK, World Heritage Sites are protected by individual designations and through the spatial planning system. Policies for the conservation and enhancement of English World Heritage Sites can be found in the National Planning Policy Framework (March 2012), particularly in Section 12.

More detailed guidance is provided in the National Planning Policy Guidance. The Circular on the Protection of World Heritage Sites (July 2009) has been superseded but still contains some useful and relevant information as does The Protection and Management of World Heritage Sites in England (July 2009) published by English Heritage (now Historic England) in support of the Circular.

Guidance on the World Heritage Convention is produced by UNESCO's World Heritage Centre in collaboration with its advisory bodies:

  • IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature)
  • ICOMOS (International Committee on Monuments and Sites) and
  • ICCROM (International Centre for the Study and Restoration of Cultural Property)

This Guidance can be found in the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention.

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