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National Importance Programme

Here you can find out about the National Importance Programme, set up to explore how to help Local Authority archaeologists identify archaeological sites of national importance that are not on the National Heritage List for England (NHLE).

Recognising archaeological significance for planning

The National Planning Policy Framework (March 2012) states that in order to conserve and enhance the historic environment 'non-designated heritage assets of archaeological interest that are demonstrably of equivalent significance to scheduled monuments, should be considered subject to the policies for designated heritage assets'. 

The National Importance Programme in partnership with the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers UK (ALGAO) and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has been set up to explore how we might help Local Authority archaeologists to identify non-scheduled but nationally important archaeological sites. Given the desire for as much clarity as possible about significance, there is a need for a better understanding of how such sites are identified, who identifies them, where they are recorded and how such information is accessed. The Programme focuses on approaches to the sites and data holdings, not the sites themselves.

Castle Bolton landscape with medieval field systems
Castle Bolton landscape with medieval field systems © R White/YDNPA

Pilot projects

To achieve these aims, seven pilot projects analysing aspects of national importance on archaeological sites were undertaken by teams from Oxford Archaeology, Solstice Heritage and Wessex Archaeology in partnership with Local Authority archaeology officers. The results from each project will feed into an overarching review.

Mesolithic sites in the Middle Kennet Valley, Team: Wessex Archaeology
Using a series of Mesolithic sites in the Middle Kennet Valley, the project examines issues regarding the recording of sites and activity areas of this period given their ephemeral nature. It considers problems of visibility, prediction and recovery due to deep burial in the lowland environment and looks at the long term definition, designation, protection and conservation of these nationally (if not internationally) important sites in the face of development, aggregate extraction and dewatering.

Identifying and mapping sites of national importance in wetland environments using East Sussex as a case study, Oxford Archaeology South
The project developes themes and builds on previous work discussing new techniques for identifying, mapping and recording sites of national importance, using wetland sites and sequences within the Cuckmere Valley, Eastbourne and the Pevensey Levels, East Sussex as case study areas.

Understanding rural heritage assets in the Cambridge City Deal Area, Oxford Archaeology East
Using a pilot study area within the Greater Cambridge area, this project explores the mechanisms for identifying, recording and mapping sites considered to be of national importance using Historic Environment Records (HERs) and enhanced information from aerial photographs and LiDAR survey.

A prehistoric Ring Ditch found during excavations at Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Oxford
A prehistoric Ring Ditch found during excavations at Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Oxford © David Radford

Lithic sites assessment, Oxford Archaeology North
Lithic artefact scatters such as the Langdale Axe Factories in Cumbria are of international significance. This project builds on previous work investigating how such sites can be identified, mapped and managed. Cumbria forms the principal study area, with a comparator study being undertaken in East Anglia, including an examination of the Grimes Graves flint mines which are only partially scheduled.

Assessing and mapping significant heritage assets in the medieval university City of Oxford, Oxford Archaeology South
The project concerns how to define boundaries in urban contexts, in response to development pressures in the city of Oxford. It focuses on identifying and locating areas of known archaeological sites and the means for finding other sites that are not yet recognised as being of national importance, and the issues that arise from development.

Landscape-scale assessment - a pilot study using the Yorkshire Dales Historic Environment, Solstice Heritage and YDNPA
The project looks at how to identify and define boundaries for large landscape-scale sites containing many monuments in rural contexts using the Yorkshire Dales National Park as a study area. Case studies include the multi-period landscapes of Castle Bolton, Wensleydale and Grassington Lea Green area.

National importance and marine assets -  the Goodwin Sands and Farne Islands case studies, Wessex Archaeology
This project focuses on how the boundaries of large marine landscape-scale sites containing many dispersed, overlapping assets can be mapped and how nationally important assets within those landscapes be identified. The project uses the Goodwin Sands, Kent and the Farne Islands, Northumbria seabeds as case study areas.

An archaeological investigation on the seabed in the Farne Islands
An archaeological investigation on the seabed in the Farne Islands © Historic England
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