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Defence Disposals

Historic England is working closely with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation to assess redundant defence sites and areas of substantial redevelopment. Our work ensures that significant historic structures and areas of archaeological interest are identified. We are also assessing  features of national importance for protection and offering initial advice on master planning and recording.

Copenacre, Wiltshire, an aerial photograph of the former Royal Navy stores depot and administrative centre, a basic record was created for this site.
Copenacre, Wiltshire, the former Royal Navy stores depot and administrative centre, a basic record was created for this site © Historic England 26905/022

Assesssing the estate

Prior to the sale of redundant defence sites, or substantial redevelopment projects, we are working closely with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation to identify significant historic structures and areas of archaeological interest. Features of potential national importance are being assessed for protection, initial advice offered on future master planning, and if appropriate recording.  


Much of the land occupied by the Ministry of Defence is a closed estate and the historic assets within are less well documented than in other areas of the country.  Some of the more challenging monuments to assess are the more recent structures where their historic context is not yet fully understood.

Former RAF Church Fenton, North Yorkshire, showing three hangars, the airfield was assessed prior to sale
Former RAF Church Fenton, North Yorkshire, the airfield was assessed prior to sale. © Historic England

The Ministry of Defence Estate

The Ministry of Defence is one of the largest land owners, and occupiers of land, in the country. During the 20th century, and especially during the two world wars, the government acquired large areas of land for training, airfields, camps and many specialised activities.

At the end of the Second World War the War Office controlled about 20% of the land mass of the United Kingdom. Today this figure is about 1%. Its estate comprises purpose-built facilities with very specific uses and buildings, such as country houses, that have been used as messes, administrative centres, and rehabilitation centres.  

Shornecliffe Camp, Folkestone, Kent,  Sir John Moore Memorial Library, built in Arts and Crafts style in 1915-16, Listed Grade II, it was designed by Ashton Webb , architect of Admiralty Arch, London.
Shornecliffe Camp, Folkestone, Kent, Sir John Moore Memorial Library, built 1915-16, Listed Grade II, it was designed by Ashton Webb, architect of Admiralty Arch, London © Historic England

A reoccurring theme of defence land use is the acquisition of land, construction of defences and facilities to meet a given threat and, as strategic needs, technology and threats evolve, to adapt or dispose of legacy assets.  

This is a picture that we can recognise at the end of the world wars and more recently through the post-Cold War sales of the 1990s. It’s a process that continues today as the armed forces are reconfigured to meet the needs of the 21st century expeditionary warfare and to use the estate more efficiently.  

The return of all United Kingdom armed forces from Germany by 2020 is putting other pressures on the estate to both provide returning personnel with accommodation and training areas.

Information on these previously unfamiliar sites is available on our PastScape web pages. You may also read about our pilot study in Wiltshire.

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