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Threats and Emergencies

Mitigating harm to heritage assets from catastrophic threats and emergencies:

This research topic is concerned with the development of practical approaches to manage risks and mitigate harm to heritage assets from catastrophic threats and emergencies, such as fires, flooding, storms and building collapse.

Fire research
Preventing fire damage has many aspects, from understanding threats and emergency planning, through fire-fighting systems, to dealing with the aftermath in a way that does not increase deterioration. © Oxfordshire Fire & Rescue Service

Flood recovery and remediation

Remedial works after flooding can range from highly invasive approaches (usually insurance backed) that entail extensive removal of affected building fabric, to more ‘minimalist’ approaches.  These approaches have widely differing heritage, social and economic implications. The question this project sets out to answer is: How well do ‘minimal’ approaches to remediation perform compared to conventional methods that are more invasive and disruptive.

The project comprises four complementary lines of investigation: i) literature review; ii) case studies including site investigations and monitoring; iii) laboratory assessment of factors affecting the rates of drying of building elements after flooding; iv) assessment of contamination risks and evaluation of cleaning methods to eliminate bio-hazards.  

Participants: It is likely that participants will include: building owners; relevant local authorities;  collaborating research institutions and consultants including Sheffield Hallam University and Ridout Associates;  National Floods Forum;  representatives from the insurance and remediation industries;  Property Care Association;  United Kingdom Centre for Moisture in Buildings (UCL).

Programme and progress: A literature review is underway and the project design for subsequent stages is being developed. The project will be completed by Spring 2018.

Read more about flood recovery and remediation
: A Preliminary study of flood remediation in Hebden Bridge and Appleby (report forthcoming)

Read the research report on: An Analysis of Drying Data from a Medieval Hall After Flooding

An analysis of drying data from a medieval hall after flooding - Research report front cover
Image of a flooded shop in Shrewsbury, West Midlands
A flooded shop in Shrewsbury, West Midlands © Paul Gendell

Fires in thatched roofed buildings

Since the 1990s there has been a significant rise in the number of thatch roofed buildings destroyed by fire. Evidence strongly suggests that this is related to the increasing popularity of wood burning stoves, which burn at higher temperatures than open fires. However, the actual method of thatch ignition has been the subject of controversy. Early research suggested that fires might be caused by heat transferred by conduction through the chimney stack to the thatch. But in the late 2000s, forensic investigators noted that many fires could not be explained by the ‘heat transfer’ method.

To better understand the risk the operational parameters of wood burning stoves and the risks they pose to thatch roofs, two full-scale test rigs have been built at the Fire Protection Association’s laboratory. Factors affecting the temperature and speed of flue gases, and the emission of sparks have been investigated, along with the performance of different types of flue liner. The effects of damage flue liners and partial blockages due to soot accumulation and birds’ nests have also been explored. Tests were also carried out to assess the outcomes of different methods of lighting, refuelling and operation.

Participants: Historic England's Building Conservation and Research Team; Fire Protection Association. The research is jointly funded by Historic England and National Farmers’ Union Mutual Insurance Society Ltd.

Programme and progress: The first two phases of the project have been completed and the research report and guidance will be published in 2017. A further phase to evaluate flue terminal design, and develop a performance specification for an ‘ideal’ wood burning stove installation will be completed later in 2017.

You will soon be able to read more about this project, please check back for here for updates.

Visit our page on Fire advice and fire safety

A wood burning stove
Wood burning stoves have become increasingly popular in traditional buildings © Historic England

Collapse of fibrous plaster ceilings

Fibrous plaster was introduced into the UK in middle of C19th. It consists of prefabricated cast gypsum plaster elements, reinforced with hessian scrim and timber lath, hung from timber supports by wads of hessian covered with plaster. Fibrous plaster often incorporated elaborate mouldings and decorative enrichments. It became ubiquitous in commercial and cultural buildings, particularly in the form of suspended ceilings, until the first quarter of the 20th century.

Countless ceilings survive, sometimes undifferentiated from conventional lath and plaster. They are often complex in design, and the sudden partial collapse at the Apollo Theatre, London, in 2013 revealed the limitations in our understanding of these ceilings.

Historic England is undertaking research into the construction, deterioration, assessment, and conservation of fibrous plaster ceilings. The aim is to produce guidance on their care and maintenance. The project encompasses: historical research; survey and characterisation of surviving ceilings; new methods of non-destructive testing; materials testing.

Participants: Historic England's Building Conservation and Research Team; The Theatres Trust. In addition, future participants are likely to include commercial conservation contractors, industry representatives and academic institutions.

Read more about this project: ABTT advice to theatre owners and managers

The ceiling at Wyndhams Theatre, London
The ceiling at Wyndhams Theatre, London © Historic England

Pests and diseases

There are many pests and diseases which affect trees and shrubs. In many cases these form part of a natural ecosystem and do not cause unsustainable damage to the tree or shrub and forming part of a wider food web. But problems can arise when new pests or diseases are introduced because plants no defence against these organisms and they have no natural predators so they can very quickly reach proportions which are harmful, even fatal, and can rapidly spread.

In order to understand how new pests and diseases could affect historic designed landscapes Historic England has commissioned an initial research project looking at which tree species are the most important components of historic designed landscapes.

Participants: Historic England Commissions Team, Historic England's Conservation Architecture and Designed Landscapes Team, Southampton University/GeoData.

Contact for all above projects: Conservation@HistoricEngland.org.uk

Visit our technical advice page on Pests and Diseases.

Early in the summer the mines of Horse Chestnut Leaf Miner do not appear too bad but by the end of the year can totally destroy leaves
Early in the summer the mines of Horse Chestnut Leaf Miner do not appear too bad but by the end of the year can totally destroy leaves © Alan Cathersides
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