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Attritional Environmental Threats NHPP Activity 2C2

Research carried out 2011-2015, concerned with analysing, managing, and where possible reducing gradual environmental threats to England's historic buildings, landscapes and collections. This work was part of the National Heritage Protection Plan (NHPP).

Newly-installed soft cap at Kirkham Priory, North Yorkshire, with the final pieces of turf waiting to be trimmed and folded into place. Photo by Chris Wood.
Newly-installed soft cap at Kirkham Priory, North Yorkshire, with the final pieces of turf waiting to be trimmed and folded into place. Photo by Chris Wood.

Scope of the activity

This Activity dealt with threats to our heritage caused by 'attritional' or gradual environmental damage. These threats can be characterised as:

  • physical (eg severe rain, wind, changes in relative temperature or humidity, compression, dewatering);
  • chemical (pollutants, acidification, corrosion etc.); or
  • biological (microbial, fungal, invasive plants, insects and invertebrates, as well as larger, burrowing and roosting animals).

This Activity brought together scientific research into conservation and preservation relating to archaeological sites, landscapes and gardens, buildings and their contents.

The projects within this activity were critical for providing the scientific basis for day-to-day decision making about English Heritage's properties and collections, as well as feeding into guidance and advice that Historic England offers to members of the public and heritage professionals.

Projects in this activity

Buildings and landscapes

Projects within this theme assessed the current and future impact of gradual attritional processes on historic buildings and landscapes. The results of this work help to find better ways of responding to these impacts.

Projects included:  

 

The same soft cap after 18 months. The fresh 'lawn-'like appearance has matured into a more natural look. Photo by Chris Wood.
The same soft cap after 18 months. The fresh 'lawn-'like appearance has matured into a more natural look. Photo by Chris Wood.

Archaeological remains

These projects look at the impacts of gradual attritional processes on buried archaeological remains. The outputs from these projects will in due course include include guidance, as well improved management responses to existing and future cases.

The projects included:

Karla Graham, English Heritage, installing samples for degradation monitoring in a woodland environment.
Karla Graham, English Heritage, installing samples for degradation monitoring in a woodland environment. © Forest Research.

Collections

This included a number of projects aimed at improving our understanding of the effects of gradual changes on English Heritage's collections (over one million items including historic interiors, furniture, documents and artefacts in English Heritage properties, archives and stores).

We carried out many of these projects with a range of external partners. The knowledge gained will be useful to others in the heritage sector with similar collections.

The projects covered the following topics:

  • Assessing damage from climatic changes to furniture, and the modelling of future climate risks to historic interiors. We funded a PhD studentship in partnership with the University of East Anglia, which resulted in predictions of the increasing impact of climate change on future deterioration rates of historic interiors.
  • The development of a range of non-invasive tools, that give us useful information on the condition of historic collections without causing further damage. This will included the development of portable tools to detect volatile organic compounds, and imaging techniques, such as Optical Coherence Tomography, that allow us to see cross-sections of potential damage to the structure of objects below their surface. Our support for the European MEMORI project has lead to the development of an early warning sensor for pollution in collections, particularly for organic materials.
  • Examining aspects of insect attack risks at historic properties, such as the potential effect of climate change on insect activity.
  • The Heritage Smells project improved measurement of deterioration of enamels, amber, paper, iron, wooden furniture and plastics.

Large and disfiguring cracks are formed when the main carcass of the furniture shrinks beneath the decorative veneer layers pulling them apart. Photo by Naomi Luxford.
Large and disfiguring cracks are formed when the main carcass of the furniture shrinks beneath the decorative veneer layers pulling them apart. © Photo by Naomi Luxford.

Links with other NHPP activities

This Activity linked with a number of other Activities in Measure 2, especially our work on:

There were also close links with the Activities in Measure 7 of the plan dealing with managing major historic estates.  

Wood can form multiple splits and lift in response to moisture changes, these areas are then prone to further damage, potentially breaking off and being lost from the object. Photo by Naomi Luxford
Wood can form multiple splits and lift in response to moisture changes, these areas are then prone to further damage, potentially breaking off and being lost from the object. © Historic England, Naomi Luxford
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