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).
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.
- Working towards combating the weather damage effects of freezing, thawing and driving rain on exposed historic wall tops by investigating the benefits of soft capping such walls by placing turf on top of them. Trials were carried out at Hailes Abbey.
- Looking at problems caused by driving rain resulting in damp in solid masonry buildings: in 2013 a conference was organised to share knowledge on this topic. See a transcript of the conference.
- Research into protective glazing for stained glass windows. This included a trail at Long Melford Church, Suffolk, which showed how successful the method can be. You can find out more about the project from an article in Conservation Bulletin.
- Assessing the impact of bats in ancient churches. English Heritage commissioned the University of Bristol to lead a pilot project to reduce the impact of bats on five selected churches in Norfolk and Northamptonshire, without significantly impacting on the protected bat populations or their welfare. This builds on previous research funded by Defra: you can see a summary of that previous work, or download the previous research report.
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:
- Studying the impact of bracken growth and management on archaeological remains. See a poster about this from a recent international conference. Along with Natural England, we have supported experiments into different bracken control techniques to see which are the most effective. You can download the report on bracken control from the Historic England Website.
- Monitoring hydrological levels at burial sites in the Somerset Levels, in partnership with Reading University. You can find some initial results of the monitoring project from the Reading University website.
- A report on modelling patterns of hydrological change at Flag Fen near Peterborough, where there has been concern about the long term future of the important prehistoric timber structures there.
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.
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.