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Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB National Mapping Programme project

This survey of aerial photographs and lidar is using Historic England’s National Mapping Programme (NMP) methodology to find and record archaeological sites within the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The unique and fragile landscape of the AONB is home not only to a rich variety of wildlife, but also numerous archaeological and historical sites, some of national significance.

Colour aerial photo showing large complex of industrial buildings on the coast with fields and areas of small woodland beyond
Sizewell Nuclear Power Stations A and B and the surrounding landscape in the eastern part of the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths AONB project area photographed on 31-AUG-2010 (NMR 26725/02) © Historic England

Heritage protection

The results of the project will enable archaeological sites within the survey area to be better protected by improving understanding of their location, extent and character. This is particularly important in heathland areas, where sites may be hidden by vegetation and at risk from ground disturbance or from development, as at Sizewell.

The Walks, Aldringham, an area of coastal heathland, lies less than two kilometres to the southwest of Sizewell nuclear power station. Formerly more extensive, the surviving areas of heath have protected the earthwork remains of Second World War anti-landing trenches from ploughing and other destructive forces. These trenches were designed to prevent enemy aircraft using the heath as a landing ground in the event of an invasion.

Colour aerial photo showing open heath with linear banks and mounds; a pig farm is on one side and a golf course on the other
Second World War anti-landing trenches are visible as surviving earthworks in the centre of this photograph of heathland at The Walks, Aldringham taken on 23-APR-2004. In adjacent fields these have been destroyed by ploughing (NMR 23495/14) © Historic England

Aerial photographs

The project uses aerial photographs and lidar (a type of digital airborne survey using a laser scanner) to identify sites, map and interpret them. The sites recorded may range in date from the Neolithic to the Cold War.

Under the right growing conditions, cropmarks can form, showing the outline of buried archaeological features such as ditches. At Shottisham, at least two possible hengiform monuments and several ring ditches of probably Bronze Age date show clearly on aerial photographs as cropmarks. Field boundary ditches, probably dating from a later period, can also be seen.

Colour aerial photo of arable field with archaeology visible as dark outlines against the paler background of the field
Cropmarks of several ring ditches and possible hengiform monuments, as well as later field boundary ditches at Shottisham photographed on 28-MAY-1990 (NMR 4578/19). © Crown copyright. HE

Rendlesham Anglo-Saxon royal estate

Research has indicated that an Anglo-Saxon royal estate and palace was located at Rendlesham. Since 2008 the site has been the subject of an extensive, multidisciplinary archaeological survey, the Rendlesham Project, undertaken by Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service and directed by Jude Plouviez and Chris Scull. The aerial photograph mapping, along with the geophysical surveys results, reveal the layout of this settlement and the surrounding landscape. The biggest impact of the NMP mapping has been the tentative identification of an Early to Middle Anglo-Saxon timber hall within the main part of the Saxon settlement. This is potentially the first major structure to be identified at the site.

Colour mapping
Cropmarks at Rendlesham reveal settlement enclosures, boundaries and buildings. OS base map © Crown Copyright SCC licence 100023395 2015. NMP data © Historic England, licensed to SCC.

Second World War landscapes

The Suffolk coast was of great strategic importance during the Second World War. This, and the large areas of remote, relatively empty heathland, made it ideal for training troops. The project recorded several large battle training areas, each showing evidence of intensive military activity on aerial photographs from the 1940s. Around the parishes of Sudbourne and Iken, lots of evidence of tank training was apparent. This was part of the Orford Battle Training Area, which extended several kilometres inland from the coast. During the war, the villages of both Iken and Sudbourne were evacuated, and the houses used as accommodation for troops.

Black and white vertical photo showing open heath and woodland with multiple ditches, tracks and groupings of regular mounds
Close-up from an RAF vertical photograph flown on 23-SEP-1945, showing trenches and a length of anti-tank ditch used for training on Iken Heath (RAF/106G/UK/832 RS 4133). Historic England RAF photography.

Project details

The results of the project are being made available via the Suffolk Historic Environment Record, and its online version Suffolk Heritage Explorer.

The project is being undertaken by Norfolk Historic Environment Service, part of Norfolk County Council, in collaboration with Suffolk County Council Archaeology Service. It forms part of the Historic England Action Plan and is funded by Heritage Protection Commissions (7085).

The images used on this page are copyright Historic England unless specified otherwise. For further details of any photographs or other images and for copies of these, or the plans and reports related to the project please contact the Historic England Archive.

For further information on a project or any other aspect of the work of the Remote Sensing Team please contact us via email using the link below.

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Group of people standing on a stony mound
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