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North West RCZAS: The NMP Element of a Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey

The National Mapping Programme (NMP) element of the North West Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey (RCZAS) was carried out in partnership with Archaeological Research Services Ltd.

The survey included the inter-tidal zone and one kilometre inland of the High Water mark, for a stretch of coast extending between the Anglo-Welsh border and Maryport.

The remainder of the coastline, from Maryport to the Solway had previously been mapped as part of the Hadrian’s Wall NMP. The primary aim of the assessment was to enhance the record of the coastal archaeology of north western England and identify sites at short and medium-term risk in the coastal hinterland.

Oblique aerial photograph showing Fort Perch Rock Coastal Battery at the mouth of the Mersey
The construction of Fort Perch Rock coastal battery, photographed here on 18-MAR-2008, began in 1826 as part of the Mersey’s defences, and it remained active into the Second World War (NMR 20752/23) © Historic England

The archaeology of the North-West

The project added or amended over 1,300 records within the National Record for the Historic Environment (NRHE), an increase of over 50% from previously known.

The mapping, which covered an area of over 1600 square kilometres, was completed in summer 2009, and with the Phase 1 desk-based assessment was used to inform and underpin the Phase 2 field survey element of the RCZAS.

The mapped archaeology of the north west coast ranged in date from the Bronze Age to the 20th century. Early features included round barrows, field systems and enclosures, with an emphasis on Roman activity in the north.

The intertidal zone produced evidence of numerous fish traps, some probably medieval in origin associated with the monastic presence on the Lancashire and Cumbrian coastlines.

Oblique aerial photograph showing the shifting sands at the mouth of the River Esk, part masking timber fish traps
The fish traps at Ravenglass are some of the best preserved on the north west coast, seen here on 05-JUL-2010. The upright timber stakes are flanked by wicker ‘paths’ allowing for easy access on the sands (NMR 28067/29) © Historic England

Roman Cumbria

Although the Hadrian’s Wall frontier was previously mapped as a separate NMP project, the line of defended Roman sites continued down the west coast. Several fell within the study area, the most notable of which was Ravenglass.

The Roman fort here has undergone extensive damage over the years. Not only from erosion caused by the shifting course of the River Esk, but also due to the construction of a railway cutting.

A recent oblique aerial photograph showing the low relief earthworks of Moresby Roman fort extending beyond a churchyard
Moresby (Gabrosentum) Roman fort, photographed here on 18-MAR-2011, sits on a prominent rise overlooking the Irish Sea. It is now the site of St Bridget’s Church and graveyard (NMR 28128/32) © Historic England.


As with most of the English coastline, the majority of features date from the Second World War. Historic vertical RAF photography from the 1940s proved invaluable for mapping these features.

As well as the usual defences along the length of the shoreline, the densest concentrations were in Merseyside, protecting the valuable dockyards. These included anti-aircraft batteries, barrage balloon sites and nearly 4,500 air raid shelters.

A wartime oblique aerial photograph showing barrage balloons on the Mersey
The skies above Wallasey were littered with barrage balloons on 16 August 1941. Combined with anti-aircraft batteries, these were a formidable obstacle for enemy aircraft (RAF/31242/PO-02) © Historic England RAF photography
North West Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey, Air Survey Mapping Report

North West Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey, Air Survey Mapping Report

Published 1 May 2009

This report details the aims and objectives, scope, methodology and sources of the National Mapping Programme air photo mapping element of the North West RCZAS project. The report includes a period based summary of the archaeology mapped from air photos.

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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