South West RCZAS National Mapping Programme project
England's coastal zone contains a legacy of historic assets including a complex array of fragile archaeological remains, historic buildings and structures, and landscapes. These remains are vulnerable to a wide range of threats, including man-made pressures as well as the natural processes of coastal change. The survey reviewed accessible aerial photography and lidar data for the project area, producing digital mapping and a database of all visible archaeological features, recorded to our NMP standards.
The project area comprised a coastal and riverine strip one to two kilometres wide covering the south coast from the outskirts of Plymouth in the west to Christchurch in the east, including a contextual area around the major estuaries at Plymouth, Totnes, Exeter and Poole harbour.
The project area intersected several nationally important protected landscapes. These included the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), the East Devon AONB, the Dorset AONB, the Dorset and East Devon Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site and the Purbeck Coast (a Nature Improvement Area), including Poole Harbour.
The project was split into two parts: the westernmost section covering Devon was undertaken by the AC Archaeology NMP project team and Devon County Council Historic Environment Service. The results of the survey are recorded in the Devon Historic Environment Record database (HER) and Geographic Information System (GIS), with details of the project highlighted on specific web pages. The eastern section covering Dorset was undertaken by Cornwall Council Historic Environment Project NMP team. For this part of the project monument recording was undertaken directly into the Dorset Historic Environment Record (HER) database via a remote link with Dorset County Council.
The work was funded by English Heritage (now Historic England) through the National Heritage Protection Commissions Programme (NHPCP). It commenced in March 2013 and was completed in June 2014.
Rockfalls and landslips are common on many of the region's coastal cliffs, and coastal erosion had impacts on recent structures such as modern sea fronts. This erosion has also contributed to the loss of nationally important prehistoric earthworks such as the Neolithic and post-Roman defended enclosure at High Peak.
Less dramatic, but equally significant, coastal change has taken place on Devon's lower lying coast. In the early years of the 20th century a small community was established on the sand spit at Dawlish Warren. All but two buildings and much of the spit were washed away by violent storms between 1944 and 1946. The final traces of the village were lost to the sea by 1962. Dawlish Warren is now a National Nature reserve.
Few monuments were recorded in the intertidal zone. In contrast, the remains of numerous small structures were identified along the edges of the major estuaries. The most frequent are small to medium-sized boats, probably the remains of wrecked and abandoned fishing and freight vessels. Most were recorded near the high tide mark where they are subject to the processes of erosion and absorption by the estuarine silts.
Other structures were revealed along the river channels as the estuarine silts shift including former fishtraps, revetments, canals, navigation markers and more enigmatic features such as undated linear timber structures across the mouth of Batson Creek, Salcombe.
The Devon coast has long been a focus for military activity. The Napoleonic fortifications at Berry Head, slighted by modern quarrying into the 1950s, now survive as protected and distinctive landmarks on the coastal cliffs. Nonetheless, aerial survey revealed details of the fortification's organisation not visible from the ground or the sea.
Second World War
The coast and estuaries were also the focus for varied military activities during the Second World War. Embarkation hards at Torquay and Brixham played a vital role in Operation Overlord and are now preserved as reminders of the town's roles in the build- up to D-Day. However, the operation had a much wider impact on the landscape. Extensive military camps, providing accommodation for troops preparing for D-Day, and the logistical and technical requirements of such a vast operation are apparent in the specialist sites that remain visible.
You can read more in the reports:
Historic Places Investigation
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