English Heritage news release, 25 July 2003
RIPPING UP HISTORY
English Heritage Launches Campaign to Encourage Farmers to Protect, not Plough, Archaeological Sites at Risk
Today (25 July 2003) Dr Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, launched "Ripping Up History," a campaign to save thousands of fragile archaeological remains throughout the country put at risk by intensive agriculture.
Dr Thurley called for a concerted effort by the Government, archaeologists and farmers to avert what currently represents one of the greatest threats to Britain's archaeological heritage, the only evidence we have for most of our human history.
Since 1945 many ancient sites, including some of the oldest visible monuments in our landscape, have been destroyed or are being seriously damaged - ploughed up or degraded by increasingly powerful farm machinery and ever more intensive cultivation.
Neolithic long barrows, Roman towns and villas, Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, medieval field systems - a patchwork of our past thousands of years in the making - have all suffered and are continuing to suffer. Even many of our most valuable archaeological sites do not escape - today nearly 3000 nationally important scheduled monuments are being cultivated. Although legislation gives protection to these monuments from most threats, in many cases it permits them to be ploughed, even though it can be a major cause of damage to fragile and irreplaceable archaeological remains.
In launching the campaign document at the British Academy, Dr Thurley said: "Modern intensive ploughing has arguably done more damage in six decades than traditional agriculture did in the preceding six centuries. We are, quite literally, ripping up our history. In doing so we are also doing irreparable damage to the character and fascination of our much-loved countryside. We need a new strategy to protect threatened archaeological sites under cultivation. It must have the support of farmers and in return, must properly reward them for their good stewardship of these sites.
"We cannot blame the farmers for what has been happening. They have only been doing what society has asked and agricultural policy has dictated. In the future we look to farmers working in concert with government to be the solution.
"There is no quick fix but there are three key actions which will help secure a future for our past:
* over-haul of current laws, which are ineffective in protecting scheduled monuments from cultivation. While this does not mean ploughing on all of them must stop, we do need a plan for each site which is based on a clear understanding of the risk they face;
* no additional important and well-preserved sites should be turned over to the plough.
* greater emphasis on protecting archaeology in the new generation of agricultural schemes that will reward farmers who care for the landscape and environment;
"These are the first steps on what is going to be a long journey. Unless we take them, the treasured rema ins of previous generations will not be passed on to future ones."
A national Monuments at Risk survey undertaken by English Heritage in 1998 showed that, since 1945, agriculture has been the single biggest cause of uncontrolled loss amongst archaeological sites - and the problem is continuing apace:
* 10% of destruction and 30% of damage to archaeological sites in the last 50 years was due to agriculture. One third of all recorded sites in rural areas remain under the plough;
* between 1950 and 2001 the area of permanent grassland in England fell by 637,000 acres - an area 17 times the Isle of Wight, containing an estimated 14,000 archaeological sites;
* New areas are continually being subjected to deeper ploughing for root crops;
* modern tractors can be 10 times more powerful and eight times heavier than 1940's models, giving them the capacity to destroy in hours what has survived for centuries.
"Ripping Up History" includes examples of sites damaged by ploughing, including an exquisite Roman mosaic floors at Dinnington in Somerset, heavily scored by deep ploughing, and numerous prehistoric burial mounds.
Precious objects are also at risk. Only two out of 39 Bronze Age metalwork hoards recovered from Norfolk in the last 30 years had not been disturbed by agriculture. The magnificent 4,000 year old gold cup, discovered in a field at Ringlemere in Kent and recently bought by the British Museum, had been distorted by the impact of a plough.
The character of whole landscapes has been damaged by intensive cultivation, as in Padbury, Buckinghamshire, where medieval ridge and furrow (well-preserved in the 1950s), hedgerows and field trees have been destroyed.
The campaign coincides with the publication of a consultation paper on the Review of Heritage Protection, which the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is undertaking in partnership with English Heritage. The Review is aimed at improving and refocusing the ways we protect our past.
Heritage Minister Andrew McIntosh said: " Archaeological sites contain a wealth of material that chart the development of civilisation in this country. It is vitally important that we do as much as we can to protect this heritage so that future generations will have a better understanding of our history."
Images are available on the Press Association's Picselect site on www.papicselect.com in the English Heritage folder under Ripping Up History
Many organisations are supporting English Heritage's campaign:
Tom Oliver - Head of Rural Policy at the Campaign to Protect Rural England
"The richness of the English countryside is the accumulation of the lives and times of many generations. A legacy of careful management is written right across the landscape. If we only stop and look, we can experience this treasure for ourselves. But this richness, laid down over millennia, can be spent in an afternoon's tillage. It will take as many millennia again to lay down so rich a record and what we lose now diminishes the landscape forever. The Campaign to Protect Rural England counts the protection of our historical and archaeological record in the landscape as fundamental to our purpose. We see its protection as a crucial part of the contribution of farming in the future."
Dr Francis Pryor MBE - President of the Council for British Archaeology
"We warmly welcome this initiative by English Heritage to campaign for better care of our rural archaeology. This is an issue the CBA has been pursuing for 25 years. We cannot go on standing by as thousands of irreplaceable ancient sites are progressively destroyed by ploughing, encouraged by CAP grants. Farmers have only been doing what the system encourages and allows. We urgently call on DEFRA to take the golden opportunity offered by agri-environment reform to give all farmers the information and financial incentives they need to conserve our archaeological heritage - while it is still there. We haven't got long."
Harvey Sheldon - Chair of RESCUE, The British Archaeological Trust
"Ancient farmsteads, burial grounds and field systems throughout England have been left unprotected from the ravages of the plough to the point where many have been destroyed with little or no record. RESCUE greatly welcomes this vital English Heritage initiative. If it succeeds, it promises protection for archaeological sites on agricultural land equivalent to that already achieved for those subject to urban redevelopment. If it doesn't, our abilities to investigate and understand the patterns of England's ancient landscape will be lost forever."
Ken Smith - Chair of the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers
"Our cultural heritage - which makes our landscapes distinct - is a major contributor to the rural economy. Destruction and damage reduces that contribution. The Association applauds English Heritage's initiative to focus people's attention on the devastation of archaeological sites by ploughing over the last 50 years, as farmers have responded to incentives encouraging greater production of cheaper food. We look forward to co-operating with the farming and conservation communities to ensure that good stewardship is rewarded. We look to DCMS and DEFRA to work together to demonstrate Government's commitment to modernise protection of the heritage and to deliver a sustainable farming industry, through new agri-environment schemes and a review of environmental impact assessment regulations, that will safeguard what remains of our irreplaceable cultural heritage."
Christopher Catling - Director, Heritage Link
"We hope the review of heritage protection initiated by the Department of Culture Media and Sport will help bring an end to the situation whereby farmers can continue to plough to destruction nationally significant scheduled ancient monuments. We should encourage farmers to be stewards of the heritage, not destroyers of it, and we should reward them for their care."
Alison Taylor - Institute of Field Archaeologists
"Since the early 1990s Government policy has ensured that archaeological remains threatened by development are either protected or excavated if preservation is not possible. In stark contrast, under recent agricultural policies farmers have almost been encouraged to destroy fragile remains on a year-by-year basis over huge areas of countryside. Field archaeologists have had to watch as medieval villages have been levelled, Anglo-Saxon jewellery dragged from burials to the land surface, and prehistoric burial mounds turned into mere marks in the soil. It's marvellous that English Heritage is making this stand. Changes to the pattern of subsidies so that farmers are rewarded for their role as stewards of the countryside will make a huge difference to the survival of our historic environment."
For the "Ripping Up History" leaflet see:
Hard copies are available from English Heritage Customer Services PO Box 569, Swindon SN2 2YP, telephone: 0870 3331181. Ask for product no. 50791.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is reviewing its current environmental farming (agri-environment) schemes with the intention of launching new schemes in 2005. This follows proposals by the Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food, set up after the Foot and Mouth outbreak, that farmers should be offered support for their management of the countryside. These new schemes have the potential to deliver major benefits for the heritage of the countryside.
These changes also coincide with the conclusion of European Union negotiations on reform of the Common Agricultural Policy which proposes the "de-coupling" of farming subsidies from intensive production. In return farmers will be required to abide by certain environmental requirements.
Current Ancient Monuments legislation is provided by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 and the Ancient Monuments (Class Consent) Order 1994. Following public consultation on the Review of Heritage Protection, the Government hopes to bring out a White Paper early in 2004. The consultation paper is on the DCMS website: www.culture.gov.uk
Hard copies are available from Eve Trueman at DCMS, 2, Cockspur Street, London SW1.