CBA Urges Government to Stop the Rape of Britain's History
Welcoming a new leaflet setting out the problems of plough-damage to archaeological sites published by English Heritage , the Council for British Archaeology today issued its own statement decrying the rape of Britain's history through subsidized farming.
The British countryside has been shaped by people since they started farming 6000 years ago. Our own history is etched into the form and fabric of the landscape - much of it is visible, but much is buried. Over 80% of our history since farming began has no written record, and can only be studied through its physical remains.
Popular interest in archaeology has never been higher and the countryside contains by far the greatest diversity and chronological depth of our past. Such remains are as irreplaceable as historical documents - and far more vulnerable. A Bronze Age barrow that has stood for 4000 years can be destroyed forever in an afternoon. Archaeological sites can never be security copied; they will never repopulate the landscape through breeding. We can only conserve what there is, where it is.
The problem of plough damage has been a growing concern of archaeologists for 25 years, but it is only in the last ten years that government bodies have begun to quantify the problem and think seriously about how to tackle it.
The rate of damage is alarming:
* Earthworks in cultivation are typically denuded by as much as 2-5cm per year
* Arable cultivation and peat shrinkage in fenland truncates sites at 2-3cm per year2
The extent of damage and vulnerability to damage is appalling even in our most precious archaeological landscapes:
* 65% of archaeological sites in arable areas are at medium or high risk of damage
* 45% of all sites within the Avebury World Heritage Site are threatened by ploughing, rising to 95% in some topographical zones
And the means of addressing the problem have to date been utterly inadequate:
* Agri-environment schemes cover only 8% of farmland, and within that only 2-7% of agreements are in areas where sites are at high risk of damage from cultivation2
* A legislative anomaly allows farmers to carry on cultivating scheduled monuments to the same depth even though this may be damaging
Dr Francis Pryor MBE, President of the Council for British Archaeology said:
"We warmly welcome this initiative by English Heritage to campaign for better care of our rural archaeology. The CBA has been pursuing this issue for 25 years. The Government 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 advice and financial incentives they need to conserve our archaeological heritage - while it is still there. We haven't got long."
George Lambrick, Director of the CBA and co-author of a recent research report on the issue commissioned by DEFRA said:
"You would not go into all our greatest history libraries each year and - encouraged by Government subsidy - rip a few more pages out of quarter of the books. Yet that - in effect - is what we are doing to tens of thousands of archaeological sites that are gradually being ploughed up to grow our food. Occasionally a whole 'book' is destroyed when a barrow is flattened; more commonly a few pages are removed and shredded as layers get eroded and jumbled up into the topsoil - sometimes singly, sometimes in batches - each loss making the book more difficult to read. DEFRA are now beginning to take this issue seriously, but it is going to take concerted efforts and a lot more resources to inform, advise and support farmers in safeguarding our history in areas of high agricultural production."
The problem is not the fault of farmers, but the system they work under. The CBA is calling on Government to implement a ten-point action plan to help farmers tackle the problem:
1. Conservation of the historic environment must become a core environmental objective for DEFRA and the Environment Agency in line with their statutory responsibilities
2. DEFRA must provide the significant resources needed to stop the destruction of the heritage that indirectly arises from the massive tax-payers' subsidies paid to farmers
CAP and agri-environment reform
3. Under new CAP provisions there must be a major shift in agricultural subsidy towards promoting environmentally responsible farming to minimise destruction of our history.
4. Set-aside requirements should no longer be a form of subsidising farmers 'to do nothing' but should be targeted at long-term safeguarding of irreplaceable archaeological sites.
5. The legislative anomaly by which farmers can continue destructive ploughing of scheduled monuments must be replaced with support for proactive, protective management.
Information and advice
6. DEFRA must treat provision of environmental information and advice as a core investment in education and training for sustainable farming, not an administrative overhead.
7. Local Government historic environment information and advisory services must be put on a statutory footing with adequate resources - including funding from DEFRA - to deliver the information and advice farmers need to safeguard their heritage.
Strengthening Codes of Good Farming Practice
8. There should be a much clearer, stronger guide to Good Farming Practice for Conservation - including the Historic Environment and its integration with other environmental issues.
9. Non-subsidised areas of agriculture like potato growing should not be exempt from Good Farming Practice.
10. The state of the historic environment in rural areas must be monitored more effectively to check the effectiveness of measures to protect sites and to inform policy development.
Notes for editors
1. The Council for British Archaeology is an educational charity that promotes knowledge, appreciation and care of the historic environment for present and future generations on a UK-wide basis. It has a membership of over 520 heritage organisations representing over 3.5million people, and c.10,000 directly subscribing individuals of all ages. CBA institutional members represent national, regional and local bodies concerned with the whole historic environment encompassing the state, professional, academic, museum and voluntary sectors.
2. In 1977 the CBA published Archaeology and Agriculture an analysis of plough damage issues. Ever since then the CBA has been pressing Government to address the problem through the development of agri-environment schemes and other reforms. The CBA helped initiate and contribute to a major DEFRA research study on the issues of the management of archaeological sites under cultivation. Currently the CBA, along with English Heritage and the Association of Local Government Archaeological officers is currently contributing archaeological advice to 3 DEFRA working groups looking at how agri-environment schemes can be expanded and improved.
3. Section 17 of the 1986 Agriculture Act, obliges the Secretary of State to seek to achieve
'a reasonable balance' between a) the promotion and maintenance of a stable and efficient agricultural industry; b) the economic and social interests of rural areas; c) the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside (including its flora and fauna and geological and physiographical features) and of any features of archaeological interest there; and d) the promotion of the enjoyment of the countryside by the public'
4. The Key National Priorities of the English Rural Development Programme includes (under NP3) 'the protection and enhancement through appropriate management of historic and archaeological features of international, national and local importance, and their settings, in particular by conservation and repair of ancient monuments and landscapes at risk.'
5. Following proposals by the Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food that farmers should be offered support for their environmental management of the countryside The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is reviewing its current agri-environment schemes with the intention of launching new schemes in 2005. Doing more to safeguard the historic environment emerged as an important issue which is being considered by DEFRA in its Review.
6. Following negotiations on reform of the Common Agricultural Policy The European Union has proposed the "de-coupling" of farming subsidies from intensive production. In return farmers will be required to abide by certain environmental requirements. This provides an important opportunity to expand support for environmentally friendly farming.
7. Current Ancient Monuments legislation is provided by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 and the Ancient Monuments (Class Consent) Order 1994. There is a current review of Review of Heritage Protection, which includes the Class Consent Order. Following public consultation, the Government hopes to publish a White Paper early in 2004.