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Scheduled Monuments at Risk

The 19,855 archaeological sites currently on the Schedule of Monuments are recognised as being amongst the most significant archaeological remains in England.

They range from prehistoric burial mounds and hillforts to 20th century industrial and military sites. They provide immense historical depth to the places and landscapes in which we live. However, they are often fragile and easily damaged. Once gone, they can never be replaced.

Prehistoric stone circle on Birkrigg Common, Cumbria,and a group of volunteer bracken bashers, seen here in the middle of the cleared stone circle.
The prehistoric stone circle on Birkrigg Common, Cumbria, was at risk due to invasive bracken growth. It was removed from the Register in 2017 thanks to the work of volunteer bracken bashers, seen here in the middle of the cleared stone circle © Historic England DP174639

The current situation

As in previous years, damage from ploughing is the greatest threat, affecting over 38% of scheduled monuments on the Register.

The Conservation of Scheduled Monuments in Cultivation (COSMIC) project assessed ways to avoid further damage, whilst enabling cultivation to continue wherever possible.

Management decisions are being made, leading to the removal of significant numbers of scheduled monuments from the Register. COSMIC was prioritised in the historic environment sector's heritage protection plan, known as Heritage 2020.

Although generally more long term and gradual in their effects, degradation and decay as a result of natural processes, such as scrub and tree growth, erosion and burrowing animals, remain the second greatest threat.

There are 2,203 archaeology entries on the 2017 Heritage at Risk Register. 155 archaeology entries were removed from the 2016 Register for positive reasons, but 77 sites were added.

The challenge ahead

Because they are likely to have few practical economic uses, scheduled monuments may be more at risk from neglect and decay than buildings or landscapes, particularly where owners already face difficult economic choices.

However, in many cases the steps needed to stabilise the condition of scheduled monuments can be relatively simple and inexpensive.

We can positively state that the majority of rural sites at risk can be restored to good condition in ways that deliver other environmental objectives, or contribute to rural economies.

Some monuments do require significant investment and in these cases close co-operation is needed between owners, land managers and Historic England to discuss potential sources of grant aid.

The Countryside Stewardship Scheme, run by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, managed by Natural England, targets archaeological sites at risk, helping with their conservation and management.

The scheme (and its predecessor Environmental Stewardship) has been very successful in improving the condition of many hundreds of monuments. It helped Historic England meet our target one year early by removing 15% of entries from the 2015 Register by 2018. Thanks to Natural England environmental stewardship agreements, 31 archaeology entries were removed from the 2016 Register. We hope that the continuation of these benefits will be enshrined in new schemes following Brexit.

Historic England Management Agreements, Monument Management Schemes and Heritage Partnership Agreements can also play a key role in helping improve the condition of many archaeological sites and monuments.

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