Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Council for British Archaeology (A18)


  1.1  The Council for British Archaeology (CBA) was founded in 1944 to provide a voice for archaeology during post-war reconstruction. Today it is an independent educational charity which works to promote the study and care of Britain's historic environment, to provide a forum for archaeological opinion, and to improve public interest and knowledge of Britain's past.

  1.2  The CBA is able to comment on issues of archaeological conservation from a pan-UK perspective, drawing on long experience of issues of conservation policy and practice in both rural and urban environments.

  1.3  The Council consists of representatives of more than 500 local, county, regional and national societies, institutions and bodies, and c.10,000 subscribing individuals of all ages. This memorandum has been prepared by Honorary Officers and senior staff of the CBA.

  1.4  The CBA welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the Committee's thinking on the issues relating to the future of UK agriculture. We are not in a position to offer a detailed commentary on the economic aspects of the question, but offer here our strong support for the thinking implicit in your second aim—"How better stewardship of the agricultural land can be promoted"—and our observations on the urgent need for such stewardship to be improved.

  1.5  Our submission reviews the relationship between archaeology and agriculture and recommends practical steps to better secure its care within the mechanisms for supporting agriculture. Our submission should also be read mindful of our full endorsement of the submission from Wildlife and Countryside Link's Farming and Rural Development Working Group (of which the CBA is a member), and in particular our support for Link's Vision for the future of farming (Dec 2001), and Greenprint for Agri-environment Schemes in England (July 2001) which have been submitted in support of Link's written evidence.


  2.1  The landscape of Britain, as much as anywhere in the world, is the product of human interaction with the natural environment. Few parts of the land, particularly in England, are remotely "natural": all, including moorland and heathland, are shaped by human activity. The landscape itself provides the only document we have for most of the length of human history. Patterns of parish and field boundaries store the history of human decisions about landuse that no documents record, while the fabric of the countryside contains the raw materials of history and archaeology. The historic environment aspects of the landscape fall broadly into three categories:

    —  Visible or upstanding archaeological sites—barrows, field boundaries, hill forts—are key elements of our cultural heritage and in some cases, there still survive continuous "landscapes" of historic importance extending over many hectares. Such surviving feature provide a sense of the past and are seen by the public at large as so permanent a feature that they are often mistaken for "landscape" or "natural environment". Traditional field boundaries of all sorts, whether walls, hedges, banks or embanked hedgerows, for instance are not only one of the most important components of the landscape in visual terms—the local variety makes a major contribution to "sense of place"—but also of great importance historically, as they record decisions made about the use of the landscape that may go back hundreds or even thousands of years. Some present day field systems in Cornwall, for example, have boundaries that date back to the Bronze Age—some 4,000 years. These boundaries are archaeological features in their own right. In many other cases, field boundaries represent the original boundaries of mediaeval parishes, Saxon or Roman estates, or other major units of land division.

        Such upstanding archaeological features, particularly where made from earth, are highly vulnerable to both outright removal and to gradual attrition through agricultural processes. The loss of monuments of earlier age to the agricultural activities of a later one is nothing new—archaeologists can document this process from at least the Bronze Age onwards—but in the period since the onset of the last War it has intensified massively, aided by the arrival of machines infinitely more powerful than those of our ancestors. These can modify the survival of thousands of years' history in a single afternoon.

    —  Buried archaeological sites and those which only survive below ground level—archaeological deposits below the ground are of great importance. Their presence can sometimes be recognised through aerial reconnaissance, through geophysical survey, documentary records of the previous presence of earthwork remains, or through field walking. This material, though it can theoretically be preserved in a stable state beneath a ploughsoil level, is in fact liable to erosion through the loss of the covering topsoil layer, through soil compaction, or through the use of novel and more powerful machines that cultivate more deeply. All of these will have the effect of biting into previously undisturbed deposits, and reducing the surviving evidence.

    —  Buildings and structures—This last group comprises the whole spectrum from such obviously "historic" features as castles and ruined abbeys, to the vernacular buildings of the countryside, the small houses and farm buildings, which are at present so much at risk from changes in farming practice. Farm buildings of the landscape are one of the components that give it much of what is now described as "Local Distinctiveness". The use of local and vernacular materials, and the fact that the form and appearance of farm buildings directly reflect the agricultural practices they were built to serve, mean that their variety is at once a key component of the appearance of the countryside and as major source of information into its history. We regard these as of key importance as a historic dimension of the wider countryside, and welcome the fact that some A/E payments may now be directed toward their care.


  3.1  This wealth and diversity of history and prehistory written into the physical form of the Britain's landscape contributes very fundamentally to quality of life for rural communities and visitors alike—in particular through helping to foster a socially valuable sense of place and cultural rootedness.

  3.2  The "historic" resonance and character of different rural areas—through bringing many visitors into the countryside—also represents a powerful economic force underpinning the "hidden giant" of the rural economy, namely tourism. The National Trust for instance has estimated that landscape quality in Cumbria alone generated £812 million and 15,000 FTE jobs in 2000, and that 43 per cent of all tourism related employment in the south west region (some 54,000 FTE jobs) can be attributed to the quality of the landscape and the environment. The impact of the FMD outbreak on rural tourism has starkly reinforced the growing economic importance of landscape quality.


  4.1  Evidence indicates that intensification and increasing industrialised approach to farming, particularly over the last 50 years, has caused a dramatic decline and degradation in the quality of the rural historic environment and a very serious erosion of historic landscape character and diversity. The figures speak for themselves:

    —  Agriculture has been responsible for 10 per cent of all cases of wholesale destruction, and 30 per cent of all piecemeal, cumulative damage to ancient monuments in the last 50 years. One of the most serious causes of damage is arable cultivation, and in 1995 32 per cent of all rural archaeological sites and 21 per cent of rural sites protected as Scheduled Ancient Monuments (and therefore adjudged to be of National Importance) were still under the plough; 65 per cent of monuments in arable areas are at medium or high risk of damage1.

    —  The quality of survival of 68 per cent of recorded rural earthwork monuments already falls into "Destroyed" or "Very Poor" categories1.

    —  11,600 wetland ancient monuments have suffered desiccation and partial destruction in the last 50 years, mainly caused by drainage and ploughing for agriculture2.

    —  There are over 77,000 entries on the statutory list of historic buildings categorised as agricultural and subsistence buildings (representing 20 per cent of all listed buildings in England) with many more historic buildings are located in their curtilage to form groups, which individually and collectively are key contributors to local landscape character and intra- and inter-regional diversity.

    —  In 1992 it was estimated that about 17 per cent of all listed farm buildings were "at risk" and 24 per cent were "vulnerable"3.

    —  In 1997 only 60 per cent of unlisted field barns in the Yorkshire Dales National Park were intact, and the rate of decline was rapid4.

    —  A survey for the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings recorded the condition of 10,000 threshing barns and found that only 20 per cent were being maintained to high standards which secured their future5.

    —  The CBA is a statutory consultee for listed building applications involving partial or total demolition. In 2000 674 applications (15 per cent of all cases received) related to historic farm buildings. Of these 119 (18 per cent) were for total demolition. Several local authorities do not consult the CBA, and the figures do not include curtilage structures, so these figures are significant underestimates of the total number of historic farm buildings under threat of partial or complete demolition6.

    —  Historic landscape features are rapidly disappearing from the landscape. Approx 33 per cent of hedges in England & Wales were lost between 1984 and 19937 and a survey of England's drystone walls in 19948 concluded that overall, the condition of walls is generally poor, with 49 per cent in serious states of dereliction, and only 13 per cent which could be considered in good condition. Over one-third (38 per cent) of walls were identified as functional but showing major signs of the onset of decay and without repair would be liable to deteriorate with increasing speed.

  4.2  These losses and potential losses are all the more worrying as they are irreversible—archaeological and historical features in the landscape, unlike some of the other environmental assets covered within the objectives of agri-environment schemes, are irreplaceable, non-restorable (except as pastiche) and cannot be regenerated. This is a crucial difference from, for example, some important wildlife habitats, which genuinely can be improved or extended through the targeted application of appropriate schemes. From the point of view of conservation of the historic environment, therefore, the prime consideration must always be the avoidance of destruction and the slowing or stopping of processes which erode this resource. In no real sense is there a second chance, and decision made today affect the opportunities for all future generations to explore their past.

  4.3  The figures stated above indicate that Britain is falling short of its obligations under Council of Europe European Convention on Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (Valletta, 1992)—in particular, but not only, articles 2(ii), and 4(i) & (ii) (see Annex 1)—whose ratification by the UK government came into force in March 2001. They also indicate a failure to fulfil the statutory obligations of MAFF (now falling to DEFRA) under the Agriculture Act 1986 to give due regard for the conservation of the historic environment.

  4.4  We believe that the present cross-roads in agricultural policy represents an opportunity for a radical rethinking of the role of agriculture as the principal agency affecting the survival of evidence of human history over the majority of the British landscape.


  5.1  Whilst the relentless intensification of most of the farming and food industries in the last 50 years has often been a powerful negative force in relation to the environment, it remains a key fact that care for the rural environment can only be sustained by active management by those closest to the land—many of whom often appreciate its historic character. As a consequence stewardship of the historic environment is heavily reliant upon farming—and this must have due regard to the principles of sustainability, supported by adequate incentives and resources.

  5.2  The England Rural Development Plan, Rural Development Plan for Wales, Scottish Rural Development Plan and Rural Regulation Development Plan for Northern Ireland all bring together agri-environment and rural development measures that have been developed and extended over the last 15 years to reward some farmers for the delivery of environmental benefits. These schemes have been a very positive force for good in starting to explore the basis for a more sustainable and integrated approach to agricultural support that takes account of environmental needs. However, these schemes are voluntary and represent only a tiny proportion of the overall amount of agricultural support delivered via the CAP, which substantially outweighs the positive benefits delivered through the respective RDPs. Furthermore, they are mainly biased to areas other than intensive arable landscapes where most archaeological sites are at risk. We explore these problems in greater detail in the following section.


  6.1  We feel it is important to emphasise that the presence and significance of archaeological components of the landscape do not always mirror other "conservation" criteria such as visual amenity or nature conservation value. Some areas, such as moorland or wetlands, are likely to be valuable to all conservation disciplines, but it is true to say that sites and areas of considerable archaeological importance may still survive in some conditions under intensively farmed land. Their conservation may be as important as that of any sites in more scenic surroundings, and for this reason we feel that any "targeting" of environmental support must be on more than a simple geographical basis. CBA is at present involved in a DEFRA-supported research project to examine in more detail issues relating to the physical impact of cultivation on archaeological features in various circumstances.

  6.2  We would however emphasise the urgency of this issue, given the continuing erosion of our archaeological resource. Disturbingly, at present, under the system of "Class Consents" under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, the continued cultivation of even Scheduled Monuments is permissible, if they have been cultivated in the recent past. Since the ploughsoil is not a stable medium, this results in the continuing erosion and loss of archaeological deposits, even for sites which by their very status are acknowledged as being of national importance. The figures cited above (4.1) demonstrate the scale of the problem. This is not in accordance with either the spirit or the letter of the Valetta Convention (4.3) or the Agriculture Act 1986 and now must surely be the moment to engage with the forces that encourage the unsustainable continuation of this loss. (We would in passing observe that the "Class Consent" under which such work is permitted has recently been changed under the parallel legislation in Northern Ireland, removing the consent for such damaging actions.)

  6.3  In considering first such incentives as there are toward proper stewardship of the environment, it is important to observe the present imbalance between funding for agri-environment schemes and the very much greater sums of money that go into other forms of agricultural support: the two are inseparable. Even in the case of the schemes which do most to care for our archaeological heritage—such as those for Countryside Stewardship and ESAs in England and their equivalents in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—the schemes themselves are targeted meaning that in large areas of the country, they do not apply at all. The figures for England are illuminating here as Countryside Stewardship and ESAs combined currently engage only 13 per cent of farmers9. Further, where payments are on offer they are effectively in direct competition with the normal support payments. Arable area payments provide the most stark form of this auction, and a case study which illustrates this is given at Annex 2. This demonstrates that where agri-environment and support payments directly compete, the agri-environment payment does not suffice to compensate a farmer for the loss of arable support payment. We believe as a point of principle that farmers should be properly rewarded for providing "public goods" such as conservation of archaeological and historic environment assets and that this can only be achieved through payments which reflect the true costs of management.

  6.4  It is the CBA's view that baseline environmental conditions should be attached to all agricultural support payments. DETR commissioned a very useful study from the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP 200010) analysing cross-compliance as a means of addressing concerns such as the protection of water, soil and air, landscape change and the conservation of wildlife (although regrettably with no direct brief for consideration of historic environment aspects).

  6.5  The IEEP study concluded that there were a wide range of options for new cross-compliance conditions in the UK which could deliver significant additional environmental benefits to complement the environmental achievements of regulations and incentive payments under existing agri-environment and rural development measures. We believe that the government should take the options identified in the IEEP report forward, as in our view it is paradoxical that public funds should continue to be simultaneously available, in some cases in direct competition, offering the conflicting outcomes of either protecting historic and natural features in the countryside or alternatively, indirectly, continuing their degradation and destruction. An integrated policy is essential.

  6.6  As long ago as 1991, Our Farming Future set out a general government commitment to achieving environmental benefits from agricultural support payments. However, we are aware that little progress has been made on such an objective, with the exception of some measures to limit upland grazing payments in the case of overstocking, and we wonder whether the agri-environment payments under Regulation 2078/92 have only lead attention away from the more fundamental issues of the environmental impact of operations under support payments.


  7.1  The British landscape is much loved, but it is a working landscape, and much if it tells us the history of our farming past. Those elements of our history that have survived, and those that have not, have been the product of decisions taken about farming regimes, and not, on the whole, for conservation reasons. Since the historic environment and its features represent a non-renewable resource, a more focussed approach to its conservation is urgently needed, as the pace of destruction has accelerated greatly in the last 50 years.

  7.2  The present moment, when fundamental decisions about the future of English/UK agriculture need to be taken, is, in the CBA's view, the point where explicit decisions need to be made about long-term stewardship of the countryside, and the historic features it preserves. We urge that the historic environment should weigh as heavily on the Committee's deliberations as nature conservation aspects of the landscape, given the overarching principles of sustainability require that we should seek to pass on to posterity the fabric of history as it has come down to us.

Council for British Archaeology

14 December 2001


  1.  Source: Darvill T and Fulton A 1998. The Monuments at Risk Survey of England 1995. Main Report. Bournemouth and London: Bournemouth University and English Heritage.

  2.  Source: English Heritage Survey of Wetland Monuments at Risk 2001 (Draft Report).

  3.  Source: English Heritage 1992 Buildings at Risk Sample Survey of c 40 per cent rural Listed Building.

  4.  Source: Gaskell P and Tanner M (1998) Landscape conservation policy and traditional farm buildings: a case study of field barns in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Landscape Research 23(3) 289-307.

  5.  Source: Gaskell P (1994) SPAB Barns Database, contract report to the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

  6.  Source: Council for British Archaeology internal conservation database.

  7.  Sources: DOE 1993. Countryside Survey 1990: Main Report and Barr C J, Gillespie M K and Howard D C (1994) Hedgerow Survey 1993: stock and change estimated of hedgerow length in England and Wales, 1990-93. Institute of Terrestrial Ecology.

  8.  Source: Countryside Commission. 1996. The Condition of England's Dry Stone Walls (Survey by ADAS on behalf of Countryside Commission—Countryside Commission Publication No 482).

  9.  Lovelace D, May R and Perkins R, 2000. Money makes the countryside go round: The case for increased spending on countryside schemes in England.

  10.  Dwyer J, Baldock D and Einschutz S. 2000. Cross-compliance under the Common Agricultural Policy (The Institute for European Environmental Policy).

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