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


Memorandum submitted by the Council for British Archaeology (G3)

  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. We have a membership of over 500 heritage organisations and c10,000 subscribing individuals of all ages. Our institutional members represent national, regional and local bodies concerned with the whole historic environment encompassing the state, professional, academic, museum and voluntary sectors.


  1.1  DEFRA has a deeply important and influential role to play in the conservation of the nation's historic environment. This is in part recognised by the statutory duty, which the Department inherits from MAFF under Section 17(1) of the Agriculture Act 1986 to care for landscape and the heritage in the exercise of its duties. A comparable duty, backed up by a Code of Practice applies to the Environment Agency under Sections 6(1) and 7-9 of the Environment Act 1995. These duties towards the historic environment have the same status as those towards landscape wildlife and access.

  1.2  The greater policy span and practical duties of the new department, and of the agencies which it sponsors (especially, but not only, in the work of the Sustainability Commission, Countryside Agency, the Environment Agency, English Nature, and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee) means that DEFRA has an even greater influence on the historic environment than its predecessor. By way of illustration, we would suggest that as a "lead-body" responsible for the following policy areas, DEFRA and its agencies have a major part to play in relation to conservation and access to the historic environment:

    —  conservation of natural resources on both land and sea (wildlife minerals, soils, water) which have inextricable links to the historic environment;

    —  the management and promotion of agri-environment schemes, initiatives for rural development and the promotion of sustainable agriculture;

    —  policy and implementation for flood and coastal defence management;

    —  managing water quality and supply;

    —  managing waterways;

    —  developing policy and implementing measures for managing contaminated land, conservation of soil and controlling environmental pollution;

    —  countryside management and recreation;

    —  the promotion of the principles and practice of sustainable development; and

    —  undertaking research across all of these issues to guide the future shape and development of government policy and practice.

  1.3  It also needs to be recognised that the long-term and continuing legacy of losses to the historic environment (as so compellingly demonstrated for instance by Monuments at Risk Survey of England 1995, and other surveys, particularly for rural areas—see Appendix 1), has been particularly great in areas of policy and activity where DEFRA and its agencies represent the competent bodies.

  1.4  The importance of DEFRA's inherited statutory duty in relation to agriculture has been more recently underlined and widened in the Government's stated aspirations for the protection and care of the historic environment to be recognised as relevant across all areas of government. Speaking on behalf of the Government in a House of Lords debate on the report to Government Power of Place: the future of the historic environment, (December 2000) Lord McIntosh stated that:

    "Great progress has been made over the past 20 years in recognising the important public interest in taking firm action to protect the natural environment. We now want to make similar progress to protect the historical environment, which has significance for us all."

  1.5  This has since been reinforced in the Government's own 2002 statement of policy, The Historic Environment: A Force for the Future which stated that:

    ". . . given the span of issues and Departments which have an impact on the historic environment or vice versa, the Government acknowledges the need to develop a cross-Whitehall approach to promote awareness of the historic environment through all relevant Departments and maximise its contribution to the Government's programme as a whole."

  and that

    ". . . although the lead responsibility rests with DCMS and DTLR, other parts of Government have a major interest in the subject and have taken part in the preparation of this document. Not least among these is the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, whose involvement reflects the importance of the historic environment for rural areas . . ."


  2.1  The CBA recognises that DEFRA and has an extremely challenging portfolio of responsibilities, and the comments and views that we offer below on our experiences to date are selective. In this context we recognise that direct responsibility for historic environment policy (covered by English Heritage) was not transferred to DEFRA along with other aspects of the environment (covered by English Nature, JNCC, and The Countryside Agency). However, the Historic Environment IS part of the statutory duty of DEFRA in relation to agriculture, and of the Environment Agency in all its activities, and it is recognised as an important strand of policy for sustainable development within the remit of the Sustainability Commission (see Annex 2 for the CBA's position on this issue). We therefore concentrate our comments on these key areas.

  2.2  Whilst we are encouraged that within our area of interest there are some positive signs of progress—and in some areas good work being done—we remain very concerned that at the overarching strategic level DEFRA does not properly recognise its responsibility and scope of influence on historic environment issues. Specifically, the historic environment, and the need to work closely with the national heritage agencies and DCMS was not even mentioned by DEFRA in its new departmental policy Working for the Essentials of Life; it appears that it is not recognised as a core part of "the environment"—a point made particularly clear by the specific inclusion of wildlife and biodiversity, but not the historic environment within the aims and high-level objectives.

  2.3  While some parts of DEFRA and its agencies are conscious of a need—and themselves desire—to do more to foster the conservation of the historic environment, the absence of a stronger steer at the overarching strategic level and lack of adequate resources to cover this area properly (either within the Department and its Agencies or elsewhere) means that there is limited scope to achieve this. We recognise that a new Department cannot assimilate all aspects of a restructured remit simultaneously and fully, but nevertheless we are dismayed that existing statutory duties and policies towards the historic environment have not been clearly recognised at a strategic level.

  2.4  At a time of rapid change in many areas where the Department's policy and activities directly influence the condition and care of the historic environment—most especially in relation to the changing face of agriculture and rural development policy—this becomes a serious omission that needs to be addressed.


  3.1  Despite of the Department's and the Environment Agency's statutory duty towards the historic environment, and the government's aspirations for a joined-up approach to sustainable development, there are several indications that DEFRA is not yet fulfilling these goals. This arises partly from how departmental responsibilities towards the historic environment are not formally recognised as being shared, although in practice DEFRA's responsibilities for rural land-use and marine resources policy geographically affect far more of the historic environment than any other department. There are several problems that DEFRA have inherited in terms of approaches and practices. There are some indications of progress on some detailed matters, but as yet these do not feed through to a strategic level. There are also some indications of an active policy of ignoring historic environment issues at a strategic level. These are illustrated below.

  3.2  Examples of Inherited Problems:

    —  in respect of the English Rural Development White Paper, English Heritage, unlike the Government's other conservation advisers, the Countryside Agency and English Nature, was not a member of the White Paper "Sounding Board"; English Heritage's work is not included in the objectives and spending proposals for protecting the countryside; and English Heritage is not even included in the list of relevant bodies for advice;

    —  for a variety of reasons there are several shortcomings in the structure, policy and practice of how agri-environment schemes have developed, which cumulatively mean that the current regime is skewed away from delivering as many benefits to the historic environment as should be the case. In particular, we believe much more could be achieved through clearer principles of how conservation of non-renewable assets should relate to environmental enhancement, better integration of environmental objectives, and better information and advice;

    —  despite its duties to promote conservation of the historic environment under the 1986 Agriculture Act, DEFRA employs c.10 times fewer archaeological advisors than ecologists. As a consequence archaeological and conservation advice for the majority of DEFRA's supported activities and programmes (such as input and advice on agri-environment schemes, woodland planting, flood and coastal defence proposals etc) has to come from local authority archaeological and historic environment services. Such services are provided by local authorities on a discretionary basis without core government support, and are arguably already overstretched;

    —  similarly, despite its duties and span of activities which influence the historic environment, DEFRA inherits a research programme from MAFF which has commissioned 40 times less conservation research on archaeology than on biodiversity. This means that significant policy decisions are often being made without adequate evidence or understanding of the impacts they will have upon the historic environment;

    —  the Government recognises that the historic environment is an issue for sustainable development in its statement A Better Quality of Life, and this has been further reinforced by its statement on the historic environment policy, Force for our Future. However, the UK Sustainability Commission has no members with particular expertise in the Historic Environment, and has not covered it in its first year's work on local government, business, farming and urban regeneration (see DEFRA's conception of sustainability also largely excludes a recognition of the positive contribution that the historic environment makes to quality of life, the environment, society and the economy (see Annex 2);

    —  in the early months of the FMD outbreak it became clear that MAFF was requiring cleansing and disinfection work, which resulted in unnecessary damage and losses to the historic environment. Demolitions of some historic farm buildings took place; in others internal fixtures and fittings and elements of historic fabric was removed; and unsuitable chemical treatments in others resulted in damage. Similarly, in the early months of the outbreak the excavation of pits for disposal of slaughtered animals and infected materials, and of lagoons for infected water and slurry took place with little or no archaeological advice, and the extent of damage to archaeological sites and monuments during the outbreak remains unknown.

  3.3  Examples of detailed indications of progress (with potential wider outlook);

    —  following representations from the CBA, English Heritage and other historic conservation bodies during the FMD outbreak better liaison between DEFRA, English Heritage and local authorities was established and more benign approaches to cleansing and material disposal were promoted. A small number of historic environment specialists were seconded to DEFRA to help provide advice. Although it is extremely regrettable that irreversible damage to the rural historic environment resulted from MAFF's initial technical advice, the more enlightened approach that emerged in the latter half of the outbreak marked a vast improvement. This illustrates the potential within DEFRA to foster a more positive outlook and outcomes through better resourcing and liaison. It is not yet clear that the lessons of the need for a better network of specialist advice available at local level have been learned;

    —  we have been pleased to note some well-integrated work by the Environment Agency at local level (eg studies on water levels in the Somerset Levels). But we have seen no indication, despite making representations to DEFRA and the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution on several consultations about the Agency's role and responsibilities, that any progress has been made to address the Agency's strategy, performance or resources for fulfilling its general duty towards the historic environment, or its adherence to the MAFF Code of Practice on Conservation Access and Recreation (see for absence of EA's recognition of heritage obligations alongside wildlife);

    —  in agri-environment policy we have been pleased to note the special Countryside Stewardship scheme for Avebury and Stonehenge and DEFRA's support for digital mapping of ancient monuments to support application of policy, and the completion of a research project into the management of archaeological sites in arable landscapes. It remains to be seen whether these carry through into more substantive investment in better integration of the historic environment into agri-environment policy, research and information and advice support (for our detailed comments see CBA website

  3.4  Examples where historic environment issues appear to have been deliberately ignored:

    —  DEFRA have not included historic environment issues alongside biodiversity within high level strategic aims for the new Department despite the statutory duties and policy framework relating to the Department's work outlined above, and despite representations made by English Heritage, the CBA (see and others;

    —  DEFRA did not include the historic environment in their consultation about the Environment Agency's strategic objectives despite their statutory duty under the Environment Act and several previous representations made on this issue (see; the final statement is awaited);

    —  during DEFRA's implementation of the EIA regulation on uncultivated land or semi-natural areas the initial consultation attracted representations (from both English Heritage and ourselves see that the criteria for application of EIA should include uncultivated permanent grassland with no botanical interest because it can be of landscape value and preserve high quality archaeological remains. Despite acceptance of this principle in the second round of consultation this was then ignored in the final criterion adopted (which is based on floral diversity).


  4.1  We offer five key recommendations which we believe if implemented will help DEFRA properly meet its and its Agencies' Statutory Duties and more generally play its full part in contributing to the Government's aspirations for the historic environment, as set out in A Force for our Future:

    (1)  A more holistic approach to sustainability and the environment—at its very heart DEFRA needs to embrace ideas of environment and sustainability which are not based solely on ecology, biodiversity or natural resources but also include and value the historic environment. It should ensure that the Sustainability Commission has both the expertise and the responsibility to cover policy on sustainability for the historic environment as fully as other areas of its remit, and that it takes a positive approach to developing policy in this area.

    (2)  DEFRA needs to devise and adopt its own policy statement on the historic environment and require the Environment Agency to likewise—we believe that an initial pre-requisite to improving the situation would be for DEFRA to commission a policy "mapping" project to identify where DEFRA's activities and responsibilities have a substantive influence on the historic environment. This mapping exercise should involve both commissioned research and public consultation and lead to a clearer policy statement from DEFRA about how it will integrate the conservation of the historic environment more thoroughly into its portfolio of responsibilities, and what resources it needs to achieve this. Given the Environment Agency's statutory duty with respect to landscape, wildlife, heritage and access in the execution of ALL its functions, this should specifically be applied to them as well.

    (3)  DEFRA and its agencies need to undertake more historic environment research in fulfilling their duties towards the historic environment—DEFRA, the Sustainability Commission and the Environment Agency should all include more coverage of technical historic environment and archaeological research that they commission to ensure that the advice, policy and land management decisions that they make are based on sound evidence in relation to their potential influence or impact (both positive and negative) on archaeology and the historic environment.

    (4)  DEFRA needs to ensure that it and its Agencies have access to sufficient in-house historic environment expertise—we believe that whilst the expansion of the archaeological team within the Rural Development Service over the past year (but which still only equates to five full-time posts) is helping greatly to improve DEFRA's approach to the historic environment in this sector, further rapid expansion is needed to cope with the current and future policy and casework demands. An even more serious deficit of expertise exists to fulfil the Environment Agency's duties towards the historic environment (only one archaeologist at regional level). The Sustainability Commission has no relevant expertise in this area.

        We urge that the Committee examine the relative strength of expertise that is internally available to DEFRA and the Environment Agency for the historic environment as compared with biodiversity in relation to their respective statutory duties under the 1986 Agriculture Act and 1995 Environment Act.

    (5)  DEFRA has a role to play in supporting external networks of information and advice—alongside an expansion of its own core of expertise DEFRA has to recognise that it has a vested interest in supporting local authority archaeological services and historic environment records upon which decision-making is based. Expansion of agri-environment schemes, and in other DEFRA and Environment Agency casework means that DEFRA is, and will be increasingly, reliant on local authorities for providing local archaeological and historic environment information and advice. This demand creates a resource pressure on services, which are already overstretched and are entirely discretionary in terms of local authority provision. DEFRA needs to consider what its role should be in ensuring their long-term support to help fulfil its statutory duties and those of the Environment Agency.

June 2002

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