For the historic environment, evidence indicates
that intensification and increasing industrialized approach to
farming, particularly in 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;
wetland archaeological and palaeo-environmental
sites have been lost at a dramatic rate. At least 50 per cent
of the original extent of lowland peatland has been lost during
the last 50 years and an estimated 2,930 wetland monuments have
been totally destroyed, whilst another 10,450 are likely to have
suffered damage, desiccation, and partial destruction in the same
period. The main causes of this widespread destruction are drainage,
water abstraction, conversion of pasture into arable, peat wastage,
peat erosion, peat extraction, and urban and industrial development2;
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
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 in
serious decline. Approx 33 per cent of hedges in England and 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.
These losses and potential losses are all the
more worrying as they are irreversiblethe historic environment
is a non-renewable resource and original historic features lost
now cannot be recreated by "regeneration" or "enhancement"
as some habitats can.
1. 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. English Heritage Survey of Wetland Monuments
at Risk 2002.
3. English Heritage 1992 Buildings at Risk
Sample Survey of c 40 per cent rural Listed Building.
4. 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. Gaskell, P (1994) "SPAB Barns Database",
contract report to the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.
6. Council for British Archaeology internal
7. 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. Countryside Commission. 1996. The Condition
of England's Dry Stone Walls (Survey by ADAS on behalf of Countryside
CommissionCountryside Commission Publication No 482).