Memorandum submitted by the Council for
British Archaeology (A18)
1. THE COUNCIL
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
sitesbarrows, field boundaries, hill fortsare 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 termsthe 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 Agesome
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 newarchaeologists
can document this process from at least the Bronze Age onwardsbut
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 levelarchaeological 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 structuresThis
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. THE HISTORIC
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 alikein particular through
helping to foster a socially valuable sense of place and cultural
3.2 The "historic" resonance and
character of different rural areasthrough bringing many
visitors into the countrysidealso 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. THE RURAL
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
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 irreversiblearchaeological
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. THE ROLE
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
landmany of whom often appreciate its historic character.
As a consequence stewardship of the historic environment is heavily
reliant upon farmingand this must have due regard to the
principles of sustainability, supported by adequate incentives
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. CURRENT AND
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 heritagesuch as those for
Countryside Stewardship and ESAs in England and their equivalents
in Wales, Scotland and Northern Irelandthe 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
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 CommissionCountryside
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).