The government has just published Heritage in the 21st Century, its White Paper on the future of the protection of archaeological and historic sites in England and Wales. It outlines its proposals for the way in which they hope to change the system which designates particular monuments or structures as worthy of protection. Currently, important buildings are protected by “Listing”- with Grade I Listed Buildings being the most important and Grade II being of lesser, but still significance, import. However, archaeological monuments, such as earthworks are protected by being made Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAMS). Under the new proposals it is suggested that rather than having a separate system for buildings and monuments that they are brought together under the same system.
Other important proposals in the White Paper include the welcome suggestion that Sites & Monuments Records/ Historic Environment Records are made statutory, and that all county councils or local authorities should have access to one. It is also suggested that Class Consent (general standing consent given to carry out certain activities on SAMs) for ploughing should be removed. Until now, the subsurface areas of many protected ancient monuments have been annually damaged by continued ploughing, which often badly disturbs archaeological deposits. This would be ended under the White Paper, instead farmers would be encouraged to come to management agreements with English Heritage to protect the sites, potentially through the existing DEFRA Environmental Stewardship Schemes.
The White Paper is currently out for consultation- some bodies such as the The Archaeoligcal Forum have already responded. What do you think of these proposals?