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English Heritage questionnaire will generate advice specific to individual scheduled sites.
English Heritage estimates that there are some 1,600 Scheduled Monuments at risk from cultivation on farms across England. To tackle this problem and save these precious archaeological sites for future generations, it is sending out a nationwide questionnaire to farmers and land managers about farming and management practices on their land.
English Heritage is urging farmers to respond so that the information can be used to pinpoint the particular threats to the monuments on each farm. It will then suggest mitigation measures and options that will help farmers to protect the archaeology while, in as many cases as possible, continuing cultivation.
Arable cultivation can damage archaeological remains in several ways: by levelling out earthworks (ancient "humps and bumps" visible above the surface of the field), by encroaching upon monuments that have survived as "islands" in fields, by cutting through and churning up below-ground remains, and by eroding protective layers of soil.
Dr Vince Holyoak, Head of Rural and Environmental Advice for English Heritage, said: "Damage to archaeological sites caused by cultivation is a well recognised problem. But we know that the traditional one-size-fits-all response, which is to revert arable land to grassland, is often impractical, and we have therefore been developing more subtle and sustainable ways to tackle the problem."
"Farmers look after some of the country's most precious and often hidden ancient monuments. It's a huge responsibility which most of them wholeheartedly embrace. The good news is that we now have a much wider range of solutions to offer that address specific problems. I very much hope that farmers will lend us their support, fill in the questionnaire, and get some useful advice in return."
"We also hope to use the survey to encourage more farmers with monuments at high risk to join incentivised schemes such as Defra's Environmental Stewardship Scheme. We are delighted that Natural England, which administers the scheme, is giving Scheduled Monuments special support within the Higher Level Scheme applications for this year". Jake Freestone, Farm Manager for Overbury Farms in Worcestershire, joined a similar survey to prepare for their ultimately successful Higher Level Stewardship Application in 2010.
Jake explains how the survey worked for him: "Back in the days of our old Countryside Stewardship Scheme we were conscious we had not secured protection for the rich and varied archaeology that is unseen across the arable and horticultural parts of the farm. We always knew that an application to HLS would bring this challenge to our door and we needed to prepare for that."
"Using the English Heritage survey questions, I worked with archaeologists to identify the more important sites at risk from different cultivations. We saw the archaeology on the farm in a different light, something we could possibly protect in balance with the farm business. Through the Environmental Stewardship Scheme, we have adopted key recommendations from the survey, reverting areas of several arable fields to pasture to benefit our sheep concern, focussing cropping that works with minimum tillage on other specific areas and restricting the need for sub-soiling by swapping our crop rotations on other areas of the farm. The net result works well for the farm business and allowed us to access ELS and HLS for other areas of the farmed estate."
English Heritage's site-by-site approach to tackling the threat to archaeology with the active engagement of farmers was piloted successfully in the East Midlands between 2003 and 2011. By analysing and field testing the impacts of ploughing, soil tilling, crop rotation and other farming practices on archaeology more carefully, the pilot study was able to provide farmers with advice which enabled them, in many cases, to continue cultivation while adapting their farming practices to protect important archaeology on their land.
Vince Holyoak said: "A pilot survey we carried out in the East Midlands suggested that only on a third or less of the monuments under plough was continued arable cultivation incompatible with their preservation. On the remaining two- thirds measures to manage cultivation depth, disturbance and compaction could deliver the protection required.
"Natural England's Environmental Stewardship Scheme has already had an important impact and in the East Midlands alone, since 2005, 190 farmers have started to tackle monuments at risk from cultivation by entering them into agreements. The East Midlands pilot showed that solutions can often be tailored to a particular farm's business model and environmental interests, and this is a lesson we are keen to spread as we now roll out the project nationally."
Participation in the questionnaire is entirely voluntary but English Heritage hopes that farmers will see the benefits of completing the survey before it closes in September. The questionnaires are being sent out on a rolling basis. If you have not received one by the end of September, you have a scheduled monument in cultivation and you would like to participate in the study then please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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