Scheduled Monuments at Risk
The 19,895 archaeological sites currently on the Schedule of Monuments are recognised as being amongst the most significant archaeological remains in England.
They range from prehistoric burial mounds and hillforts to 20th-century industrial and military sites. They provide immense historical depth to the places and landscapes in which we live. However, they are often fragile and easily damaged. Once gone, they can never be replaced.
The prehistoric round barrow known as Willy Howe, East Yorkshire, was at risk owing to dense scrub growth. It was removed from the register in 2019 thanks to the efforts of the landowner, firstly under his Natural England Countryside Stewardship Agreement and then helped by a grant from Historic England.
The current situation
As in previous years, damage from ploughing and arable clipping continue to be the greatest threat.
The Conservation of Scheduled Monuments in Cultivation (COSMIC) project provides a framework to assess the impact of arable cultivation and avoid further damage, whilst enabling cultivation to continue wherever possible.
Its application has led to the removal of significant numbers of scheduled monuments from the Register, as well as informing the management of monuments being considered for inclusion in Countryside Stewardship schemes.
Although generally more long term and gradual in their effects, degradation and decay as a result of natural processes, such as scrub and tree growth, erosion and burrowing animals, remain the second greatest threat.
There are 2,090 archaeology entries on the 2020 Heritage at Risk Register. 59 archaeology entries were removed from the 2019 Register for positive reasons, but 64 sites were added.
Please note that structural Scheduled Monuments (in other words those with above ground structural remains) are assessed separately – see our Buildings and Structures at Risk page.
The challenge ahead
Because they are likely to have few practical economic uses, scheduled monuments may be more at risk from neglect and decay than buildings or landscapes, particularly where owners already face difficult economic choices.
However, in many cases the steps needed to stabilise the condition of scheduled monuments can be relatively simple and inexpensive.
We believe that the majority of rural sites at risk can be restored to good condition in ways that deliver other environmental objectives, or contribute to rural economies.
Some monuments do require significant investment and in these cases close co-operation is needed between owners, land managers and Historic England to discuss potential sources of grant aid.
The Countryside Stewardship Scheme, run by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), managed by Natural England, targets archaeological sites at risk, helping with their conservation and management. The scheme (and its predecessor Environmental Stewardship) has been very successful in improving the condition of many hundreds of monuments, as well as removing 22 sites from the Register this year.
Our work in partnership with Natural England has removed well over 800 scheduled monuments from the Register since 2009. We therefore welcomed the recognition given to the value and importance of heritage within DEFRA's 25 Year Environment Plan, and its inclusion in plans for the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme, which is currently under development by DEFRA. The national pilot for ELM is due to start in 2021, with national rollout from 2024.
Historic England Management Agreements, Monument Management Schemes and Heritage Partnership Agreements can also play a key role in helping improve the condition of many archaeological sites and monuments.
Partnership working remains key and has been particularly successful in 2020 with eight monuments removed as a result of Monument Management Schemes run in collaboration with key partners such as the Exmoor National Park.