View of Newbury battlefield in morning mist.
The site of the first battle of Newbury (20 September 1643) – which appears on the Register of Historic Battlefields – is now edged by a modern housing development.
The site of the first battle of Newbury (20 September 1643) – which appears on the Register of Historic Battlefields – is now edged by a modern housing development.

Registered Battlefields at Risk

The Register of Historic Battlefields includes sites where the most important military confrontations on English soil took place. Battles were often dramatic turning points in English history, ending dynasties and ushering in new regimes. There are currently 47 registered battlefields, 3 of which are on the Heritage at Risk Register.

The battlefields on the Register of Historic Battlefields range in date from Maldon (AD 991) to Sedgemoor (1685). They are associated with some of the most formative periods in our national history and involved some of the most influential historical figures.

Battlefields are places where thousands of people risked and gave their lives for crucial causes and principles, or simply found themselves entangled in life and death struggles that they could not avoid. Battles live on in history, communal memory, folklore and the imagination of subsequent generations.

Under the National Planning Policy Framework registered battlefields are considered to be ‘assets of the highest significance’, along with highly graded listed buildings, and their conservation has to be taken into consideration as part of the planning process. Substantial harm or loss can only be justified in wholly exceptional cases.

Threats to battlefields

Battlefields are treasured places, provoking emotional responses and promoting understanding of our history in ways that documentary evidence alone cannot achieve. Their physical presence in the landscape and the artefacts they retain are important and evocative illustrative and evidential sources. But battlefields are vulnerable to various modern-day pressures, many of which are difficult to manage.

The Naseby Battlefield Project has installed trails and observation points, so it is now possible to appreciate exactly where history was made on 14 June 1645. Naseby, like many battlefields, has suffered threats from treasure hunters and intrusive development.

New development is the most common risk faced by battlefields that remain on the Register and those that are vulnerable. Historic England can work with local authorities and developers to ensure that battlefields are not needlessly harmed.

This does not mean that any new development is unacceptable, but it does require that the particular significance of battlefield landscapes is understood and potentially harmful development, either within the Registered area itself or within its setting, is assessed and mitigated, or avoided as necessary.

Comprehensive conservation management plans and specific Local Plan policies have been vital in providing a good framework for decision-making and improving the condition of several battlefields.

Cultivation presents another threat to many battlefields. This, along with uncontrolled, non-systematic and unrecorded metal detecting, displaces and removes features and artefacts that can provide vital new evidence for the character and progress of a battle.

Protecting battlefields for the future

Significant anniversaries, new discoveries, and indeed new threats, provide a focus for greater appreciation of battlefields. Adding new sites to the National Heritage List for England provides recognition of their value. However, this must be followed by beneficial management to help ensure that these sites are not also added to the Heritage at Risk Register.

It is important to use the opportunities provided by greater public awareness and the deep knowledge and passion that resides in local and national expert groups and individuals to achieve effective management and inspirational presentation.

In these ways battlefields will be able to make their most evocative and valuable contributions to our historic environment, public amenity, collective memory and sense of identity.

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