Farming the Historic Landscape

How can damage occur to archaeological sites in grassland?

Although grassland is a highly beneficial form of land management for archaeological sites, it is important to recognise that damage can still occur as a result of:

  • Livestock poaching or erosion
  • Careless use of farm vehicles
  • Grassland improvement
  • Land drainage works
  • Scrub or bracken encroachment
  • Burrowing animals
  • New fencing, ponds or scrapes, and tree planting

Careful site management can avoid these problems. Grant-aid may be available from Defra, English Heritage or some local authorities to help you deliver improved management or tackle particular issues (see contact details on the back page).

(A) Some of the nationís best-preserved archaeological sites survive in grassland. At Tissington, Derbyshire, Civil War defences survive as earthworks surrounded by medieval ridge and furrow. Photograph: English Heritage NMR 17422-32

(B) Livestock erosion around a water trough has disfigured the rampart of this Roman fort in Cumbria. Moving the water trough will prevent further damage. Photograph: Neil Rimmington.

(C) These deserted medieval village earthworks in Nottinghamshire are being damaged by stock erosion. Wherever possible, stocking levels should be adjusted to stop damage. Photograph: English Heritage.

Livestock poaching or erosion

All livestock are capable of damaging archaeological sites through poaching or creating erosion scars. This can cause significant disfigurement to the site and damage to the information it holds. Sometimes this happens just through over-stocking, but more commonly it is associated with livestock movement or gathering points, such as gateways, water troughs, feeders or shelterbelts. Stock erosion can also be a particular problem around monuments such as standing stones or ruinous structures. Erosion scars will often continue to develop if not repaired. Small scars can be stabilised by removing stock and allowing grass to regenerate. Larger scars will need careful repair with turves or soil. Always seek professional archaeological advice before carrying out repairs.

Options to consider:

  • Re-site places where livestock gather (such as water troughs or gateways) in less sensitive areas
  • Regularly move mobile feeders to minimise impact
  • Plan new or adjust existing shelterbelts so that livestock do not gather on archaeological sites
  • Exclude livestock temporarily from damaged areas to allow recovery of erosion scars
  • Exclude livestock during wet conditions when the monument is more vulnerable
  • Adjust stocking levels (particularly for larger livestock, such as cattle and horses, which cause greater disturbance to earthworks) or change stock to a lighter type to minimise the potential for damage
  • Maintain stock-proof boundaries in good condition
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