Farming the Historic Landscape

Use of farm vehicles

Farm vehicles can cause significant disfigurement and damage to archaeological sites through the creation of wheel ruts. This is a particular problem on waterlogged soils. The ruts can then lead to further erosion, especially on a slope. The area of disturbance can also spread as new routes are sought across the site.

Options to consider:

  • Use an alternative route away from the archaeological site
  • At critical times of the year, use lighter vehicles or vehicles fitted with low ground pressure tyres
  • Create a single permanent route; this may require major ground disturbance, so always take archaeological advice before carrying out work

Grassland improvement

Archaeological sites in grassland are often important for their wildlife, particularly where they survive in unimproved pasture. These sites often contain rare plants and should be carefully managed to conserve both their archaeological and ecological interest.

Where there is no grassland of nature conservation interest on archaeological sites, the application of fertilisers is unlikely to damage the ancient remains. It may nevertheless be desirable to reduce the intensity of management in order to improve the species richness of the grass sward. If the grassland does need to be improved further, then methods such as direct drilling and seed slotting, which cause minimal disturbance, should be used.

Options to consider:

  • Control weeds by topping or targeted use of selective herbicides
  • If re-seeding is required, use minimal cultivation techniques

Land drainage works

Land drainage is an important element of grassland management as it assists in maintaining good grass yields. A well maintained land drainage system can be beneficial to archaeological preservation, helping to prevent surface waterlogging, poaching by livestock and the silting up of features such as ditches. However, the installation and maintenance of drainage systems can be damaging to archaeological sites.

This is particularly true of old tile drains as these may be buried at some depth within archaeological deposits and require excavation in order to effect repairs. Equally, new land drains may dry out previously waterlogged below-ground archaeological deposits, including important organic artefacts or environmental remains, all of which help to piece together a more complete picture of what the landscape looked like in the past.

Options to consider:

  • Install access points outside the archaeological site to permit the land drains through the site to be maintained without the need for excavation
  • If new land drains are being installed, ensure that these are away from the archaeological site

Scrub or bracken encroachment

Insufficient grazing can permit the development of scrub, bracken and weeds on a monument. Scrub causes significant damage to archaeological sites through root penetration, providing cover for burrowing animals and shelter for livestock. Bracken is also highly damaging to archaeological sites because it develops a dense layer of rhizomes below ground. It is therefore desirable to reduce the amount of scrub and bracken on an archaeological site to reduce this damage and maintain the visibility of earthworks. Scrub can have an ecological importance, and the impact of scrub clearance on any nature conservation interests should be considered before commencing work. Extensive clearance should be phased. Scrub should not be removed by mechanical means as this could damage the archaeology. Instead, stumps should be cut close to ground level and treated with herbicide to prevent re-growth. The cut material should be disposed of well away from the archaeological site.

Options to consider:

  • Control scrub by cutting and treating with a herbicide to prevent re-growth
  •  Increase grazing where practical to help control scrub or bracken recovery
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© University of Hertfordshire, 2011