Farming the Historic Landscape

Burrowing animals

Archaeological sites in grassland, which mostly survive as earthworks, are particularly attractive to burrowing animals because they contain well drained and easily tunnelled soils. Burrowing not only disturbs important archaeological remains but also leads to earthworks losing their form through collapse. Livestock can also turn burrow entrances into erosion scars.

Options to consider:

  • Control burrowing animal populations
  • Block up burrow entrances

Badgers are protected by the Badgers Act 1991 and the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, which make it a criminal offence to take, kill or interfere with a badger or its sett. If badgers are damaging archaeological sites, seek advice from Defra,  English Heritage or your Local Authority Archaeologist.

(D) Continually changing vehicle routes over an earthwork can cause significant problems. Improving a single route over this linear earthwork could prevent more extensive damage. Photograph: Neil Rimmington.

(E) Rabbit burrows in a prehistoric burial mound on the Isle of Wight. Burrowing animals can cause serious damage to archaeological sites and should be controlled wherever possible. Photograph: English Heritage.

(F) Unimproved grassland can have high archaeological and nature conservation value and should be managed to protect both. Grassland on these lead mining remains at Magpie Mine, Sheldon, Derbyshire, supports communities of rare Mountain Pansies. Photograph: Peak District National Park.

New fences, ponds or scrapes and tree planting  

Putting up fencing, digging ponds or scrapes, and tree planting are all likely to disturb underlying archaeology. Fence lines can also cause poaching, and tree roots will cause further disturbance as they grow.

Options to consider:

  • Place fences away from archaeological sites wherever possible
  • Do not site ponds or scrapes on archaeological sites
  • Do not plant trees on archaeological sites without expert advice

(G) Archaeological sites in grassland are better preserved than their counterparts on arable land. This Iron Age dyke near Damerham, Hampshire, survives well in grassland but is levelled and reduced to a soil mark where it is being cultivated. Photograph: English Heritage NMR 15766-35.


Are there warning signs?

Prevention is better than cure. Look for signs that the archaeological site is coming under stress from one of the causes of damage outlined above and take management action to alleviate the problem. Always obtain archaeological advice if management action will disturb the ground. The following are some of the things to look out for:

Livestock erosion Look for bare soil or deteriorating grass cover.
Farm vehicle Look for evidence that wheel ruts are forming.
Land drainage Look for areas which are becoming water logged.
Scrub Look for scrub seedlings or bracken fronds.
Burrowing animals Look for evidence of activity on the site such as fresh scrapes and dropping or single burrows.

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© University of Hertfordshire, 2011