Farming the Historic Landscape

1. Caring for archaeological sites on arable land

This leaflet has been designed to help farmers, land managers and farm advisers identify archaeological sites that are on arable land and achieve best practice in their management.

What are archaeological sites and why are they important?

The countryside of today and tomorrow is also the countryside of yesterday, and its historic features are fundamental to its diversity, attractiveness and fascination. The landscape and the archaeological sites it contains are the only evidence we have for most of human history: a story in which every farmstead and estate in England has played its part.

The term archaeological site is extremely broad, covering anything from the find spot of a single object to the upstanding remains of internationally important monuments such as Stonehenge or Hadrian’s Wall. These sites are fragile and can be damaged by any significant ground disturbance, because this displaces vulnerable features (such as ditches and walls) and finds (such as pottery and bone). Once lost, these sites are irreplaceable.

Managing archaeological sites on cultivated land presents a particular challenge, since regular cultivation – or only one instance of deeper ploughing – can damage or destroy any hidden remains.

(A) A prehistoric enclosure overlain by medieval ridge and furrow earthworks, in Northamptonshire. Cultivation has destroyed much of the ridge and furrow  and is damaging the underlying enclosure. Photograph: EH NMR 21405-24.

Nevertheless, although these sites have been damaged in the past, and many may be suffering harm now, the process is often partial and gradual. As a result, large numbers of sites under cultivation still remain of great importance and would benefit from action to halt or minimise the impact of ploughing.

Farmers can play a vital role in ensuring that these sites are passed down to future generations.

How can I find out what archaeological sites are on my land?

The key to caring for archaeological sites is knowing where they are on your farm.This will allow you to plan farming tasks to manage them well and prevent damage occurring. All known sites are recorded on Historic Environment Records maintained by local authorities (see contact details on the back page).

What is a scheduled monument?

These are nationally important sites protected by law from damaging works.The locations of scheduled monuments can now be checked on the Multi-Agency Geographic Information for the Countryside website at www.magic.gov.uk.

Works on Scheduled Monuments need consent from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. To carry out works without consent may constitute a criminal offence, although cultivation may be permitted on scheduled monuments in certain carefully specified circumstances.

If you are unsure whether there is a Scheduled Monument on your land, or what your legal obligations are, please contact your English Heritage Regional Office (see contact details on the back page).

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© University of Hertfordshire, 2011