Farming the Historic Landscape

How can I recognise damage?

(F) This Roman mosaic at Dinnington, Somerset, has also been damaged by an episode of deeper ploughing. Subsequently, the site was removed from cultivation through an agri-environment agreement to protect it from further damage. Photograph: Somerset County Council.

(G) Archaeological sites near field edges can be managed as uncultivated margins or corners. These prehistoric burial mounds in Hampshire are well managed under grassland, seen here after cutting. Photograph: English Heritage NMR 15703-22.

(H) Agri-environment schemes can remove larger areas from cultivation to protect important sites. Segsbury hillfort in Oxfordshire was once a ploughed field: now flower-rich chalk grassland has developed. Photograph: English Heritage.

It is often difficult to recognise damage as archaeological remains are hidden. As a general rule, if soil is eroding on an archaeological site, ploughing is the likely cause and damage is likely to occur. Look for fresh archaeological material lying on the surface and fresh subsoil. Both are signs that the plough has cut into previously undisturbed deposits. Examples of archaeological material that may indicate recent disturbance are substantial fragments of plaster or fired clay, large and unworn pieces of pottery, and intact metalwork.

What can I do to prevent or minimise damage?

Careful site management can avoid these problems, and grant-aid may be available from Defra, English Heritage or some local authorities to help you deliver improved management.

The best way to protect a ploughed archaeological site is to remove it from cultivation. Instead of cultivation, consider putting it down to permanent grass or long-term, non-rotational set-aside. This can also help to reduce soil erosion and provide a wildlife habitat.

Taking land out of cultivation, however, is not always a viable proposition and may not suit all arable systems. If you wish to continue cultivation on buried archaeological sites, you can try the following options. They are listed in order of their effectiveness in protecting archaeological deposits, but remember that unploughed land can have buried sites that remain intact as little as 5-10 cm (2-4 in) below ground level.

  • Avoid tilling (and bear in mind that periodic ploughing to reduce compaction and facilitate water filtration might also be damaging)
  • Direct drill
  • Use minimum cultivation techniques
  • Maintain the current plough depth to avoid new damage on level land (this is unlikely to work on slopes)

If these options are not possible, you can try these simple steps to give some protection to sites under cultivation:

  • Take particular care when introducing larger equipment that might increase the plough depth
  • Watch out for isolated in-field sites (such as burial mounds) under grass, since these are vulnerable to encroachment by ploughing
  • Avoid sub-soiling, pan busting, stone cleaning or new drainage operations
  • Avoid growing potatoes, sugar beet, short rotation coppice or turf
  • Avoid any harvesting operations that involve rutting, soil removal, significant soil compaction or soil erosion (to prevent soil erosion, follow the advice in Defra's Code of Good Agricultural Practice for Soil)

On known archaeological sites, take care with:

  • Farm tracks, fences or buildings
  • Irrigation or slurry lagoons
  • Vehicle access across sites, especially in wet weather
  • Ploughing up old pasture
  • Ploughing too close to standing monuments or earthworks
  • Planting new field boundaries or trees
  • Removing historic field boundaries
  • Digging new drainage ditches or draining wetlands
  • Altering the soilís chemical balance
  • Allowing scrub growth or animal burrowing to infiltrate sites (these ungrazed sites should be cut at a minimum two-yearly interval to prevent scrub growth and deter burrowing animals)
ADLib logo Content provided by the Agricultural Document Library
© University of Hertfordshire, 2011