The four prehistoric rings at Priddy as mapped in 1911
understanding some of the key questions about prehistoric Britain.
The rings are scheduled ancient monuments, were not listed by English Heritage as being at risk and all are within the Mendip area of outstanding natural beauty. Yet early in June one of the circles was landscaped by a new owner. New fencing and tree saplings were reported, and serious harm to the archaeological site was soon confirmed by English Heritage.
The scheduler Damaging a scheduled monument is a criminal offence, with penalties that can stretch to severe fines or a prison sentence. English Heritage is investigating the Priddy case, which is unusual for the apparent severity of the destruction at such a prominent site. But Priddy is not alone at being at risk. As this magazine reported (May/Jun 2011/118), 15 of Devon’s Roman forts are scheduled, yet eight of them are already being ploughed under a consent system. Ignorance, cold economic calculations or sheer bloody-mindedness can result in legally protected sites being damaged or destroyed. Nonetheless, scheduling monuments, as with listing buildings, especially if backed by helpful advice and education, has a proven record of saving important remains from our past. Which is why a trend at English Heritage is particularly troubling. Many ancient and historic sites are
In Martyn Copcutt’s photo of June 19, the earthwork of the southern circle survives as freshly exposed soil and bank material on the field boundary
Sandy Gerrard plotted annual designation statistics using data on English Heritage’s published national heritage list. The decline in designations is dramatic, particularly of ancient monuments not easily seen, and new surveys using new techniques commonly reveal new ones – sometimes of national or even international significance – meriting designation for legal protection. Yet, says archaeologist Sandy Gerrard, the number of archaeological sites scheduled annually by English Heritage has fallen since 1995. Since 2005 it has been so low as to be almost unnoticed; only nine were scheduled across the whole of England in 2008. The number of buildings being listed has also fallen. Gerrard felt so strongly about a situation that he was unable to change, in November last year he resigned from his post as a heritage protection adviser at English Heritage.
He believes sites are no longer being scheduled because where once the relevant people in authority were archaeologists, increasingly they now are not, and have little interest in archaeology. It takes time to schedule a site, and half those so designated after 2005 had been selected before then; over 500 cases started before 2002 have been abandoned. The sudden rise in listed buildings in 2010 is accounted for by a one-off drive to list old cases. The real picture may be worse than the graph.
The council leader In July English Heritage made Roger Bowdler its designation director, on the retirement of Peter Beacham. Formerly head of designation, Bowdler
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