Heritage at Risk

The fantastic Heritage at Risk project has been shortlisted for our Park Protector Award. Chris Jones, Historic Environment Officer, shares how the project encourages individuals and communities to care for historical monuments in Northumberland National Park.

Northumberland National Park covers an area of 405 square miles and people have lived in the area for at least 10,000 years. Over the centuries inhabitants have left behind many well-preserved physical traces within the landscape which tell us about these people and their lives.

Some of the remains are of significant national importance and have been designated special legal protection. They include Listed Buildings for structures and Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAMs) for archaeological sites.

Other remains, while still important, may not have been designated in this way, but may be of local or regional significance. All these remains are a finite resource that once lost – are lost forever.

Every year, Historic England publishes its ‘Heritage at Risk Register’, which is a systematic review of the condition of all protected and designated heritage assets in the country, recording the condition they are in and the threats they may face.

All heritage assets are considered to be at risk to some degree, with those in optimal condition and no known threat considered to be at low risk. Heritage assets facing threats, or suffering from particular vulnerabilities, are assessed as being at high or medium risk, depending on the site and management systems in place.

This approach helps to raise awareness of our shared heritage, the risks and challenges that it faces and enables us to respond effectively to ensure our heritage survives for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.

Northumberland National Park is home to 425 SAMs that are of national archaeological importance. Many are exceptionally well preserved, visible, upstanding features that contribute to the special qualities and character of our National Park. The sites include evidence of prehistoric settlements, medieval castles and battlefields, the Bastles of the Border Reivers and Roman remains.

However, many of these Scheduled Monuments within the Park have been assessed to be at risk or vulnerable (55% in 2009). In order to help us to understand and manage these sites effectively, we created the Northumberland National Park Heritage at Risk project in partnership with Historic England.

Initially employing an Heritage at Risk Officer to develop the recording protocols, train volunteers and provide feedback and management recommendations, the project involves National Park staff working with volunteers, communities and local people to carry out condition surveys that gather up-to-date information on the current state of the Park’s SAMs. This enables us to identify priority monuments at risk and undertake targeted conservation activities.

Ultimately the project aims to reduce the number of SAMs in the National Park that are at high and medium risk.

To date the project has resulted in c.300 scheduled monuments receiving an up-to-date condition survey and 12% have been removed from the Heritage at Risk Register.

We’ve engaged and provided skills and training to over 40 volunteers and 46 monuments are now in an improved condition.

The project is pioneering in its belief that anybody who wants to should be given the opportunity and skills to be involved with conserving their historic environment. It is empowering local communities to engage with their surroundings and work alongside professionals to increase the enjoyment and understanding of Northumberland’s unique heritage. 

The impact and management of this activity has been so successful that it continues to shape the work of the Northumberland National Park Authority and is now a staple function of our Volunteer Service. We’ve also set up a volunteer sub-group and steering group to continue to plan Heritage at Risk activities which are in line with conserving our historic environment.

We think the project is a worthy nominee in this year’s Campaign for National Parks ‘Park Protector Award’ and we are truly delighted to be shortlisted.

It’s fantastic to receive recognition for all the hard work and dedication of the volunteers and staff of Northumberland National Park Authority and Historic England in protecting our fascinating archaeological history.

Heritage at Risk is an excellent example of effective multi-agency and partnership working to conserve a shared resource which inspires learning, gives a sense of place and characterises our surroundings. We hope it will continue to inspire and engage people of all ages and backgrounds in the active conservation of the Park’s important historical landmarks for many years to come.

For the next few weeks we'll be posting blogs from the other shortlisted projects so watch this space!