Concern over preservation of historic land

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HISTORIC landscapes are being left without legal protection, following a refusal by the Government's historical conservation agency, English Heritage, to include them in its schedule of ancient monuments.

The endangered landscapes include the remains of Bronze Age settlements, roads, field walls and cemeteries on Dartmoor and other upland areas - dating from the 2nd millenium BC - and the remains of medieval ridge-and- furrow fields and pathways.

Major battlefields such as Bosworth (1485), Marston Moor (1644), and Naseby (1645), which have never had legal protection, are also being left off the schedule. A road is being built through the site at Naseby because there was no law to stop it at its planning stage.

English Heritage is revising the schedule - a list of ancient sites in England and Wales that have statutory protection against damage or development - and archaeologists say that historic landscapes should be included.

English Heritage is refusing to do so, however, on the grounds that the schedule's restrictions on land-use would be 'inappropriate' if extended over large areas. It has received complaints about its policy from the Prehistoric Society, the Medieval Settlement Research Group, and the SouthWestern Archaeological Forum.

Deborah Griffiths, Dartmoor National Park's archaeologist, said that inter-related, contemporary historical sites - such as a settlement and its surrounding fields - should be scheduled together as one unit. Instead, however, she said the most impressive elements - prominent Bronze Age barrows or hut circles, for example - were being individually scheduled, with the areas in between left unprotected.

'What worries me is that if (a company) proposed to lay a pipeline underground on Dartmoor, and carefully avoided all the individually-scheduled monuments, it would still be damaging significant historic landscapes.'

Glenn Foard, Northamptonshire's county archaeologist, said medieval field systems, where old ridge-and-furrow ploughing strips are still visible under the modern pasture, were disappearing 'at an alarming rate'. About 90 per cent of those surviving in 1945 have been destroyed by ploughing.

'Medieval field systems should be seen as genuine historic monuments, particularly where documents exist describing their use and ownership going back to the Middle Ages,' Mr Foard said.

Bill Startin, director of the Monuments Protection Programme at English Heritage, said the schedule was designed to protect discrete monuments, and would be inappropriate for whole landscapes because of the controls it imposed on land management.

He suggested that historic landscapes should be protected through the planning system, or by negotiating voluntary agreements with landowners. A separate register of battlefields is being drawn up by English Heritage and the National Army Museum, which will play an advisory role in the planning process.

Archaeologists respond, however, by pointing to Scotland, where the schedule is used by Historic Scotland - English Heritage's counterpart - to protect entire landscapes. It carries exactly the same legal force there as it does in England.

About 50 large areas, comprising up to 400 hectares (990 acres), are scheduled, including a Bronze Age landscape at Pitcarmick, Perthshire, and a Second World War airfield in East Lothian.

Dr Noel Foyut, in charge of scheduling at Historic Scotland, said flexible management agreements meant that landowners were not over-restricted. 'We are far more relaxed than English Heritage in our definition of a monument. Our policy is always to consider scheduling a coherent entity as a landscape, and the number of scheduled landscapes in Scotland is increasing all the time.'