Heritage quango gives up 40 top sites: National Trust and local bodies will take over historic places. Oliver Gillie reports

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The Independent Online
Management of 40 of the nation's most important historical sites is being transferred to charities, local authorities, or private bodies. The first contracts were signed with English Heritage yesterday and more will be signed in the next two or three months.

The plan to cut the cost of managing the country's heritage is less controversial than was expected, but involves small savings so far for English Heritage. Almost half the sites that are being relinquished by the quango will be managed by the National Trust which already owns many of the sites in whole or in part.

The trust will be paid pounds 50,000 to manage 12 sites. The cost of individual sites ranges from a few hundred to several thousand pounds. Most expensive of the 10 sites will be the prehistoric white horse carved in the chalk at Uffington, Oxfordshire, which will cost pounds 15,000 to maintain.

Jocelyn Stevens, chairman of English Heritage, said: 'The immense enthusiasm of local people adds energy to management which a central body in London could not be expected to provide.' The new scheme would produce savings which may be spent by English Heritage on conserving other historic properties, such as those being relinquished by the Ministry of Defence.

Ten of the 17 sites which will be managed by the National Trust are British antiquities, such as stone circles and barrows, which do not require expensive maintenance. They include: Ballowall Barrow, a chambered Bronze Age tomb near St Just, Cornwall, which is surrounded by National Trust land; Castlerigg stone circle in Cumbria, near the trust's extensive estates in the Lake District; Trowlesworthy Warrens in the Upper Plym valley, Dartmoor, which has many prehistoric huts, standing stones and medieval sites; and Waylands Smithy, Oxfordshire, which is a chambered neolithic tomb.

Several important sites at Avebury in Wiltshire are already owned by the National Trust and under a new agreement English Heritage simply relinquishes its management of them. These include two stone circles constructed between 2,000 and 4,000 years ago, Silbury Hill, the largest prehistoric human-made mound in Europe, and West Kennet Long Barrow, a tomb used between 2300BC and 3250BC. The trust is putting aside pounds 820,000 to endow these antiquities.

The management of two Roman sites will also be transferred to the trust. These are Galava, a fort at Ambleside in Cumbria which survives mainly as earthworks, and Mediobogdum, a fort at Hardknott in Cumbria, which controlled the pass running between Ravenglass and Ambleside.

Two other Roman forts associated with Hadrian's Wall will in future be managed by local agreements. Vindolanda in Northumberland will be cared for by a local trust that already manages the rest of the site, and Birdoswald Fort and Harrow Scar castle will be managed by Cumbria County Council, which already manages the Birdoswald estate. English Heritage has not yet succeeded in negotiating contracts for management of a number of other larger sites on Hadrian's Wall.

Other sites to be managed in future by the National Trust are the Norman castle and fort at Lydford in Devon; Old Soar Manor, a fortified house built by the Culpeppers in 1290; St Catherine's Oratory on the Isle of Wight, which was built as a lighthouse in 1314; and St Mary's church, Studley Royal, with its highly decorated Victorian interior by William Burgess.

Three more sites will be managed by local agreements, it was announced yesterday. Berwick Main Guard, an 18th century guardhouse which will be occupied by the Berwick Civic Society; Lulworth Castle, a 17th century hunting lodge in Dorset; and Milton Chantry, a former chapel at Gravesend, which may have been part of an old leper hospital.

Details of the arrangements for management of the other 18 sites will be announced soon.

(Photographs omitted)