Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Annex 1


  For the historic environment, evidence indicates that intensification and increasing industrialized approach to farming, particularly in the last 50 years, has caused a dramatic decline and degradation in the quality of the rural historic environment and a very serious erosion of historic landscape character and diversity. The figures speak for themselves:

    —  agriculture has been responsible for 10 per cent of all cases of wholesale destruction, and 30 per cent of all piecemeal, cumulative damage to ancient monuments in the last 50 years. One of the most serious causes of damage is arable cultivation, and in 1995 32 per cent of all rural archaeological sites and 21 per cent of rural sites protected as Scheduled Ancient Monuments (and therefore adjudged to be of National Importance) were still under the plough; 65 per cent of monuments in arable areas are at medium or high risk of damage1;

    —  the quality of survival of 68 per cent of recorded rural earthwork monuments already falls into "Destroyed" or "Very Poor" categories1;

    —  wetland archaeological and palaeo-environmental sites have been lost at a dramatic rate. At least 50 per cent of the original extent of lowland peatland has been lost during the last 50 years and an estimated 2,930 wetland monuments have been totally destroyed, whilst another 10,450 are likely to have suffered damage, desiccation, and partial destruction in the same period. The main causes of this widespread destruction are drainage, water abstraction, conversion of pasture into arable, peat wastage, peat erosion, peat extraction, and urban and industrial development2;

    —  there are over 77,000 entries on the statutory list of historic buildings categorised as agricultural and subsistence buildings (representing 20 per cent of all listed buildings in England) with many more historic buildings are located in their curtilage to form groups, which individually and collectively are key contributors to local landscape character and intra- and inter-regional diversity;

    —  in 1992 it was estimated that about 17 per cent of all listed farm buildings were "at risk" and 24 per cent were "vulnerable"3;

    —  in 1997 only 60 per cent of unlisted field barns in the Yorkshire Dales National Park were intact, and the rate of decline was rapid4;

    —  a survey for the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings recorded the condition of 10,000 threshing barns and found that only 20 per cent were being maintained to high standards which secured their future5;

    —  the CBA is a statutory consultee for listed building applications involving partial or total demolition. In 2000 674 applications (15 per cent of all cases received) related to historic farm buildings. Of these 119 (18 per cent) were for total demolition. Several local authorities do not consult the CBA, and the figures do not include curtilage structures, so these figures are significant underestimates of the total number of historic farm buildings under threat of partial or complete demolition6;

    —  historic landscape features are in serious decline. Approx 33 per cent of hedges in England and Wales were lost between 1984 and 19937 and a survey of England's drystone walls in 19948 concluded that overall, the condition of walls is generally poor, with 49 per cent in serious states of dereliction, and only 13 per cent which could be considered in good condition. Over one-third (38 per cent) of walls were identified as functional but showing major signs of the onset of decay and without repair would be liable to deteriorate with increasing speed.

  These losses and potential losses are all the more worrying as they are irreversible—the historic environment is a non-renewable resource and original historic features lost now cannot be recreated by "regeneration" or "enhancement" as some habitats can.


  1.  Darvill, T and Fulton, A 1998. The Monuments at Risk Survey of England 1995. Main Report. Bournemouth and London: Bournemouth University and English Heritage.

  2.  English Heritage Survey of Wetland Monuments at Risk 2002.

  3.  English Heritage 1992 Buildings at Risk Sample Survey of c 40 per cent rural Listed Building.

  4.  Gaskell, P and Tanner, M (1998) Landscape conservation policy and traditional farm buildings: a case study of field barns in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Landscape Research 23(3) 289-307.

  5.  Gaskell, P (1994) "SPAB Barns Database", contract report to the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

  6.  Council for British Archaeology internal conservation database.

  7.  DOE. 1993. Countryside Survey 1990: Main Report and Barr C J, Gillespie M K and Howard D C (1994) Hedgerow Survey 1993: stock and change estimated of hedgerow length in England and Wales, 1990-93. Institute of Terrestrial Ecology.

  8.  Countryside Commission. 1996. The Condition of England's Dry Stone Walls (Survey by ADAS on behalf of Countryside Commission—Countryside Commission Publication No 482).

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