Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by the Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee (arts 172)

Summary

· The JNAPC is working for the better protection of underwater cultural heritage (UCH) in the UK’s territorial waters and the international waters adjacent to its coasts. The Committee represents a very wide range of stakeholders in maritime archaeology. See www.jnapc.org.uk .

· English Heritage provides Government support in England through its maritime team, which is of very modest proportions. This team and its contractor already deliver excellent value for a small amount of Government money. DCMS has a minimal resource allocation to UCH.

· Maritime archaeology in the UK delivers great value for money as it is carried out mainly by volunteers. Wrecks designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 are resourced and managed by unpaid volunteer divers and archaeologists. The cost to Government is minimal.

· DCMS and Government need to improve protection of our underwater cultural heritage, which is currently at risk. Resource needs to be increased rather than potentially reduced.

· There appears to be no material operational or financial reason for DCMS to abolish the Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites and the decision should be reviewed. Savings will be minimal, if indeed any are achieved.

· As a major seafaring nation, Britain has a legacy of sunken naval and merchant vessels throughout the world that represents an enormous resource of historical and cultural interest to this and future generations. Until recently they have been protected by the water depth and lack of technology.

· However with greatly improved technology there is now a major threat to our historic wrecks and commercial salvors are successfully targeting the valuable historic wrecks around our coasts, which will lead to the loss of irreplaceable historical information. There is only one opportunity to gather the unique evidence of our past from these ‘time-capsules’ of history and this should not be squandered for short-term financial gain.

· Legislation for protection of UCH within our 12 nautical mile territorial waters is inadequate. Beyond territorial waters there is very little that the Government can do to protect historic sites unless they are naval warships.

· DCMS needs to lead an urgent review across Government of heritage legislation related to territorial waters, which would also remove UCH from the salvage regime. Beyond territorial waters the Government needs to ratify the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage 2001.

· The need for future legislation and appropriate management support for our underwater cultural heritage at risk provides the strong reason why funding support for this sector should not be reduced, but should if possible be modestly increased.

Introduction

 

1 The JNAPC was formed in 1988 to raise awareness of the United Kingdom’s underwater cultural heritage (UCH) and to persuade government that underwater sites of historic importance should receive no less protection than those on land. The Committee represents a very wide range of interests in maritime archaeology including national societies, museums, archaeological associations and sports diving organisations. Observers are drawn from Government Departments, national heritage agencies, and relevant maritime organisations. Summary information on the JNAPC and its membership is attached in Appendices 1 & 21 below. More information is on www.jnapc.org.uk .

CURRENT FUNDING ARRANGEMENTS

Current resources for UCH

2 English Heritage provides Government support in England through its maritime team, which is of very modest proportions. This team and its contractor already deliver excellent value for a small amount of Government money and its assistance with volunteer projects provides considerable leverage to those projects. Historic Scotland, Cadw and Environment Service Northern Ireland have a very modest allocation of resource to UCH. DCMS also has a minimal resource allocation to UCH.

3 Maritime archaeology in the UK delivers great value for money as it is carried out mainly by volunteers and in this respect maritime archaeology is the very epitome of community engagement and delivery. Wrecks designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 (PWA 73) are resourced and managed by unpaid volunteer divers and archaeologists. The Nautical Archaeology Society, a registered charity, usually provides training for divers and so the cost to Government is minimal.

Future Funding of Underwater Cultural Heritage

4 There is a considerable task to be undertaken in future by DCMS and Government to improve protection of the underwater cultural heritage, which it is not adequate at present. If we are a nation that seriously believes in our maritime past and wishes to preserve this for future generations the resource needs to be increased rather than potentially reduced.

5 The danger is that removing or substantially reducing the central government catalyst will save very little but will have more serious impacts in the indirect loss of substantial private sector and voluntary activity which actually represent the core sources of input to safeguarding and studying Britain’s maritime heritage for the very substantial economic and social benefits through tourism, education, volunteering and conservation.

DCMS arm’s length bodies

6 DCMS has just announced that it will abolish the Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites (ACHWS), which advises DCMS on designating wreck sites under the PWA 73 in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The committee comprises unpaid experts and observers who provide transparent and independent advice seamlessly across UK and Northern Ireland on which wrecks should be protected and their future management. The cost of the committee itself is minimal. English Heritage carries out the administration of the committee. The voluntary Licensees of designated wreck sites, who monitor and safeguard them, also have the greatest respect for the independence of the ACHWS.

7 DCMS has not said how this advice will be provided in future but there are indications that English Heritage might be asked to carry out the function. Whilst we have great respect for English Heritage, we suggest that Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland would be unlikely to accept this proposal and would set up their own advisory resources. There would be a consequent duplication of costs, and policy would diverge over time across the UK and Northern Ireland, which would be unhelpful.

8 JNAPC believes there is no material operational or financial reason for abolishing the ACHWS and that the decision should be reviewed.

WHY THE RESOURCES ARE NEEDED

The threat to our underwater cultural heritage

9 Britain has been a major seafaring nation for hundreds of years. As a result we have a legacy of sunken naval and merchant vessels in our territorial waters and lying on seabeds throughout the world representing an enormous resource of historical and cultural interest to this and future generations. In some cases preservation underwater can be better than on land, particularly for organic materials. Nowhere on land have the remains of the iconic English longbow been found, but on the Mary Rose they found not one, but boxes of them, beautifully preserved. Our underwater cultural heritage is hugely important but it is now at serious risk.

10 The enormous water depths and the limitation of technology have been the great protectors of historic wreck sites until now. However, the recent advances in underwater survey techniques, positioning systems and remote excavation have effectively stripped away this protection. Commercial salvage companies are targeting "high value" historic wrecks off the English coast and worldwide, which they will excavate and sell off artefacts for profit. One American company, Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc, has already located 267 potential targets off the UK coast and is continuing its search. Many of these wrecks lie in deep water and excavation techniques at depth using remote operated vehicles are in their infancy. Salvage today will almost certainly lead to the unnecessary loss of irreplaceable historical information. There is only one opportunity to gather the unique evidence of our past from these ‘time-capsules’ of history and this should not be squandered for short-term financial gain.

The UK Government’s position

11 Within the twelve nautical mile limit of territorial waters the Government can use the PWA 73 to designate wrecks of historic importance (63 wreck sites to date) but legislation for protecting the remaining majority of historic wrecks is inconsistent and weak. A full review of both UCH legislation and Salvage Law is urgently required.

12 Beyond UK territorial waters there is very little that the Government can do to protect these sites unless they are naval warships, such as the recently discovered HMS Victory, which sank in 1744. Fortunately, as warships, these are classed as sovereign immune vessels and may only be salvaged with the Crown’s permission. But for the thousands of wrecks of merchant vessels carrying valuable cargoes there is no protection and it is open season for treasure hunters. The English vessel, Merchant Royall, which sank in 1641 forty miles off Lands End, and reported to have been carrying hundreds of millions of pound of silver and gold, is a target that Odyssey and other salvors are seeking to locate. Should they find it, our Government would have no legal means to prevent salvage of the vessel. We and the Government would be unable to prevent the wreck being pillaged off our coast and then we would have to watch the artefacts being auctioned off around the world.

Potential solutions

13 DCMS needs to lead an urgent review across Government (including DfT, MoD, Defra &MMO) of heritage legislation related to territorial waters, which would also remove UCH from the salvage regime. Suitable recommendations were made to DCMS by its Salvage Working Group in 2006 but these were not carried forward into the draft Heritage Protection Bill. The proposed treatment of UCH in the draft legislation provided virtually no improvement at all over the existing inadequate position. Revised legislation is therefore the solution within territorial waters.

14 Beyond territorial waters the Government does have a potential solution by ratifying the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage 2001. The main thrust of the Convention is that historic shipwrecks should not be exploited by treasure hunters for commercial gain, and artefacts should not be sold to finance salvage. Countries that have ratified the convention cooperate to enforce legal protection of wrecks in the international waters off their coasts. The Convention came into force in 2009 and 33 countries have now ratified including Spain, Italy and Portugal. France is expected to ratify in 2010. These are countries that have similar worldwide shipwreck legacies as the UK and have decided that it is in their interest to ratify the Convention so that their historic wrecks in international waters may be protected.

15 However in 2001 the previous UK Government decided not to ratify the Convention. Recently DCMS would not find the very modest resources needed to undertake a review of its dated decision.

16 DCMS should now lead a Government wide review (including FCO, MoD, DfT, Defra and MMO) of the UNESCO Convention with a view to ratifying it in the near future. This would also show leadership to other countries who are considering ratification so that our underwater cultural heritage in international waters can be properly protected.

17 The necessity of the future legislative and management support programme for UCH at risk provides the strong reason why funding support for this sector should not be reduced, but should if possible be modestly increased.

General

18 The JNAPC trusts that this response will be of assistance to the Committee and would be pleased to give evidence in person if required.

Appendix 1

JOINT NAUTICAL ARCHAEOLOGY POLICY COMMITTEE
THE JNAPC - PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE

The JNAPC was formed in 1988 from individuals and representatives of institutions who wished to raise awareness of Britain’s underwater cultural heritage and to persuade government that underwater sites of historic importance should receive no less protection than those on land.

The JNAPC launched Heritage at Sea in May 1989, which put forward proposals for the better protection of archaeological sites underwater. Recommendations covered improved legislation and better reporting of finds, a proposed inventory of underwater sites, the waiving of fees by the Receiver of Wreck, the encouragement of seabed operators to undertake pre-disturbance surveys, greater responsibility by the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for their historic wrecks, proper management by government agencies of underwater sites, and the education and the training of sports divers to respect and conserve the underwater historic environment.

The aim of the JNAPC has been to raise the profile of nautical archaeology in both government and diving circles and to present a consensus upon which government and other organisations can act. Heritage at Sea was followed up by Still at Sea in May 1993 which drew attention to outstanding issues, the Code of Practice for Seabed Developers was launched in January 1995, and an archaeological leaflet for divers, Underwater Finds - What to Do, was published in January 1998 in collaboration with the Sports Diving Associations BSAC, PADI and SAA. The more detailed explanatory brochure, Underwater Finds - Guidance for Divers, followed in May 2000 and Wreck Diving – Don’t Get Scuttled, an educational brochure for divers, was published in October 2000.

The JNAPC continues its campaign for the education of all sea users about the importance of our nautical heritage. The JNAPC will be seeking better funding for nautical archaeology and improved legislation, a subject on which it has published initial proposals for change in Heritage Law at Sea in June 2000 and An Interim Report on The Valletta Convention & Heritage Law at Sea in 2003. The latter made detailed recommendations for legal and administrative changes to improve protection of the UK’s underwater cultural heritage.

The JNAPC has played a major role in English Heritage’s review of marine archaeological legislation and in DCMS’s consultation exercise Protecting our Marine Historic Environment: Making the System Work Better, and was represented on the DCMS Salvage Working Group reviewing potential requirements for new legislation. The JNAPC has also been working towards the ratification of the UNESCO Convention with the preparation of the Burlington House Declaration, which was presented to Government in 2006.

The JNAPC continues to work for the improved protection of underwater cultural heritage in both territorial and international waters.

September 2010


[1] Ev. Not printed.