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Archaeo News 

25 March 2007
Heritage farming in Britain

The British Government this week put forward new plans for the protection of archaeological sites on agricultural lands. The heritage white paper suggests existing consents which allow sites to be cultivated could be withdrawn in favour of individual management agreements. But agricultural agencies are concerned the scheme will not be properly funded and many farmers are worried they will be left out of pocket
     The South West of Britain is rich in archaeological sites and Bodmin Moor has more than its fair share. Most are open to public access, but this is also working agricultural land. Many farmers are paid to look after the land rather than to work it. Effectively they are compensated by DEFRA for restrictions imposed on how many animals they can graze on the moor and when - but that can lead to problems when it comes to protecting the many ancient sites.
     Some farmers have been allowed to continue cultivating heritage sites under voluntary agreements known as class consents. The consents were based on research which suggested ploughing at the same depth did not damage the archaeology beneath. But in its Heritage White Paper recently published the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, says that has changed: "Research by DEFRA and English Heritage has shown... that such cultivation causes damage to a significant number of scheduled ancient monuments... We will reform the current system based on a management agreement approach."
     The National Farmers Union says the last thing farmers want to do is to damage ancient monuments. It is concerned English Heritage will not receive sufficient funding to support the scheme. And it is not alone. "We want to examine this White Paper," said Shadow Culture Media and Sport Secretary Hugo Swire MP. "We want to make sure that funding is there otherwise its empty rhetoric and there is nothing worse than asking farmers to comply with something which isn't properly enforced and funded - that would be a waste of everyone's time!"
     The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is inviting consultations on the contents of the White Paper by the 01 June 2007.
It says class consents will only be withdrawn on individual sites if a management agreement is first offered and it says agreements will make use of existing schemes wherever possible. It also says the agreements will be designed to last for 10 years - ensuring our heritage is preserved way beyond the foreseeable future.

Source: BBC News (18 March 2007)

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