| 3 August 2003
Ancient sites damaged by farmers
Thousands of archaeological sites are being damaged by farmers, English Heritage has warned. Ploughs had damaged or destroyed valuable sites, including Neolithic long barrows, Roman villas, Anglo-Saxon cemeteries and medieval field systems.
English Heritage wants for a new strategy to protect sites but said farmers were not to blame. "They have only been doing what society has asked and agricultural policy has dictated," said chief executive Simon Thurley. "Modern intensive ploughing has arguably done more damage in six decades than traditional agriculture did in the preceding six centuries." A new strategy would need the support of farmers and also reward them for stewardship, Dr Thurley said.
Since 1945 many sites, including some of the oldest visible monuments, have been destroyed or are being seriously damaged, ploughed up or degraded by increasingly powerful farm machinery and ever more intensive cultivation, English Heritage said. Examples of sites damaged by ploughing include numerous prehistoric burial grounds, but precious objects are also at risk. Only two out of 39 Bronze Age metalwork hoards recovered from Norfolk in the last 30 years had not been disturbed by farming, it said. A 4,000-year-old gold cup, discovered in a field at Ringlemere in Kent and recently bought by the British Museum, had been distorted by the impact of a plough.
The English Heritage campaign, Ripping Up History, is aimed at improving the ways the past is protected. Heritage Minister Andrew McIntosh said: "It is vitally important that we do as much as we can to protect our heritage so that future generations will have a better understanding of our history."
The National Farmers' Union said the government, local authorities and archaeologists needed to work with farmers to investigate how more effective protection can be given to ancient sites on farmland. The union's environment chairman John Seymour said: "In the majority of cases, damage that has been caused to these sites has been the result of farmers not being informed about the sites rather than as a result of any malicious intent."
The English Heritage report says nearly 3,000 nationally important monuments are today under cultivation. Although legislation gives protection to these monuments from most threats, in many cases it permits them to be ploughed, even though it can cause damage to fragile and irreplaceable archaeological remains.
Sources: BBC News, English Heritage News (25 July 2003)
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