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6 November 2005
The British Commons Bill and archaeology

About 55% of common land in England is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and 43% of this is classified by English Nature as in poor or declining condition and therefore bad for wildlife. To rectify this and promote sustainable farming practices, public access and biodiversity, the British Government has set out legislation to deliver a target of returning 95% of these sites into good condition by 2010. The Commons Bill is a move towards this, and having already gone through the House of Commons, is now in the House of Lords, where it is undergoing Grand Review.
     The Bill, however, is not without its critics though, particularly from the commoners, who see it as further evidence of the Government meddling in land management, by imposing grazing restrictions on land and severely restricting stocking levels on the commons for a significant part of the year.
    These changes to grazing and stocking levels may lead to fragile archaeology suffering, as structures and features are hidden and/or destroyed as the vegetation cover re-establishes itself. On Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, the increase in gorse bought about by a previous grazing restriction is stopping all but the most determined of walkers trying to reach the Longhouse on Fox Tor, for example.
     Of course, increasing vegetation cover can be a good thing by protecting structures and features that are seen to be at risk. Some see it as a method of conserving them for future investigation, but - at the very least - these sites need to be mapped now, before they are lost beneath the gorse, heather and bracken, and before the chance to further understand prehistory is hidden from us.

Source: Heritage Action Journal (2 November 2005)

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