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New EH campaign to stop 'Ripping Up History'

Farmers to protect Archaeological Sites
by Georgina Horton
Western Morning News

Westcountry farmers have pledged to work with English Heritage to investigate how more effective protection can be given to ancient sites buried beneath farmland in Britain. It follows the launch of a new campaign by the conservation group to save thousands of fragile archaeological remains throughout the country put at risk by intensive agriculture.

Nearly 3,000 monuments that are recognised as nationally important are currently on land that is being cultivated, according to Simon Thurley, the chief executive of English Heritage, including a Roman burial in Dinnington, Somerset.

Since 1945 many ancient sites, including some of the oldest visible monuments in our landscape, have been destroyed or are being seriously damaged - ploughed up or degraded by increasingly powerful farm machinery and intensive cultivation.

Neolithic long barrows, Roman towns and villas, and Anglo-Saxon cemeteries - a patchwork of thousands of years' worth of history - have all suffered and are continuing to suffer.

"We are quite literally ripping up our history," he said. "In doing so we are also doing irreparable damage to the character and fascination of our much-loved countryside. A monument that might have taken decades to construct can be swept away in a matter of hours. Modern intensive ploughing has arguably done more damage in six decades than traditional agriculture did in the preceding six centuries. We cannot blame farmers for what has been happening but we need a new strategy to protect threatened archaeological sites under cultivation."

The campaign, which is called Ripping Up History, calls for changes in the law and to the system of farm subsidiaries. It is not demanding an instant ban on ploughing, but is asking for legal provision for English Heritage to monitor the impact on sites of ploughing, and to review permits where there was clear damage.

And for the first time, farmers' representatives are supporting the campaign. A spokesman for the National Farmers' Union said most farmers took great pride in the historic features of their land.

"We recognise that changes to farming policy provide a useful opportunity to revisit this issue," he said. "But we need to ensure that changes bring benefits for farmers and our heritage. We need to use language that encourages, rather than undermines partnership."

The NFU has also called on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Tessa Jowell's Department for Culture, Media and Sport to work with local authorities and archaeologists to ensure that farmers are told about the location and importance of remains.

"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 NFU spokesman said. Ploughing itself has uncovered many sites that were previously unknown, and farmers have volunteered the information to local archaeologists. We hope that the many farmers who already work with English Heritage to chart and protect these finds continue to do so."

You can read lots about the Ripping Up History campaign at English Heritage's site at
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
28th July 2003ce
Edited 28th July 2003ce

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