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Second City Symposium: Putting the um…in Brum

Historic Environment Records Forum Winter Meeting 2011,
Birmingham and Midland Institute, Birmingham

(Post presentation questions and comments – in italicised type following each abstract – based on notes taken at the meeting).

Welcome from the Chair
Chris Webster, Somerset County Council HER

Numbers were down from the previous meeting but a good turnout assembled in Birmingham for the 2011 Winter Meeting. A varied programme had been assembled with reports on two HER21 projects that had escaped the previous meeting together with other talks. Unfortunately the programme did not go according to plan with three speakers dropping out during the preceding week and the hours before the meeting. This included both the HER21 speakers, who will be invited to forthcoming meetings as there is great interest in hearing their presentations. Two new "volunteers" were hurriedly found, and by relaxing the timetable a little, a full and interesting day ensued.

The first speaker, Chris Gosden, described the project that he has set up at the University of Oxford to research English Landscapes from the Bronze Age to the Early Medieval period.Initial reports, which suggested that the project intended to set up another GIS-based heritage database duplicating the work of HERs and NMRs, had generated concern but these fears were allayed during a more detailed explanation of the methodology. A lively discussion followed which, I hope, will assist in the development of the detailed project design.

 Following this was a talk by Serena Cant on the English Heritage wrecks database that explained many of the problems inherent in trying to record mobile objects with often with good documentary evidence but where the links to identify tie specific site to a named vessel are usually missing. Christina Evans (Warwickshire) then outlined the benefits and pitfalls of involving local people in recording what they perceived as heritage using digital photography hosted on Flickr, and Verena McCaig told of successful cooperation between the County Gardens Trusts and other heritage bodies, with a suggestion that HERs should get in touch with their county branch.

 In the afternoon, Sheena Payne Lunn (Worcester) described a very impressive dayschool which brought large numbers of the public together to hear talks and browse stalls with a recording your past theme.
Finally Dave Barrett, chair of ALGAO (England) led a discussion on local government funding cuts and the effects that these were having across the country. While there had been a small number of total cuts to service, most people seemed to be nervously anticipating bad news, which had so far failed to materialise. Thus cheered, some of the participants were able to enjoy a Christmas drink at a nearby hostelry of high repute.

The English Landscapes Project
Chris Gosden, Oxford University

The ERC-funded English Landscape and Identities project started in October 2011, bringing together researchers from the Institute of Archaeology and the Oxford e-Research Centre (University of Oxford). This 5-year project, working in close relationship with English Heritage, the British Museum, the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Archaeological Data Service and currently seeking collaboration with county HERs as well, will combine a mass of existing artefactual and mapping data for the period from the middle Bronze Age (c. 1500 BC) to the Domesday survey (AD 1086) to explore continuities and changes in land use and identity in different parts of England. This is the first time that landscape and archaeological features, together with finds, will be analysed on a comprehensive scale over such an extended period. In order to link together data from disparate archaeological datasets, tools and techniques from the Semantic Web will be used, with the intention to make as much of this development as possible available for others to use in the future. In short, this project aims to develop a new form of archaeology for the 21st century, applying technical innovations to analyse the plethora of data now available to tackle intellectual questions of considerable scale and scope.

Question: CG had explained that the objective of the project was based on the semantic web approach which would facilitate the searching of data through a semantic web rather than creating a ‘hub’ of data in itself.

One delegate (A) commented that they saw this as a good approach since most project archives inevitably became quickly out of date. A was interested in how this general framework would be married to the more detailed information held at HER level. It occurred to her that much of the data would be available through the Heritage Gateway. Would this in any way fulfil the project’s needs?

Answer: CG said that the Gateway had been looked at and that whilst some of the approaches envisaged worked, others did not. The intention was to collate a great deal of data and to feed it back into the HERs rather than retaining it as a major new database on the web.

Delegate A thought that this had the potential to be very useful if it facilitated the ability to ‘drill down’ to access increasingly detailed information. Another delegate observed that it would add an additionally beneficial element to the collaboration if any problems encountered with the Heritage Gateway could be fed back to Gateway staff.
Chris G replied that he would be happy to do so, although he was aware that there might be sensitivities which he would not wish to overstep.  

Question: It was then noted that some of the case study areas in the project plan were already quite intensively researched. The questioner wondered if this might be cementing existing research biases. A delegate from the south west, meanwhile, noted that the entire of SW of England had only 3 prospective pilots within it.

Answer: Chris G replied that the intention had been not to hit existing research ‘hot spots’. The project’s initial planning had used NMP data and was now open to suggestions concerning other possible areas of interest.

Question: It was asked if the framework of modern administrative boundaries might not distort the evidence.

Answer: CG felt that, once a country wide sweep had been achieved, a more nuanced approach would be possible.

Question: It was asked if a lead could be taken from HLC data.

Answer: CG saw this as a good point which should be investigated.

Question: What information will be required from HERs?

Answer: CG said that initial e-mail requests for data had already been sent out to HERs in the SW. This was for information extending from the Bronze Age to Medieval periods. He was conscious, however, that this was a substantial request and was quite prepared to enter into consultation as to how this could be most easily achieved.

Question: It was asked if it was then, simply a case of HERs waiting to be contacted by the project.           

Answer: CG replied that progress was dependent on access to NMP data. The availability of material for the SW region had led to this being attempted first.(There was, however, some question on the part of those present as to whether all HERs in the south west had received a recent e-mail from the project). In the meantime HERs should consider what they would wish to gain from the collaboration. He would welcome the opportunity to address the Forum again with a view to picking up a sense of what was wanted.  

English Heritage Wrecks Data
Serena Cant, Data Team Officer, English Heritage

Having kindly accepted a last minute offer to make a presentation (gratefully acknowledged by the Forum organisers), Ms Cant has not had the opportunity to produce an abstract of her talk. Information regarding her work will, however, be available next year in her book

England's Shipwreck Heritage: from logboats to U-boats, English Heritage Publications, forthcoming (2013)  

Comment: It was observed that this seemed to be a really interesting data set and that it would be useful to make it available to HERs, particularly the GIS layer.

Question: SC was asked if she was interested in receiving information from HERs?

Answer: SC replied that she saw this as a two-way process and was keen to engage in partnership working. 

Imaging our Past and Present
Christina Evans, Archaeological Project Manager, Warwickshire County Council HER

(Ms Evans’ acceptance of a last minute request to speak at the meeting is also gratefully acknowledged).

Since beginning this project in late 2011, the Warwickshire HER has been actively engaging with local residents to try to learn what they think should be included on the county’s local lists.  To date, this engagement has involved the creation of a dedicated Flickr account which links to the HER’s online website Timetrail.  Participants are encouraged to photograph the buildings or historic landscapes they think deserve some form of protection in their community and upload it to our Flickr site.  To help people the project has included photography and Flickr workshops, alongside the creation of online guides to ensure sustainability. 

The project has been very successful at interacting with new audiences to the HER (such as younger people and those with special needs) but is struggling to help people understand what can be included within a local list. To try to support those involved, the HER is enlisting the support of the county’s conservation officers and trying to identify suitable buildings (such as those which were previously listed as Grade III) to include.

Question: How any questions regarding the scenes depicted had CE dealt with?

Answer: CE replied that some questions received could be referred to other information resources such as the county record office. It had been apparent that the process of a two way dialogue had tended to focus attention. An enquiry relating to ridge and furrow, for example, brought together county archaeologists, planning officers and English Heritage working as a team. This interaction could only be a good thing.

Question: A delegate (whose area of responsibility was primarily a new town) observed that that, in this context, the local list initiative might well tend to focus on areas of the town rather than specific buildings. Was this ‘planning’ based scenario one which Flickr could cope with?

Answer: CE had seen no-one approaching the work in this way up to now. At present this concept was probably too subtle to have immediate appeal. Whilst the Gallery facility might possibly assist in developing this outlook community groups would perhaps need to be guided in this direction. This might be seen as a rather ‘top down’ approach but perhaps this was something which we should not be apologetic about.

Question: It was asked whether the photos created could be geographically referenced.

Answer: CE replied that Flickr was equipped to drop in locational data.

Question: Is the product of the exercise to be entirely photo-based? Are other criteria being used?

Answer: CE answered that this was not the only approach being used. Buildings and landscapes, for example, had a range of specified criteria attached to them.

Question: A delegate (B) asked if CE was employed on the project full-time.

Answer: CE responded that she worked on the initiative for about half a day per week. B enquired if the work was found to be quite intensive. CE felt that it was probably less intensive than dealing with a letter or telephone call. The main difficulty perhaps lay in cementing the relevance of the Local List in people’s perceptions.

Question:  Another delegate wondered if the work was to be concluded at the end of the current project.

Answer: CE replied that the Timetrail was an integrated part of the scheme and that sustainability had been an important aspect during the project’s planning. Key to this was demonstrating to the Council that this is a significantly less time-consuming way of collating publicly generated material. Its wider acceptance would, however, involve a shift in attitudes. For example, some councils did not allow staff to access social media sites at all.

County Garden Trusts and the Historic Landscape Project (South East)
Verena McCaig, Historic Landscape Project Officer, Association of Gardens Trusts

Working with County Gardens Trusts

There are 36 County Gardens Trusts (CGTs) across England and Wales.  Whilst all under one umbrella body, the Association of Gardens Trusts (AGT), they are each separately constituted as an independent charity.  Each therefore operates slightly different committee and working structures.  CGT members work as volunteers on a variety of research and conservation initiatives, visits, events and education outreach projects. 

The Historic Landscape Project is funded jointly by English Heritage (EH) and Natural England (NE) with the aims of:
• Developing the knowledge, skills and network structures with the CGTs in the southeast region in order to be able to proactively contribute to Higher Level Stewardship Schemes (HLS), and to wider conservation and planning issues relating to historic designed landscapes
• To identify, promote and support applications from land managers of historic designed parkland for NE’s agri-environment scheme, Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), ensuring wherever possible that vulnerable sites meeting multiple criteria are prioritised.

The project is being delivered by the Historic Landscape Project Officer southeast, employed by the Association of Gardens Trusts (AGT), for 3 years (April 2010 to March 2013) from AGT’s London base.

CGTs are well-established and have good local knowledge of landscapes in their county.  Many volunteers are retired professionals or are working in the field.  Others have gained skills and knowledge through their volunteering.

The Historic Landscape Project is delivering specific training on:
• Researching a site for local listing
• Responding to planning applications affecting historic designed landscapes
• Understanding conservation management plans

Knowledge and skills of volunteers are also being developed through regional meetings, short presentations, bulletins and use of websites.  CGTs are encouraged to develop closer working relationships with HERs, local planning authorities, NE teams, EH officers, and other civic amenity societies.  We are also working more closely with The Garden History Society and considering how other regions can benefit from what we have learned from the project in the southeast.

Examples of CGT work:
Surrey Gardens Trust is working with a school which occupies part of the historic site of Woburn Farm, a seminal landscape in garden history.  Woburn Farm is Grade II and on the EH ‘At Risk’ Register.  SGT are undertaking a full landscape survey to find and record remaining structures, earthworks and views from the original design in order to inform future education and management.

Kent Gardens Trust worked with a number of partners, including Tunbridge Wells BC and Kent CC to pilot a project recruiting and training volunteers to review site descriptions on non-designated landscapes for its Kent Compendium of Historic Parks and Gardens.  The results have been written up in the style of entries on the EH Register of Parks and Gardens in order to be consistent, comparable and reliable.  The success has led to a further project with Sevenoaks DC. Other CGTs are considering using this project format. The results for Tunbridge Wells are published on-line:

We are also working with NE to prioritise vulnerable parkland landscapes.  With help of CGTs, and some local authorities, we have been listing and locating every potentially historic designed landscape in the southeast region and have nearly 3000.  We have been able to interrogate the data by using it as a GIS layer, and by applying weighted criteria for HLS, we are developing ways to prioritise those sites which are likely to be eligible for HLS, and which would address multiple objectives.  Shortlists of the ‘top 35’ priority sites will be brought down to 12 in discussion with those CGTs who know the sites  – these will be the sites that NE officers will work on proactively to get into HLS, and CGTs will, where resources allow, work on researching these landscapes to provide information to inform the agreement.  These sites are complementary to those identified through SHINE.
CGTs can work with HERs to:
• Populate the HER with research on historic designed landscapes in an appropriate format
• Help with mapping boundaries, enhancing and validating existing entries
• Identifying vulnerable landscapes – planning consultations, targeting ‘At Risk’ sites, link with local listing, HLS – creating a better basis for decision-making
• Develop targeted projects to develop the HER information and volunteers’ skills.

Project website:

Question: How does the project fit in with the SHINE initiative?

Answer: VM replied that the project was taking SHINE into account. SHINE, however, focused largely on archaeology whereas the parks project was more concerned with historic data and the fragility of parkland.

Question: A delegate from the north east of England noted that, in the area in which she worked a number of parks had been identified by the HLC project. Did the parks project use this data too?

Answer: VM outlined that the starting point for the identification of historic parkland had been a mapping analysis commissioned by NE in the 1990s that had identified parkland from 1917/8 OS maps. Sites identified by CGTs and HERs had been added to this. Other sites of potential interest will be added in as identified.The present stage of the project was to identify those of greatest significance. This was definitely a ‘work in progress’ which would involve a wide range of information resources.

The ‘Recording Your Past, Enriching Your Future’ Dayschool
Sheena Payne- Lunn, Worcester City Council HER

The dayschool was staged on 22nd October 2011 at the Guildhall in Worcester. The topics presented included HER usage and funding opportunities; the Coventry Historic Environment Project; the Eaton Camp Conservation Project and Stirchley Furnaces and community archaeology in Shropshire. Presentations and summaries from the day are available on the CBA West Midlands website:

Question: It was asked what the demographic for the day-school had been.

Answer: SPL replied that not all of them had links with the CBA and, whilst it might have been expected to appeal to people of more mature years, there had been a fair number of younger people present. There had even been some casual visitors who had simply wandered in off the street. In terms of their geographic spread, some had come from as far afield as Oxford and Wales.

Question: Is it intended to repeat these events annually?

Answer:  SPL said that she felt that the necessary enthusiasm to support other such events did exist, although perhaps not annually.

Question: An enquiry was made as to how the funding advisor involved with the day-school had been found.

Answer: SPL replied that whilst the HLF had been initially approached they had had no-one available. Consequently it had proved necessary to seek out an independent advisor, which had the advantage of providing a broader perspective. They had been lucky in that the individual had been willing to provide their services free of charge.  

Cutbacks and their Impact on Archaeology Services: An overview
Dave Barrett, Chair, ALGAO England

ALGAO, as a member of The Archaeology Forum (TAF), is operating a ‘traffic light system’ to monitor current threats to local authority historic environment services.

ALGAO and IfA, with funding from English Heritage, Historic Scotland and Cadw, are developing an IfA Standard and Guidance for archaeological advice by historic environment services. Sector consultation is currently underway and it is hoped that the final report will be available on the ALGAO website by the end of March 2012

Sandy Kidd of Buckinghamshire had been investigating HERs charging for their services. An obvious need to maximize returns had been identified. 75% of HERs do presently charge. Some, however, do not (Derbyshire, for example, having decided against the idea based on their interpretation of the Environmental Impact Regulations). Other legislation though, seems to provide a securer legal basis for charging, particularly the Local Government Act 2004 and the Re-use in the Public Sector Regulations (section 15). It was evident that the best approach to this issue was to issue licenses to provide information (as was the current practice in Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire). However, it had to be acknowledged that charging for planning advice was a more complex issue, particularly in 2-tier authorities.

It was clear that the current circumstances were unprecedented in their severity and that the HER ‘landscape’ was definitely going to change. There were a number of alternative models being explored: Operating as procurement and delivery services; operating as trusts (Somerset and Suffolk); ‘selling’ services (bidding against other authorities) or the merging of services internally (for example those serving the historic and natural environments). Practitioners needed to be aware of these options and, as a professional group, decide how they should be dealt with.

On the positive side, the HELAC study of five authorities delivering HER services had produced 5 key conclusions (to be found on the HELM website) all of which were very positive about in-house services.

Question: A question was raised regarding the legal technicalities associated with charging. The questioner saw a definite need for a coordinated stance to avoid each authority reaching independent conclusions. 

Answer: DB replied that the study made by Sandy Kidd would soon be issued generally by ALGAO.

Comments:  The following information was provided regarding individual HERs:

o Following the HELAC study, Essex County Council had decided to keep the HER in-house but expected it to pay its way (internal service level agreements were to be put in place).

o The position in Gloucestershire would become clearer in the New Year.

o In Somerset middle managers were keen on the idea of a trust as this would sidestep the need to pay rates on the Heritage Centre. Plans currently being investigated included the HER being ‘bolted’ onto a leisure-based trust (with the Records Office going one way and the HER another).