You are here: Home > News > News Story

HER Forum Summer Meeting 2015: Get Your Fix of Yorvik’s Kicks

8th July 2015, The King’s Manor, York 

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

View from the Facilitator – Nick Davis, Historic England

Chris Webster (the Forum Chair) being unavoidably engaged elsewhere, it fell to me to serve as master of ceremonies at this year’s summer meeting. As a prelude to the event, however, early arrivals were called upon to participate in a ‘team photo’. Posed with elaborate care against the backdrop of one of the Manor’s scenic courtyards it was of course an absolute certainty that it would start raining…

It says much of the mettle of the Forum membership that, whilst moistened physically, spirits remained un-dampened and ranks of eager and alert faces greeted the first presentation of the day. To an extent the Forum has been a ‘victim of its own success’ in that the number of initiatives seeking a platform at the twice yearly meetings now outstrips availability. Consequently our programme for the day was quite snugly packed. The speakers, however, rose to this challenge and demonstrated their mastery of succinctness. Business was wound up promptly at 4pm. 

That said, I wouldn’t like to give the impression that we are turning away your suggestions for topics you would like to see explored at these meetings. Whilst it is true that we have to be selective in structuring the programmes, this is your Forum and we need to know what interests and concerns you. Chris keeps the format of the twice yearly meetings under review and hopefully, with a little imagination, the majority of your suggested topics will receive a platform within a reasonable time frame. The next HER Forum Winter Meeting will be on Tuesday 8th December at the Birmingham and Midland Institute so keep those ideas coming in!               

The National Importance Programme: Recognising significance for planning – Deborah Williams, Historic England

The National Importance Programme has been set up by Historic England in partnership with ALGAO and the DCMS to explore, via a series of pilot projects, how we might help Local Authority Historic Environment Services to create a shared mechanism to identify non-scheduled but nationally important heritage assets with archaeological interest.

The aim of the Programme was to explore the different issues surrounding the identification of nationally important sites and to provide recommendations for next steps. We began by commissioning seven pilot studies which were high level reviews looking at methods used to identify potential nationally important sites; the reports can be found on our webpage

The main pilot findings are to be presented in a separate report which provides us with a synthesis of all the issues. This is now being finalised and will soon be available on our webpage also.

This talk to the HER forum is part of our consultation with the sector. Please do get in touch with us if you have any questions. Contact details are on our webpage.

Comment –   HER Officer (A): HER support varies across England and this may prove problematic.  For example whilst Wiltshire is good the NW region has problems with districts pulling out of funding services.

Response – Historic England recognises that HERs are currently under serious pressure and that extra resources need to be put in.

Question - HER Officer (A):  Local government is now under so much pressure that they have to decide what to prioritise and HER provision is not statutory. The political will must exist to ensure their continued survival. Could HE make local authorities feel that they will suffer if they don’t put the necessary resources in?

Answer – HE is trying to effect what support it can through its own local offices.

Question – HER Officer (B): Could Historic England provide resources to local authorities?

Answer – The driver for this particular project is from the DCMS. They are aware of local authority resourcing issues but are also under pressure themselves in terms of funding. The issue of where resources can come from has still to be resolved.

Comment – HER Officer (A): Economic Growth would seem to be the key driver

Question – HER Officer (C): Has there been any interpretation of NPPF paragraph 139 within appeal decisions? (“Non-designated heritage assets of archaeological interest that are demonstrably of equivalent significance to scheduled monuments, should be considered subject to the policies for designated heritage assets”). 

Answer - Sorry that isn’t my area. However, work is being done to map case law and I can put this to our Government Advice Team for a response.

Question - HER Officer (C): The key is not what we as a profession think. It’s  what decision makers think that is important. Is there a danger that this will be seen as scheduling by stealth?

Answer- Designation sometimes does involve measures that can raise eyebrows. However current perceptions seem to suggest that we are pushing at an open door. Within HE HELM, Sarah Reilly and the Intelligence team and others are doing work to monitor the situation and prepare the ground but much still remains to be done.

Question – HE Office (A): Has the utilisation of natural environment designations such as SSSIs been considered? This might be particularly advantageous in the case of peat deposits.

Answer - Pilot projects did look at using environmental designations. However, the findings suggested that the two didn’t necessarily work happily together and that a better protection model was required.

Question – HER Officer (D): Will the NI project overlap with or use work being done to develop a National HLC?

Answer – There will possibly be some overlap but the approach is different. Problems may well be found with sites that cross political boundaries. In cases involving huge sites scheduling  is unlikely to be politically attractive and would be difficult to justify. Over a large area there is different in quality, survival & land management of the asset(s). These are things that don’t get picked up in HLC

Comment –  Crispin Flower, exeGesIS : Difficulties can be envisaged in landscapes being designated as  National Import in that this entails a very different approach. If things are flagged up in advance, rather than justified through casework as is currently the case, it might be seen as reflecting  on the potential of other sites  The new landscape based approach would seem to risk flagging up some assets as being of significance but simultaneously weakening the case for those that are not.

Response: National Importance is not a 2nd rate form of scheduling. It is a different management for a different audience. Any assessment of National Importance is a point in time assessment. Absolute certainty will not be achievable because there is always new research and new information. The situation is not static. Where larger areas do become involved the hope is that this will increase the engagement between planners and Historic Environment specialists.

Question - Crispin Flower, exeGesIS: How will the relevant information be disseminated and published?

Answer: Some local authorities already publish the data. Others place data of this type within the HER for internal purposes only.

Comment – HER Officer: It could well prove difficult to create mapping polygons to cover sites of this type.


The Building Stones of Herefordshire and Worcestershire- Elliot Carter, Hereford and Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust

A Thousand Years of Building with Stone is a 3½ year long project being run by Herefordshire & Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust and funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund. Herefordshire and Worcestershire have some of the most diverse geology in the country, leading to pronounced variation in local building styles. Without proper recognition and mapping of that variation, successful conservation and engagement of stakeholders with the conservation process is difficult: it is impossible to replace like for like without establishing what “like” is. Building on the progress made by the Strategic Stone Study (English Heritage/British Geological Survey), this project is undertaking to record that variation in detail and relate historic stone buildings to their source quarries in 18 key cluster areas. Crucially this includes the use of historical sources and a large component of fieldwork. Much of the work is being undertaken by a large group of dedicated volunteers who take on diverse tasks including archival research, field recording, literature surveys and petrological microscopy.

Bromyard, Herefordshire, presents an ideal case study of the issues faced and conclusions that can be drawn. Locally derived building stones from within a three mile radius, used in the town and surrounds, can be divided into three diverse lithologies and up to six further subdivisions despite all being part of the Old Red Sandstone. The three main lithologies are; fine-grained sandstones, coarse pebbly sandstones and “cornstones” (calcareous intraformational conglomerates). Each differs markedly in appearance and in its conservation needs and consequently, the scope for inappropriate repair or replacement is high. Through a combination of historic Ordnance Survey mapping, LiDAR data and archival sources, a reasonable map of the historic quarries of the area has been built up. Combining this with fieldwork, archival sources and petrological microscope, a working picture of the sources of the different lithologies has been produced. Patterns of movement are complex, operating differently over different distances and seem to be strongly influenced by ownership and rights over land and by transport. One example of such is coarse pebbly sandstone which is used widely on Bringsty Common for cottages “built in a night” but which, three miles away in Bromyard, occurs only in the Norman Church. Non-local stone such as Bath Stone only appear widely in the town following the arrival of the railway in 1874. Overall easy answers or smoking guns are lacking, regardless of the approach taken to the problem. Few direct links from a single building to a quarry have been found thus far. The closest are a few cases where several different sources of information, though individually inconclusive, are all pointing towards the same conclusion. There has been considerable success however in relating broad lithological types to a particular geographical area, thereby constraining the source to one of several quarries.

This and all other information collected during the project is being collated in a newly developed online database which records, among other things, historical, architectural, spatial, and geological information about buildings, quarries and their stones. Relevant identification numbers are recorded to generate hyperlinks to sources of further information such a Historic England listings and online HER/SMR records. Related records such as a building’s source quarry are also linked. A webmap, generated from the spatial data, provides an easily accessible way to browse and query the data, alongside traditional search and filter options. Overlays of historic and geological mapping are available and have already proved helpful in undertaking the research. Data can be directly input to the website by volunteers in a password protected backend, which is a crucial requirement for a project with limited staff and office space. The data can be exported as MIDAS compliant XML for inclusion, as far as is possible, in the HER/SMRs of Worcester City, Worcestershire and Herefordshire. This will add to the records of building stone, and buildings more generally, on the HER/SMRs, provide a greater audience to the work of the project and serve to guarantee it’s digital preservation for the future. Work continues to refine and tweak particularly the frontend presentation and querying of the data.

For more information please contact us at, 01905 542014 or @BuildingStones

You can visit the website and browse the database at We welcome any feedback you may have.

Question – Historic England representative (A): Do you have evidence of quarries in urban settings?

Answer: It’s harder to find these as they tend to have been built over by urban sprawl. Historic mapping and LIDAR have been to find them but there are probably more that have been lost. However, three urban quarries have been established with some certainty in Bromyard.

Comment – Historic England representative (A): Backfilled urban quarries would have tremendous potential in terms of archaeological deposits.

Question – Claire Pinder, Dorset County Council: Do you intend to go beyond Pevsner for information on buildings? This data is commonly acknowledged to have some limitations.

Answer: Yes – people are now out surveying stone in buildings and architectural details.

Comment - Martin Newman, Historic England: The British Geological Survey Strategies Stone Project was given information on stone listed buildings.

Comment – Historic England representative (B): Data from BGS survey is coming back to Historic England at the moment.

Question – HER Officer (E): How does it fit in with the work of the Geological Record Centre?

Answer: Contacts are not close.  Some data going in but there is no formal link between the databases.

Question – HER Officer (E): Is there the potential to link to HER databases?

Answer: Yes we intend to hand over as much data as they would like. The project has recorded  ID numbers to facilitate linking.

Comment – HER Officer (F): Worcester City HER has provided training to volunteers

Comment – HER Officer (G): Worcestershire HER have also worked closely with the project.

Dorset HER Forum – Claire Pinder, Dorset County Council

The Dorset HER Audit Report for 2005-6 noted that ‘Formal liaison with ‘end users’ of the HER, particularly within DCC and the district, borough and unitary authorities, has diminished in recent years and should be resumed. Wider consultation with HER users is essential to inform HER development plans and support bids for external funding. This could be achieved by the establishment of a local HER forum taking in all current and potential users/contributors, with a smaller executive group to deal with local management issues’ and one of the short term tasks identified was to ‘Secure support and resources to enable establishment of local HER forum, with local management group.’

The first meeting of the Dorset HER Forum was held in 2010. Meetings are ‘drop-in’ style revolving around a number of table-top exercises, one of which is usually on a computer (eg PAS database, HER on-line enquiry form, BAR recording form) and another some form of entertainment, such as badge making, finds identification quiz, or finds handling. Consultation themes range
from the general:

• Who are you and what do you want?
• Who should we be talking to?
• If you were a volunteer with the HER … what would you want?

To the more specific, recent topics being:

• HER enhancement project priorities (if time/cost limited).
• HER mapping style.
• Buildings at Risk recording form, guidance and web form.
• Draft HER charging policy and guidance for HER users.
• HER enquiry form - does it need refreshing?
• Draft project proposals based on priorities identified at earlier meetings.
• Volunteer recruitment and training
• Historic Landscape Characterisation draft report.

And the perennial:

• Blue skies … any ideas for HER development and outreach?

We are a very small team in Dorset – two plus PAS Finds Liaison Officer. One does HER work, but not all the time.

We have done events for a long time, and have a mailing list of 1000+ as well as a network of parish liaison officers and a metal detectorists liaison scheme. We are part of a group which includes the Dorset Coast Forum, the Jurassic Coast WHS team, and the Dorset Coast & Countryside AONB team – all very experienced at public engagement and consultation, with extensive networks. Management and ICT very supportive. So, no money, but good contacts and lots of goodwill, and proven consultation models to emulate.
Lessons learnt:

• Go to other consultation events – your own and other organisations – and see how they do it.
• Not too formal – have a plan but no agenda.
• Plan ahead, but not too much, as things will always change on the day.
• Don’t go looking for a ‘rubber stamp’ – it must be a genuine consultation exercise.
• Choose your consultation topics carefully, because you will have to implement/respond to the outcome.
• Keep your network ‘in the loop’.
• The forum can be a good way of managing HER user expectations and complaints.

Question: Martin Newman, Historic England: Looking at the photographs the most recent event seems to have attracted a demographic primarily of mature years. Are you taking any steps to broaden the range of participating groups?

Answer: It has to be acknowledged that users of the HER do tend to fall into the ‘affluent elderly’ classification and some thought is being given as to how this can be redressed at the Forum meetings. Having said that the photos used might show a slightly misleading sample of attendees. The tendency is to be so busy that you forget to take photos. Not everyone there was affluent/elderly. There were one or two surprises amongst the participants including representatives of local arts groups.  

Nonetheless the Forums have been both positive and constructive, this despite the fact that the idea of a more focussed steering group (envisaged in the original audit report as developing alongside the meetings) has now been shelved for practical reasons.   

Comment:- HER Officer (H): Local groups sometimes do seem slightly intimidating to younger researchers.

Response: It’s a problem with other groups too, but it’s been found that the Dorset HER Forum is able to attract younger participants. The structure of the events forces people to think more broadly rather than focus on very specific areas. 

Audience management is a key consideration. It’s necessary to be quite frank with people from the beginning. The exercise also requires an openness to making the changes suggested (some of which, whilst perfectly reasonable can occasionally prove disconcerting).  

Comment – HER Officer (H): You are very brave to do this. Well done.

Comment - Nick Davis, Historic England: Having attended the recent Dorset Forum I was very impressed with how imaginative and constructive the event was. It would seem to be a useful model for other HERs seeking greater interaction with their users.

Arches – Philip Carlisle, Historic England

The Arches historic inventory and management system has been developed jointly by the Getty Conservation Institute and the World Monuments Fund. It grew out of a collaborative effort to develop the Middle Eastern Geodatabase for Antiquities and is freely available as an open-source resource which can be customised and independently implemented. It is also being used to record natural resources and to support large-scale redevelopment projects. The current version (3.0) was launched 2 months ago.

It is not, however, a software but a platform on which systems to record the historic environment can be assembled. This is underpinned by a full working GIS. The database is self-describing and its data content instantly transportable and interoperable.         

Question – HER Officer (I): How long did it take to configure the system demonstrated and to incorporate the correct thesauri?

Answer – Representative from Farallon Geographics Inc.: We just let Phil get on and load them up, this took one afternoon. There was also some other small configuration work needed, for example centring the map, which took another couple of hours. A few more hours were required to load the shapefiles.

The Church Heritage Record – Joseph Elders, Church of England, Church House and Crispin Flower, exeGesIS SDM Ltd.

The Church Heritage Record (CHR) is an online database and GIS of church buildings, which can be used for planning and development control, but also fulfils an educational and engagement role. It contains over 16,000 entries on church buildings in England, covering a wide variety of topics from architectural history and archaeology, to the surrounding natural environment. It will soon be searchable through the Heritage Gateway, and links to HERs are being created (a digital dataset and live data feed were made available following the meeting, and HERs are invited to supply similar data in return to establish fully linked resources).  Access the Church Heritage Record here:

The CHR is fully integrated with the Online Faculty System, which is a web-based planning portal where parishes can develop proposals for new works to their church building and churchyard, obtain advice and apply for full Faculty (permission) for their works.

The portal allows Church bodies and secular statutory consultees to access information on a particular proposal quickly and efficiently in a single online space. This ensures the smooth progression of any application from beginning to end.

The standard information required for applications is pre-populated from data contained in the Church Heritage Record, Statements of Significance and Needs are stored online for continuous re-use and re-adaptation in future applications, and all legal forms are editable online.  Access the Online Faculty System here:

These systems were developed by exeGesIS SDM Ltd for the Church of England with support from Historic England. The Church in Wales has decided to adapt these systems for its own use, and it is expected that the Church of England cathedrals will use the system for planning from 2017; they are already represented in the CHR.

Question - HER Officer (E): Are you linking to records in Biological Record Centres?

Answer – JE: Yes and also to DEFRA records.

Help Historic Buildings: The Historic England Condition Survey – Bethan Cornwall, Historic England

The Historic England (HE) Register of historic assets at risk has expanded considerably since it was first established on a national basis in 1998. Initially only grade I and II* listed buildings (grade II listed buildings in London) and structural scheduled monuments were included; over time scheduled monuments, registered parks and gardens, registered battlefields, conservation areas, grade II listed places of worship and protected wreck sites have been added.

The HAR Register has proved to be an increasingly effective way of setting priorities and reducing the levels of risk to heritage assets. However, grade II listed buildings, numerically by far the largest grouping of designated assets, have not been included in the HAR Register except grade II listed places of worship and grade II listed buildings in Greater London.

Approximately half of LPAs in England and Wales maintain heritage at risk registers that include grade II buildings. Where such registers are maintained the data has often been collected in different ways so it is difficult to undertake detailed analysis of data from a national perspective. It is analysis that can detect trends, help identify solutions, influence policy and assist considerably in the reduction of risk.

In late 2012 HE commissioned 19 pilot projects across the country to explore the various ways in which condition information relating to grade II listed buildings could be captured. The sample suggested that approximately 4.5% (several thousand) of grade II buildings were at risk and that higher percentages were vulnerable. The projects also showed that local volunteers or students working with professional local authority, university, amenity society staff or consultants were able to generate good quality information and reliable results. 

The conclusion drawn from the pilot exercise was that there was considerable potential to develop an initiative that would enable local groups to carry out grade II recording projects to a nationally consistent standard. This in turn would lead to local engagement in saving heritage assets at risk by prioritising action and resources at both a national and local level.

The Historic England Condition Survey, comprising of a website and app, is being developed to help people in England assess and record the condition of all listed buildings, across the country with a particular focus on those listed at grade II. Nine groups have already teamed up with local authorities, trusts and private organisations to test out the technology.  The app allows people working in remote areas to fill in details, even when they don’t have online access, which will automatically upload when they have access again.  Like the HAR Register, the website has a searchable database where everyone will be able to see what listed buildings have been identified as being at risk locally.

Local authorities will be able to create buildings at risk Registers for listed buildings found to be at risk in their area. This means that for the first time Historic England is passing on the ability to create a local version of the national Heritage at Risk Register for buildings in their area. Historic Environment Records services will have access to export all of the assessment information for their areas. This will ensure local authorities are able to integrate this new information into their existing systems.

Guidance will be provided on how people will be able to complete assessments working on their own and in a group. All assessments will pass through a moderation process to check that the methodology has been applied consistently. Historic England will use the data gathered to provide a national overview of grade II buildings at risk and continue to publish the national Heritage at Risk Register and the Official Statistics.

Question – Historic England representative (B): Can you download all listed buildings or just those at risk?

Answer We can download all of them

Question – HER Officer (G): How do we use this project? What is the role envisaged for HERs?

Answer: We are looking towards them having a participant role. For example, Tees Archaeology are presently running a project with volunteers. HERs will be directly involved with data. They will be able to register with the scheme, get their own account and download data. The possibility of a live link was considered but has proved unfeasible at the moment. Current arrangements will make data available using Excel spread sheet only.

Question – HER Officer (A): Will it be like the Portable Antiquities Scheme download?

Answer: Crispin Flower, exeGesIS: We’ll wait to hear what people want to do.

Question - HER Officer (E): We have lots of data on Grade II Listed buildings on our HERs e.g. photo surveys. How do we feed this information into the project?

Answer: Interaction can be developed on a project by project basis. A conscious choice has been made regarding how the surveys are being done and the recording form used is quite specific. What is being attempted is a headline condition survey to inform future work.

Enriching the List: User Generated Content for the NHLE – Martin Newman, Historic England

Enriching The List (ETL) is one of the new offers from Historic England and features prominently in the Corporate Plan Valuing Our Past Enriching Our Future (2015). ETL is a crowdsourcing initiative to collect additional information about and photographs of designated heritage assets on the National Heritage List for England (NHLE). Many NHLE entries (especially older listings) lack adequate descriptions which meet the current standard of photographs which can be used. ETL will provide additional information which Historic England and our partners including local authorities will be able to use. Additionally it will turn the NHLE from what is essentially a website which broadcasts information to one which users interact with. This is intended to foster greater engagement between users and the designated heritage all around them to help with their protection. ETL also has close links to other initiatives including the Heritage at Risk (HaR) Grade II project. This project involves both IT development and setting up of moderation and flow-lines within Historic England. It also represents considerable culture change for the new organisation. It is envisaged that the extra information and richness of content that this will provide will be of particular value to those working in HERs. This presentation will give the HER community the first opportunity to hear details of what is planned and offer suggestions to influence the development of the project.

Question – HER Officer (A: Will there be an automatic e-mail notification to HERs and Conservation Officers when comments are added?

Answer: This is not in plan at the moment. We will note it as a future possibility, however.

Question – HER Officer (D): Can we still submit minor amendments via the e-mail address?

Answer: Yes. We are not getting rid of the e-mail address and will continue to encourage people to use it. This is just an extra way of picking up that information, not a replacement.

Question – HER Officer (I): The majority of the information will involve listed buildings. Are you involving Conservation Officers in the project?

Answer: Yes through the IHBC.

Question Historic England Representative (C): What are you estimating for time taken by moderation of comments?

Answer: Using various sources of information we estimate 1.5 FTE at present. This is to be funded within Heritage Data Management Team. However it will all depend on take up of the system.

Question – HER Officer (E): Will you be looking at integratng images from Images of England onto the system?

Answer: Yes we are looking into that but there are copyright issues. We will also be loading images from the archives.