ADAS advice on preserving archaeological features

In the latest of FWi / ADAS’s frequently asked questions regarding Environmental Stewardship schemes, ADAS’s David Middleditch, examines what farmers can do to preserve archaeological sites.


If you have any questions on this or any other Environmental Stewardship matter ADAS experts are on hand to answer them in our dedicated forum on stewardship.






Q. I have received my application pack for ELS. It contains an Environmental Information Map (of my farm), on which an archaeological feature is marked. However, there is nothing visible above ground on this spot. Can I still enter the area into ELS under one of the historic landscape options?


A. Archaeological feature is a broad term for many different kinds of features of historical value, ranging from buildings, above ground earth works, or they may not even be visible on the surface – i.e. buried sites.


Even if the site is below ground is can still be vulnerable to damage. Agricultural operations, particularly ploughing and subsoiling, and even compaction by heavy machinery and poaching can damage sites.


However, even where there is a long history of ploughing, sites still can be extensive underground. Some may survive just as crop or soil marks visible in aerial photos, and some may continue to yield archaeological finds long after the site has suffered damage.


It is a common mistake to think that, if ploughing continues at the same depth there will be no further damage, but this is not the case. Soil compaction and erosion can cause ploughing to gradually penetrate deeper into the archaeological feature.


Once sites have been destroyed, they are gone forever, yet they provide us with clues to man’s past existence, and they form part of the character of a landscape.


To prevent any further damage archaeologists are keen that all archaeological sites should be taken out of cultivation. However, they should be also kept free of trees and shrubs, as their deep roots can also do a great deal of damage.


ELS is a great opportunity to protect archaeological sites. If you know of any more sites on your farm, in addition to those marked on the Environmental Information Map, mark them on your Environment Record Map and include them all in your ELS options.


For arable, the most beneficial option is ED2, which requires complete removal from cultivation. You are required to establish a grass sward and maintain it by mowing or grazing, and prevent scrub establishing.


If you must keep the land in arable, option ED3 provides an alternative. Arable operations are restricted to those that don’t penetrate deep into the ground so activities such as sub soiling, mole draining or growing root crops and maize are not permitted. Cultivations can only be to a maximum of 10 cm (4”). If the feature is an ‘island’ surrounded by arable, consider buffer strips (EE 1 to EE3) around them.


For land already in grass, opt for ED5. Or, where there is already scrub on the site, you may opt for ED4, which requires you to prevent further spread of the scrub.


If the site is in grass ED5 allows you to enter the whole field containing the feature, so you will not have to fence – an operation that may cause damage itself. This means that you can earn ELS points over the whole field rather than just where there is the archaeological feature.


For further information visit www.helm.org.uk from where you can download the leaflet Farming the Historic Landscape: ELS.


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Look back at other frequently asked questions here.


David Middleditch is senior environment consultant with ADAS. With a background in agriculture and conservation advice, David manages the DEFRA conservation advice programme for ADAS.