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Scheduling Ancient Monuments in the UK

Introduction: scheduling and listing

Specific ancient monuments that have been approved for protection by law have their names added to the schedule at the end of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. As a result of this process, legally protected ancient monuments are called Scheduled Monuments. In a similar manner, historic buildings that have been approved for protection by law are called Listed Buildings - since their names (addresses) are added to a list at the end of the act.

This process of scheduling was introduced in theAncient Monuments Act of 1882. Ancient monument were scheduled following their recommendation by the Ancient Monuments Board and the approval of this recommendation by the secretary of State for the Environment. Since the Ancient Monuments Consolidation Act of 1913 it has been required that ancient monuments thhat are recommended for protection are of 'national importance'. Until 1986 it was implicitly understood that any monuments thhat were recommended by the Ancient Monuments Board would be of national importance on account of the skills possessed by the members of the panel. By the mid 1980s, however, it was becoming increasingly clear that the schedule of ancient monuments was biaised, and something needed to be done to make it more representative of the range of ancient monuments in England.

The Schedule of Ancient Monuments: a representative sample?

A rapid assesment by the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commision for England of the country's archaeological records (England's Archaeological Resource, 1984), showed that only 2% of archaeological sites (estimated at 635,000) were scheduled, and that this sample was unrepresentative. In particular it was unrepresentative in terms of the periods covered by scheduled monuments and the locations of scheduled monuments.

On the basis of this assessment, English Heritage made the decision that if it was to be responsible for protecting the archaeological heritage it needed to dramatically increase the number of ancient monuments thhat were scheduled. It also needed to focus on archaeological periods for which the number of scheduled ancient monuments was low and on the areas of England that had fewere scheduled ancient monuments than the average.

In comparison to the ongoing piecemeal approach employed previously, we may liken the newly proposed approach of English heritage to a form of positive descrimination, in which the underrepresented is increased until it is no longer underrepresented. To bring about this process, English Heritage instituted the Monuments Protection Programme (commonly called the MPP).

The Monuments Protection Programme 1986 to the present

The following is a brief guide to the work of the Monuments Protection Programme that can be found on the English Heritage Archaeology Division pages

There are many scheduled monuments in Britain (13,000 in 1995) - but these monuments are biased in terms of the periods they cover and the areas of England in which they are situated. They are also a small percentage of the totalnumber of recorded monuments (635,000 in 1995) To protect the archaeological resource, English Heritage needed to update the scheduled monuments list and to rectify these problems of bias / under-representation at the same time.

The Monuments Protection Programme (MPP) is a comprehensive review and evaluation of England's archaeological resource, designed to collect information which will enhance the conservation, management and appreciation of the archaeological heritage. One of its principal aims is to identify monuments and sites whose national importance and conservation needs justify some form of statutory protective designation (generally scheduling).

Two sections within English Heritage carry out the work of the programme:

Origins and Objectives

The MPP originated in response to the urgent need to speed up the rate at which statutory protection was being extended to nationally important ancient monuments.

The programme was established in 1986 to run for ten years in the first instance. One of its principal aims was to identify monuments for scheduling on the grounds of importance and conservation need. It was also intended to provide a comprehensive reassessment and a better understanding of the country's archaeological resource, using a new classification system, in order to improve conservation, management and public appreciation. We were also to consider forms of management or designation other than scheduling.

The improved understanding which would arise from the process of evaluation was a goal in itself.

The MPP has four principal objectives:

  1. to review and evaluate the existing information held in county Sites and Monuments Records (SMRs) or collated by MPP national projects in order to identify sites of national importance;
  2. to recommend to the Secretary of State which monuments of national importance should be protected by law, notably by scheduling;
  3. to collate information on the condition of nationally important monuments to provide a guide to priorities and resource requirements for conservation;
  4. to use the MPP's national perspective to help frame an improved response to the problems of managing inadequately documented and poorly understood areas of the archaeological record;
Determining National Importance

Despite the fact that there was a need urgently to update and increase increase the number of scheduled monuments, English Heritage still has to recommend monuments for scheduling that are worthy of this highest form of protection. Since the passage of The Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act (1913), an ancient monument that is in danger of destruction or removal or damage from neglect or injudicious treatment can be preserved by order. But such monuments need to be of national importance if they are to be scheduled by the Secretary of the Department of National Heritage. In previous times national importance was 'obvious' because the combined wisdom of the members of the Ancient Monuments Board seemed to constitute a fair mechanism for deciding national importance. If you intend, however, to triple or quadruple the number of monuments for scheduling in a short space of time, with all the attendant requirements upon landowners to 'ensure' the preservation of these monuments, than a closely argued and justifiable mechanism for determining national importance is necessary. Furthermore, it was also clear that the ad hoc process of receomendation through the Anceint Monuments Board had led to the bias in the type / age of scheduled monuments in the first place.

The key to the Monuments Protection Programme has been the development of a mechanism for characterising the variety of anceint monuments in England and a process for determining their importance.

There is a three stage process to the proposal of monuments for achedulng as part of the Monuments Protection Programme

The characterisation of monuments - the aim here is to make those monuments selected as being of national importance reflect trhe history of the country and be representative of the range of monuments of any type and for any period.

The descrimination of monuments - the aim of this stage is to determine whcih monuments can be deemed to be of national importance, as opposed to those that might be considered to be of local or reginal importance (that cannot be scheduled). It is at this stage thhat the biases of period and type of monuments will be addressed.

The assessment of an appropriate management plan - the aim here is to determine the needs of the site and the best management plan to address those needs (i.e. is it worth preservation and how).

The Characterisation of Monuments

In order to select monuments that reflect the period and range of ancient monuments in England, it is necessary to be able to describe what a monuments is, its period and its representativity within that period. For example pyramids will be typical of a certain period of Egyptian history, at other times it will be rock cut tombs. The same might be said for hill forts and the Iron Age in the UK.

To achieve this first stage, English Heritage spent a considerable sum of money and time developing monument class descriptions for more than 200 types of anceint monument thhat are to be found in England. These class descriptions provide a brief definition of the monument; a date (period) during which they were made, a general description of their features, an account of the distribution and regional variation, their rarity, their current survival and their potential for future information, their associations with other monuments and lastly their characterisation criteria.The descriptions were written by experts in their respective fields and are supported by bibliographies and figures.

The characterisation criteria are as follows;

Period monuments of all dates shoudl be considered for preservation. The longer the span of time that a monument might have been used for will suggest that more of a certain class of monument ought to be preserved (i.e. castles).

Rarity some monuments are reserved by very few examples, others by many. The potential loss of a rare monument would be more significant than the loss of a common one.

Diversity some classes of monument are represented by a variety of types. the more diverse a monument class, the more tyes will need to be preserved.


some classes of monument typify the period during which they were constructed. these will need to be preserved more than those which are simply one of a number of classes of monument for a period.

The full list and details of these Monuments Class Descriptions is available online, and an example of a Monument Class Description for Large Multi-Vallate Hill Fort (a hill fort with lots of walls such as Old Oswestry) can be see here.

Criteria for Descrimination (of National Importance)

For the purposes of the MPP a series of criteria are used to determine whether a monument is of national importance - to make selection more scientific / accountable - scheduling costs money. These criteria work in tandem with the monuments class descriptions.

  1. Survival: - the state of completeness (archaeological excavations destroy completeness, the more complete the better);
  2. Potential: - the range of archaeological materials that might be preserved;
  3. Diversity (features): - the range of component parts of a monument, the more the better;
  4. Amenity Value: - good examples of a type of monument, which might be good for education or for 'display';
  5. Documentation: - archaeological work and documentation can be a gain;
  6. Documentation - historical documents - mainly relevant to medieval and post-medieval;
  7. Group Value: - value may be enhanced if associated with other monuments;
  8. Group Value: - value may be enhanced by clustering with other monuments of the same class;

At the end of this stage of the process the monument will have been given a score according to the various criteria above.

Determination of an Appropriate Management Plan

Ancient Monuments are finally assessed for an appropriate management plan on the basis of their condition, fragility, vulnerability and conservation potential. One of the major developments in the work of English Heritage has been to move towards a multi-facetted approach to the protection of ancient monuments. Some monuments may be better protected by scheduling, but others can be adequately protected through a change in the agricultural regime applied (Darvill 1987).

Recommendations for Scheduling

Monuments that are recommended for scheduling will have been given a certain score or over. In the example of the large multi-vallate hill fort, a score of 55 or over is deemed good enough to warrant scheduling. The list of recommended ancient monuments then goes forward to the Secretary of State for the Environment (currently the Deputy prime Minister) for ratification.

Current Status

Still not finished and receiving approx. £360,000 per annum from English Heritage. Possibly may be finished by 2003 (See special MPP sections in Archaeology Reviews of 1994-97 on internet). Currently 21,000 monuments scheduled, and since 1994 more than 1000 monuments have been recommended for scheduling each year. English Heritage estimates that the Monuments protection programme will be complete when 30,000 + monuments have been scheduled.

Library Resources

Darvill, T. 1987.
Darvill, T. Saunders, A. and B. Startin, 1987 'A question of national importance: approaches to the evaluation of ancient monuments for the Monuments Protection Programme in England' Antiquity 61: 393-408
Startin, B. 1991. Assessment of Field Remains. In J. Hunter and I. Ralston (eds.) Archaeological Resource management in the UK: an introduction. London, Alan Sutton/IFA
Startin, B. 1995. The Monuments Protection Programme: protecting what, how and for whom? In M.A. Cooper, A. Firth, J. Carman and D. Wheatley (eds.) Managing Archaeology. London, Routledge.

Link to the ALGY 399 Sydney Jones Library Reading List.

Internet Resources

Most of the web based resources for this topic and for the Monuments Protection Programme can be found through the English Heritage web site.

English Heritage also provides some basic information about scheduling on their website.


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