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historic landscape development

Identifying and managing rural heritage assets.

The historic landscape of the United Kingdom is rich and varied, with features that reflect the country’s long and fascinating history. These features can range from the very extensive: Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Parks; to built forms such as Stonehenge, castles, and monuments, and more natural features including, woodlands, hedges, orchards, and field boundaries.

All have a role to play in telling the story of our country through the ages, and we are blessed with the scale and variety we can enjoy.

In continuing to create that story, there is a need to balance our rich heritage with the needs of modern day living and development, which can be challenging. Some heritage features that need to be professionally assessed, recorded and / or preserved are not always easy to identify, while the significance of specific heritage assets can vary from location to location and over time, according to their settings and earlier developments.

Landscapes and agricultural heritage

historic field boundaries on Dartmoor

Developers looking to build on former agricultural land or fresh countryside sites will have to follow strict planning rules. Included in these will be protection for heritage – but what heritage? While standing buildings are an obvious element of the Historic Environment, here are some of the less obvious historic characteristics that may need to be considered before scheme designs can be finalised.

Field Boundaries: Physical features such as hedges and trees (some are protected), stone walls, ditches, and fences, which may delineate historic landscapes and areas of activity. Of particular note is where a parcel of land may not be registered. In these cases, where existing hedges and ditches are considered to be historic, ownership of the land is presumed to be with the field where the hedge is planted, unless documents can prove otherwise.

Ridge & Furrow, Terraced Fields, Water Meadows, and Orchards are all manmade adaptations to allow more productive cultivation, or the use of land that was not ideal for farming. These are often indicators of nearby areas of historic settlements, with prolonged periods of survival and use.

Sites of early industry such as peat farming, mining / extraction, and forestry works, may not be as noticeable with the passage of time, but are indicators of past human habitation in the surrounding area.

historic farmstead

The above landscape features may not be immediately apparent but need considering when planning scheme designs. In addition, as indicators of past human activity they may also need some form of archaeological investigation themselves, which could add to project costs and delay progress.

Built heritage in rural settings

More obvious in the landscape are built heritage features, Barns, stables, roads / pathways, farmhouses, kilns, mills, and moats, as a few examples. They will have been adapted over many years to suit the needs of the occupants and have layers of heritage interest to reveal.

The buildings themselves, even if only partially intact, now have additional development value under the new Class Q directives, which allows permitted development for landowners and self-builders to convert agricultural structures into homes, providing they meet certain criteria.

In addition to their physical structures, there may be important historic ‘settings’ embedded into the interpretation of the structures. Across the UK built forms often developed to reflect local styles, characteristics and needs, and the layout of a building or complex could themselves create some level of heritage significance.

So, what can Developers do to plan for heritage in rural landscapes?

Heritage organisations such as the National Heritage Agencies and the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) recommend engaging a professional Heritage Consultant early in the life of the project. This makes sense as a qualified Heritage Consultant can help to reveal what is and is not historically significant and advise on how it can be treated positively as part of a planning proposal.

AB Heritage is a CIfA registered organisation and has worked with numerous clients across the UK, completing many successful projects in the rural environment where our early input into forming design schemes has helped to save time and costs prior to submitting planning applications.

Andy Buckley, MD of AB Heritage suggests:

“Always have an early discussion with your chosen Heritage Consultant. Your consultant will be very willing to talk through your options and work in full collaboration with your teams, providing invaluable input at scheme design stage. Our senior consultants bring years of archaeology fieldwork experience into play to limit the extent of works and keep costs as low as possible, for a given scheme.”

For developers with land options to consider, an early heritage assessment is advisable. AB Heritage offers an Initial Site Heritage Appraisal, which describes the likely heritage implications and mitigation options that may be needed for scheme, allowing project managers to plan for costs. In some cases, if completed early enough this can help with land purchase negotiations.

It is important to note that final decisions on heritage planning is always the preserve of the Local Planning Authority but engaging a Registered Archaeological Organisation with the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists is a good first step in managing the Historic Environment as part of a successful development.

AB Heritage operates from regional offices in London, Leeds, South Shields, and Exeter, with Heritage Consultants working across the UK.