Hadrian’s Wall under threat as Brexit delays heritage payments
Delays to a new heritage payments scheme for farmers risk "erasing and damaging history", with monuments including Hadrian’s Wall under threat, the National Trust has warned.
Payments to reward farmers for looking after the environment on their land are also supposed to compensate them for preserving Britain’s historic monuments and archaeology, but this has been delayed, leading to a brewing row with the Trust which warns that heritage is being put at risk.
The first phase of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) launched in November with the Government set to reward farmers for keeping their soil covered in winter and reducing runoff from their land to reduce water pollution.
The SFI is part of plans to phase out EU-era subsidies by 2024, with a move towards more sustainable and environmentally friendly practices instead of blanket payments based on land ownership.
But plans to include dry stone walls, traditional farm buildings and burial sites have been pushed to the back of the queue.
Countryside and heritage groups said these aspects were originally supposed to come out in the second phase of the scheme, set to launch after the initial rollout at the start of 2022, but they are now scheduled for 2025.
Announcement sees 'nature as a side show and risks erasing or damaging history'
The Trust also raised concerns over the scheme’s focus on encouraging farmers not to damage historic monuments on their land, rather than providing opportunities to improve them as current schemes do.
The Trust said the Government was "downplaying the importance of heritage and the need to help farmers care for the historic features on their land".
Ingrid Samuel, director of historic environment at the National Trusts said: "To push back the early introduction of the planned ‘heritage standard’ to 2025 shows Defra hasn’t grasped how natural and cultural heritage is so intertwined in the farmed landscape.
“More concerning is that there is only a requirement to protect against damage to historic features in the current plans.
“This would miss a unique opportunity to enhance the rich and distinctive heritage of our countryside while providing wider public benefit.
“This announcement sees nature as a side show, and an optional one at that, but it also risks erasing or damaging history.”
Bronze Age burial sites and Roman villas also at risk
The Heritage at Risk register, compiled by Historic England, shows that several parts of Hadrian’s Wall are in an unsatisfactory condition and at risk from arable ploughing.
Other sites at risk include hundreds of barrows, ancient burial sites, Roman villas and the remains of medieval forts.
A significant amount of Britain’s archaeological heritage is thought to have been damaged by agricultural activity over the years, with most of Britain’s Bronze Age burial sites destroyed by ploughing or looting.
In particular peat bogs, which are known for their preservative qualities, have been drained and stripped for horticulture, threatening the archaeological value they often contain.
One of the world’s most important “bog body” discoveries, Lindow Man, was found in a Cheshire peat bog in 1984.
All of England’s registered battlefields, 78 per cent of scheduled monuments and two-thirds of registered parks and gardens lie on agricultural land, Historic England data shows.
Existing schemes, which are due to come to an end in 2024, have helped to save 1,200 scheduled monuments, leading to their removal from the at-risk register, the agency added.
Jonathan Thompson, senior heritage adviser at the CLA, the membership organisation for landowners, said: "Clearly if something's coming at the end of the programme the time by which it could be dropped or deprioritised is thereby maximised.
“I don't think anyone is suggesting that bad faith is involved, but circumstances can change or be thought to have changed, so the greater the delay, the greater the risk of it not happening, with the damaging consequences that would ensue."
The SFI is a transitional scheme supposed to help farmers move gradually away from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy into the government’s planned Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS).
A spokesman for Historic England said: “Historic England welcomes the government’s pledge to put agriculture on a more sustainable footing and we believe that it is vital that ELMS continues to fund and protect our heritage on agricultural land for future generations, such as the extremely rare Roman mosaic and villa recently discovered in Rutland.”