Just before Christmas, the Secretary of State agreed to add the renowned Mesolithic site of Star Carr to the Schedule of Ancient Monuments. It is one of the very oldest of sites to be designated: there are a number of Palaeolithic cave shelters which may trump it in time-depth, but in terms of importance in shedding light on far distant human activity, Star Carr is of international significance, and has met the classic scheduling test of ‘National Importance’.
We recommended the site for scheduling as it is of the first order of importance, and scheduling will support the on-going investigations being led by Dr Nicky Milner of the University of York. The site is at risk: ground conditions are demonstrably deteriorating, and damaging the uniquely rich assemblage of organic deposits. High significance plus a proven risk: this sensitive equation leads to a clear outcome; the importance of getting protection in place. This approach forms the heart of English Heritage’s emerging approach to designation. In RN114 (Sandy Gerrard, Neglect of Archaeological Designation) pointed out the recent paucity of scheduling activity. In short, our response lies in the National Heritage Protection Plan (NHPP).
Before exploring the future, let us recap on the past. One of the young English Heritage’s earliest major initiatives was the Monuments Protection Programme (MPP). Opened in 1986, with a projected 10-year project life, the MPP sought to understand, classify, assess and select for designation a representative sample of the identified archaeological resource. Scheduling was a prominent, but not the only, outcome of this programme. The overall target for schedulings was initially 60,000; about 10% of the so-far-identified number of sites (and a tally which modern investigative techniques
could certainly considerably enlarge). This was later lowered to 50,000; 25 years on we have yet to breast the 20,000 mark. What happened?