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Culture 2000

European Union


Understanding and managing the landscape
The English Heritage Historic Landscape Characterisation Programme*

Graham Fairclough (English Heritage)


Readers of the Newsletter may already be aware of English Heritage's programme of Historic Landscape Characterisation. The programme has been publicised in magazines (e.g. English Heritage's Conservation Bulletin issue 40, pp 23-26,Heritage Today September 2001 pp28-29, the Countryside Character Newsletter, Issue 3, Summer 2001 pp 2, and Green Futures July/August 2001 pp24-25), and in professional and more academic contexts (e.g. Fairclough et al. l999, Fairclough (ed.), 1999, and Fairclough forthcoming a-c).

Historic Landscape Characterisation (HLC) attempts to produce, from an archaeologist's viewpoint, a rapid and high level overview of the time depth and historic character of the present day landscape. It is carried out in collaboration with local government archaeological services, within the context of SMRs (Sites and Monuments Records). Its new GIS-(Geographical Informations Systems) -based understanding of the landscape's historic and archaeological dimensions has practi-cal uses for heritage management education, public dissemination and research - it is a conservation-led exercise, an example of applied archaeology. A Force for Our Future (the recent comprehensive Government statement of its strategy for using and caring for the historic environment, www.culture.org.uk) recognises HLC as one of (he programmes that is already delivering the Power of Place agenda (www.english-heritage.org.uk).

The Historic Landscape Characterisation Programme

The HLC programme has dual origins, arising from English Heritage partnership with the Countryside Commission on Countryside Character and Views from the Past (the Countryside Commission's policy statement on historic landscape), and from EH's 1993-94 Research and Development project (Fairclough et al. 1999). The HLC approach was first tried in Cornwall in 1993-4, and the method therefore owes much to the pioneering work of Peter Herring, Nick Johnson and their colleagues. Thereafter experiments and methodological advances were made by successive projects, for example in Hampshire (fig. 1) by George Lambrick, in Lancashire (fig. 2) by Joy Ede and John Darlington, and in Somerset (see Fairclough (ed.) 1999, various chapters in Fairclough & Rippon forthcoming). The many HLC projects share a common philosophy, but their methods are diverse, being fitted to local needs and opportunities. An EH project led by Somerset County Council is currently examining all the methodologies to define a core of current best practice. Fig 3 shows current progress towards national coverage for HLC. The early HLC work, notably Cornwall, has also influenced projects in other countries, notably Scotland's Historic Land-Use assessment programme (Bruce et al. 1999), landscape assessment in County Clare (ERM & ERA Maptec 2000), and emerging work from a European network project, EPCL (see below).

Aims and Approach

The HLC method seeks to understand the present landscape in historic and archaeological terms. Landscape history can be one product, hut it is not a primary concern. HLC's main concern is with the current character of the landscape, and as such it forms an important part of the range of tools and methods currently being developed and used to understand character, and help manage its change. Other approaches include the Countryside Agency's Countryside Character map and the related National Landscape Typology, and new ways of approaching conservation in urban areas (see EH's Conservation Bulletin issue 41). HLC offers a particularly clear example of the way characterisation is starting to work as a conservation tool. It is most concerned with explaining the present-day landscape, and helping landowners and farmers, landscape managers, planners, landscape architects and all other disciplines concerned with landscape to understand better its time-depth.

English HLC projects are starling points, being preliminary very broad-brush studies of whole counties at a scale of generalisation well above the local. Land-use and landcover are major aspects of historic landscape character, as are field patterns, the patterns of arable land, grazing and woodland, and the distribution of all aspects of landscape's time-depth from settlement to industry to defence. HLC reads the landscape itself rather than reading documents or maps. First edition OS and other historic maps make an important (if sometimes partial) contribution, but the current landscape itself, viewed through (he medium of maps or air photos, is the central object of study. The programme accepts breadth of coverage - whole counties - at the expense of depth of detail of parts, partly as a framework for future research at more detailed level. It additionally creates area-based understanding beyond the level of individual sites, hut site distributions lake on new meanings when analysed against the backdrop of HLC maps, and this contextual relationship helps to connect site and landscape.

HLC was designed to create the area-based information that planners, land-managers and landscape architects need for integrated conservation, and which conventional archaeological distribution maps, lists of sites or detailed landscape archaeology or history of small areas could not provide. Until HLC began to become available, there was also little data about what survives in the landscape from the past, rather than what once existed. HLC subscribes to the view that change is the dominant characteristic of the landscape: both change throughout the past which has created the diverse cultural landscape we have inherited, and change (and how to manage change) in the present-day and in the near future. Managing change, of course, does not mean simply witnessing change, but trying to influence its course, and the starting point for managing change is understanding, for which at sub-regional landscape level, HLC offers an effective method.

Next Steps and New Horizons

Beyond the current programme of county projects, the next stage will be consolidation, simplification and interpretation of county HLCs to produce regional maps and ultimately national overviews. These will then be able to stand alongside the Countryside Character map and the Settlement Atlas (Roberts and Wrathmell 2000). Additionally, however, HLC already provides a springboard for more detailed, local work, as in the New Forest at District Council level.

The HLC programme can also now be seen to be aligned to the aspiration and objectives of the Council of Europe's new European Landscape Convention published in October 2000 in Florence (www.coe.eu.int). The Convention defines landscape very simply as peoples' perception (everywhere, not just in special areas) of human/ nature interaction over time. It promotes landscape as a contribution to Europe's common heritage and identity and sets out a framework for its sustainable management; it is particularly strong on the need for increased democratisation of the ways in which landscape's significance is agreed and decisions about its future are taken.

A follow-up HLC project in Lancashire - the Bowland and Lune Valley project - is taking HLC into some of these new areas, such as intangible appreciation of landscape character, and the drawing together with expert views of a comprehensive range of public interest. This project is part of the "European Pathways to the Cultural Heritage" programme, an EU-funded Culture 2000 network (www.pcl-eu.de) that brings together 12 projects across 10 countries from Eire to Estonia and from Finland to Italy (fig 4).

At European level, the programme acts as an umbrella for project staff exchange, seminars and the preparation of a book. Each national project works to local requirements, but within a tripartite framework of understanding, management and explanation, and by producing real and virtual publicly accessible pathways into the cultural landscape of their areas. The aim is to promote ways of better understanding the historic landscape, such as HLC, as a step towards it better management and explanation, to make it more usable, and to help facilitate a wider public participation.

Further Reading

Fairclough, G. J., Lambrick, G. and McNab, A., 1999: Yesterday's World, Tomorrow's landscape - the English Heritage Historic landscape Project 1992-94. London: English Heritage.

Fairclough, G. J. (Ed), 1999: Historic Landscape Characterisation. Papers presented at an English Heritage seminar held at the Society of Antiquaries, 11 December 1998. London: English Heritage.

Fairclough, G. J., forthcoming (a): Cultural landscape and spatial planning. In Historic Environments of the North Sea, proceedings of an InterReg IIC conference, 28-31 March 2001. South Shields.

Fairclough, G.J., forthcoming (b): Cultural landscape, sustainability and living with change. In Proceedings of the US/ ICOMOS 4th International Symposium April 5-8, 2001, Philadelphia.

Fairclough, G J, forthcoming (c): Cultural landscape, computers and characterisation, in the Proceedings of the 2001 Computer Applications in Archaeology conference, Visby, 27-29 April 2001

Fairclough, G.J. and Rippon, S.J. (eds), forthcoming (2002): Europe's Cultural Landscape: Archaeologists and the Management of Change, EAC Occasional Paper no 2, Europae Archaeologiae Consilium and English Heritage, Brussels and London

Fairclough, G.J., 2001: Fields of Green: the countryside agenda, in Heritage Today September 200, pp28-29

Fairclough, G.J., 2001: Drawing out the Daughters of Time, in Green Futures July/August 2001, pp24-25

Bruce, L. D., Dixon, P., Hingley, R. and Stevenson, J., 1999. Historic Landuse Assessment (HIA): Development and Poten-tial of a Technique for Assessing Historic Landuse Patterns, report of the pilot project 1996-1998. Edinburgh: Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland

Environmental Resource Management and ERA-Maptec Ltd, 2000: Pilot Study on landscape Characterisation in County Clare. Oxford, Dublin and Kilkenny: Heritage Council (Ireland).

Roberts, B.K. and Wrathmell, S., 2000: An Atlas of Rural Settlement in England. London: English Heritage.


* Article published in "Society for Landscape Studies Newsletter Spring/Summer 2002", page 6-9


fig. 1: Hampshire HCL map showing detailed 'Types',
produced by Peter Atkinson (Hants CC) from OAU Characterisation (OAU, Hampshire CC and EH)

fig. 2: Lancashire HLC map: 'Broad Types'. AHL highly simplified output from the GIS (Lanes. CC and EH)

fig. 3: Progress with the HLC programme in England at March 2002 (Drawn by Vince Griffin, EH)

fig. 4: EPCL: the location of the twelve projects of the EU-funded Culture 2000 programme European Pathways to the Cultural Landscape, shown against the background of a European-scale landscape character map of Bio-geographic regions (source: NatLan 2000, European Environment Agency)

design: Kai M. Wurm
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