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Managing archaeological evidence in wooded environments

Archaeology under woodlandConsidering there are currently some 27,000 km2 (2.7 million ha) of land in Great Britain under woodland management it is inevitable that a significant part will contain sites of archaeological importance. Any archaeological evidence is part of a dynamic environment and its management can be a complex issue. Often, the first difficulty for a woodland manager is to identify any relevant features. While many are mapped or recorded, locating them on the ground may be problematic. Every site or feature will need some degree of management to minimise the risks of any damage. Examples of some management issues are outlined below.

Tree retention

The retention of tree cover may also be desirable for its own historical value. For example where archaeological evidence is directly associated with past woodland management or sites occur in areas of ancient woodlands. With sensitive management, tree cover upon or surrounding suitable types of archaeological site could provide long term, low cost, physical protection. To maintain tree cover whilst minimising the risk of damage to any archaeological evidence, some form of active forest operation such as thinning or harvesting will be required during the tree’s lifetime.

Tree removal

On some sites, there will undoubtedly be a need for tree removal this can be a very successful operation. The most frequently quoted example of removal is where mature trees are at risk from windthrow. However, the effects of tree removal must also be considered, as it will cause change in the surrounding environment and may have unforeseen impacts upon the remaining archaeology. Potential problems can also arise from increased visitor pressure with examples of archaeological damage resulting from the use of bikes on earthworks. Additionally, where former woodland management has been withdrawn from large areas, scrub, gorse (Ulex europaeus) and bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) may invade creating a new set of conservation issues.

Site-specific management

Archaeology managed in woodland clearingsThe types of archaeology found within forests or woodlands are very diverse and of varying degrees of importance. Similarly, the site conditions in which they are found and the local flora and fauna also differ greatly. With such variation, general recommendations on site management are difficult. For a site-specific, optimum management strategy to be determined, more information would ideally be available on the type of archaeological feature, its importance, its depth if buried, its composition and also on site details such as soil type, altitude, exposure, slope etc. and proposed crop details. Professional judgement on a site-by-site basis is always needed. Nevertheless, proper discussion of both the advantages and disadvantages of a woodland and other vegetation cover will promote a better, more informed management.

Forestry Commission management plans

Within the Forestry Commission estate, important archaeological sites are incorporated into the Forest District Conservation Plan where appropriate management is prescribed. Each Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM) has its own specific management plan, agreed with the appropriate national heritage body. Forest Enterprise has undertaken to periodically review the condition of SAMs on the estate, and their respective management plans. All known archaeological sites are incorporated into individual forest design plans and consideration of their role and setting in the surrounding landscape is encouraged.

   

What's of interest

Forestry Commission publication:
Forestry and Archaeology Guidelines

Note that this publication is currently undergoing revision.