The Historic Environment is reflected in the landscape character, buildings and archaeological sites. Historic assets are currently designated under a number of different regimes which have been developed over time, the earliest being the Schedule of Ancient Monuments, which dates back to 1882 and the most recent the Battlefields Register, created in 1995.
Historic buildings are a precious and finite asset, and powerful reminders to us of the work and way of life of earlier generations. The richness of this country’s architectural heritage plays an influential part in our sense of national and regional identity. English Heritage has the task of identifying and protecting this inheritance in England. Their main means of doing this is by listing - recommending buildings for inclusion on statutory lists of buildings of 'special architectural or historic interest' compiled by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. “Listing” ensures that the architectural and historic interest of the building is carefully considered before any alterations, either outside or inside, are agreed.
'Scheduling' is shorthand for the process through which nationally important sites and monuments are given legal protection by being placed on a list, or 'schedule'. The word 'monument' covers the whole range of archaeological sites. Scheduled monuments are not always ancient, or visible above ground. It encompasses buildings, structures or work, cave or excavation, vehicle, vessel, aircraft or other movable structure. In order to be eligible for scheduling, a ‘monument’ must be of national importance.
In relation to maritime scheduled monuments, once a wreck has been scheduled, public access to it, i.e. diving on the site, is not currently restricted. However, it is an offence to demolish, destroy, alter or repair it without scheduled monument consent. Effectively, diving on maritime scheduled monuments is permitted on a ‘look but don’t touch’ basis.
English Heritage takes the lead in identifying sites in England which should be placed on the schedule by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. A schedule has been kept since 1882 of monuments whose preservation is given priority over other land uses. The current legislation, the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, supports a formal system of Scheduled Monument Consent for any work to a designated monument. Scheduling is the only legal protection specifically for archaeological sites.
Although inclusion of an historic park or garden on the Register in itself brings no additional statutory controls, local authorities are required by central government to make provision for the protection of the historic environment in their policies and their allocation of resources. Local authorities are also specifically guided towards protecting registered parks and gardens when preparing development plans (Planning Policy Guidance Note 15, 1.6; 2.1). As a result, most Local Plans now contain policies to help safeguard the historic parks and gardens which lie within the area covered. These usually stress in particular those sites included in the national Register, the best examples also covering parks and gardens of more local interest. Following an application for development which would affect a registered park or garden, local planning authorities must, when determining whether or not to grant permission, take into account the historic interest of the site.
The Protection of Wrecks Act is in two sections. Section 1 provides protection for designated wrecks which are deemed to be important by virtue of their historical, archaeological or artistic value. Approximately 56 wrecks around the coast of the UK have been designated under this section of the Act. Each wreck has an exclusion zone around it and it is an offence to tamper with, damage or remove any objects or part of the vessel or to carry out any diving or salvage operation within this exclusion zone. Any activities within this exclusion zone can only be carried out under a licence granted by the Secretary of State, who receives advice from the Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites (ACHWS). There are four levels of licences: a visitor licence, a survey licence, a surface recovery licence and an excavation licence.
Section 2 of the Protection of Wrecks Act provides protection for wrecks that are designated as dangerous by virtue of their contents. Diving on these wrecks is strictly prohibited. This section of the Act is administered by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency through the Receiver of Wreck.
Under the 1979 Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act, the relevant Secretary of State, or authorised Local Authorities, can designate "Areas of Archaeological Importance".
It is an offence under the Act to undertake any operations within a designated Area of Archaeological Importance which may disturb the ground, or flood any site, or tip upon any site, without giving the administering Authority six weeks notice of the commencement of those operations. This notice must be given using a pair of prescribed forms prescribed by law for this purpose. These forms are the "Operation Notice" and an accompanying "Certificate".