Scheduled Ancient Monument

A Scheduled Ancient Monument is defined in the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 and the National Heritage Act 1983 of the United Kingdom government. It is a protected archaeological site or historic building considered to be of national importance.

The Secretary of State for National Heritage keeps a register, or schedule, of nationally important sites which receive state protection. In practice however, the administration of the Scheduled Ancient Monuments process is delegated to the four government bodies with responsibility for archaeology and the historic environment: English Heritage in England, Cadw in Wales, Historic Scotland in Scotland, and the Environment and Heritage Service in Northern Ireland.

A long list of criteria is used to decide whether an Ancient Monument should become a Scheduled Ancient Monument. Scheduling affords greater protection as it becomes illegal to in any way tamper with a designated area.

To be eligible for scheduling, a monument must be demonstrably of national significance according to a number of specific criteria. These are:

  • Period - meaning the length of time it remained in use, significant sites are often multi-period
  • Rarity - monuments with few known comparators are more likely to be scheduled
  • Documentation - information from earlier investigations at a site can inform on its significance
  • Group value - where a monument forms part of a wider geographical landscape of important sites
  • Survival/Condition - the degree to which the surviving remains convey the size, shape and function of the site
  • Fragility/Vulnerability - threats to the site from natural agencies, tourism or development can lead to a monument being scheduled for its protection
  • Representivity - how well the monument represents diverse similar types and/or whether it contains unique features
  • Potential - its ability to contribute to our knowledge through further study

There is no appeal against the scheduling process and adding a monument to the register is normally a process requiring a great deal of research and consideration. The process can be accelerated for sites under threat however. The heritage bodies gather information on a site, define a boundary around it and advise the Secretary of State of its eligibility for inclusion on the schedule.

Protection can be given by taking the monument into state ownership or placing under guardianship, the latter meaning that the owner retains possession with an undertaking to look after it. Field Monument Wardens monitor sites to ensure they are not being damaged. Wider areas can be protected by designating their locations as Areas of Archaeological Importance. As of 2004 only five city centres, all in England, have been designated AAIs (Canterbury, Chester, Exeter, Hereford and York).

Damage to a Scheduled monument is a criminal offence and any works taking place within one require Scheduled Monument Consent from the Secretary of State. Permission for non-essential development is rarely given and new building close to a scheduled monument which might damage its setting is also strongly discouraged.

The Scheduling system is criticised by some as being cumbersome. Until recently it had a limited definition of what constitutes a monument and ritual landscapes, flint scatters or underwater sites were difficult to Schedule.

Sometimes Ancient Monuments are also Grade I or Grade II Listed buildings, or they are situated in a Conservation Area. Others are also World Heritage Sites.

Example 1: Wymondham Abbey in Norfolk is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, a Grade I Listed Building, and lies in Wymondham Conservation Area.

Example 2: Paston Great Barn, also in Norfolk, is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a Grade II Listed Building. Because of the presence of rare bats, it is also on a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a candidate for Special Area of Conservation (cSAC) European Union protective status.

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