Preserve British battlefields

Winston Churchill described them as ‘the punctuation marks of history’. Now, volunteers are needed to act as guardians for some of Britain’s most historic battlefields. Bosworth and Culloden may attract 80,000- plus visitors a year, but, unlike in Europe, battlefields are overlooked by heritage-protection legislation, and the 43 sites listed in the English Heritage Register receive no special protection. Julian Humphrys of the Battlefields Trust comments: ‘Our hopes were raised when the Government offered vastly improved protection under the Heritage Protection Bill, but, unfortunately, it was dropped from this year’s legislation.’
He explains: ‘This leaves sites highly vulnerable to development, treasure-hunting and intensive farming, in contrast with Belgium and France, where it’s illegal to remove items from battlefields.’

The trust is trying to set up local groups of volunteers to care for individual battlefields-30 of them have some kind of local support, sometimes from only one individual, and some, such as at Towton or Tewkesbury, already have successful societies. ‘People can do as much, or as little, as they want, from producing information boards, printing leaflets and leading walks to act as a form of neighbourhood watch.’

In 2008, English Heritage identified eight battlefields that were ‘at risk’, but Mr Humphrys says all are threatened to some degree. ‘Sites on the edges of towns, such as that of the First Battle of Newbury, a turning point in the Civil War, and Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, are often at risk from development. Others are threatened by metal detectorists who are working independently of any agreed archaeological msurvey. In doing this, such people are removing valuable historical evidence from the soil.’

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