West Berkshire Council

West Berkshire Council obtains high recognition for record-keeping about its historic environment

One of the main attractions of West Berkshire's district is our precious environment. More so over the last 14 months than ever before, we have all ventured out to interact with our landscape for our wellbeing and social connections.

Aldworth church

Issued on: 16 June 2021.

But did you know that the appearance of everything around us is the result of a complex interaction between the underlying landscape, flora and fauna, and people?

The West Berkshire Historic Environment Record (HER) is the primary source of information about the physical remains of past human activity in West Berkshire. The HER is a register of all known archaeological and historical sites in West Berkshire. Some of the buildings, monuments and places are designated as being nationally important or locally significant, but all elements make an important contribution to the story of our past. The Middle Stone Age camps along the Kennet, the Cold War structures at Greenham, and the large scale Iron Age hillforts are all examples of historical activity in the district. Current and past land-use has been captured in characterisation projects, revealing the evolution from downland to enclosed fields, or woodland to recent settlement growth. 

This dynamic database underpins all advice given by the archaeology service about development proposals, management and land-use changes. It is therefore key to protecting and conserving heritage assets and ensuring the sustainability of the district.  It is also a fascinating public record widely used by local societies, parishes and researchers, who contribute to its accuracy and currency.

As the government's adviser on heritage, Historic England monitors the standards of all English HERs by coordinating and validating audits on a five-year cycle. These audits also identify the need for any enhancements within HERs, and a summary of each audit is published on Historic England's website. The HER Audit Specification covers four service areas, scoring them against a five point rating:

  1. Content and Coverage - maintaining a constantly evolving resource which signposts information on the full range of heritage assets within the defined geographical area
  2. Data Standards and Security - complying with national standards and legislation and being safeguarded through back-ups and security
  3. Access and Engagement - making information available to all and actively engaging audiences
  4. Infrastructure (Service Delivery) - active management which is appropriately resourced.

West Berkshire Council's HER was audited by Historic England in 2020-21 and obtained the highest and second highest rating in all four service areas.

Historic England's final report stated that the West Berkshire HER shows strengths in every area of the Audit assessment, and the record is of good quality and incorporates a wide variety of data. 

Cllr Richard Somner, Executive Member for Planning, Transport & Countryside at West Berkshire Council, said:

"This is a welcome verdict on the work undertaken by officers since the archaeology service was brought in-house 20 years ago. 

"The recent move of archaeology into Development and Planning further strengthens connections with building conservation and ecology and links closely to our Environment Strategy.

"This audit continues to show how interesting and important it is to understand how human intervention has impacted what we have around us now. There has been over 10,000 years of human activity in the area modifying the landscape through infrastructure and buildings, but also creating meadows, commons and ancient woodland.

"Going forward there are some areas to continue working on such as digitisation of paper records but for now we look forward to adopting formal recognition of our HER."

For more information on the HER and to access a computerised map that shows the locations of historic interest, please visit our website: https://info.westberks.gov.uk/her.

 

Picture: Aldworth Church