Who looks after the historic environment?
Responsibilities for the historic environment can typically be found in three different areas of government within the UK – Planning, Culture, and Environment. England and the devolved governments for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have each adopted their own model.
- Planning: Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG)
- Culture: Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)
- Environment: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
- Planning: Directorate for the Built Environment and the Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals
- Culture: Directorate for Culture and Digital
- Environment: Rural and Environment Directorate
- Planning: Planning Inspectorate
- Culture: Heritage Department
- Environment: Department of Environment, Sustainability and Housing
- Planning: Department of the Environment
- Culture: Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure
- Environment: Department of the Environment
At a National Level
Alongside the government departments, each country has a number of national organisations with responsibilities over the historic environment.
English Heritage is the government’s statutory advisor on the historic environment. English Heritage exists to protect and promote England’s built and archaeological heritage. They are a non-Departmental Public Body and are sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Natural England is the government’s statutory advisor on the natural environment. They have a Memorandum of Understanding with English Heritage, recognising the two organisation’s complementary relationship and the inseparability of culture and landscape.
Natural England are involved with the historic environment through agri-environment schemes, the designation of areas such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and through their landscape planning work.
National Amenity Societies are independent organisations with responsibility for the promotion and protection of various aspects of the historic environment. There is a legal obligation to consult them on all planning applications that involve the whole or partial demolition of a listed building in England or Wales. The national amenity societies are also consulted on policy proposals relating to the historic environment.
The national amenity societies are:
- The Council for British Archaeology
- Ancients Monuments Society
- The Georgian Group
- Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings
- The Twentieth Century Society
- The Victorian Society
Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government charged with safeguarding and promoting the nation’s historic environment. They are the main provider of Government funding for heritage.
The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) collects, records and interprets information on the architectural, industrial, archaeological and maritime heritage of Scotland.
Cadw is the Welsh Assembly Government’s historic environment division. They aim to protect, promote and improve access to the historic environment of Wales.
The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW) surveys, interprets and records the built heritage of Wales. It also makes information available to the public.
The Built Heritage Department of the Northern Ireland Environmental Agency identifies, records and protects built, buried, and underwater heritage. They maintain the schedule of Sites and Monuments and the List of buildings of special architectural and historic interest. They also provide advice on the historic environment.
At a Local Level
Local authorities play a major role in heritage protection in all four UK countries. In England they are responsible for conservation of 95% of the historic environment.
Local authority archaeological and conservation teams exist to record, protect and promote the historic environment in their area. Their responsibilities include: developing and maintaining the local Historic Environment Record, ensuring that all local planning policy and development takes the historic environment into account, protecting heritage through appropriate management and promoting awareness and public enjoyment of the historic environment.
Local authority staff responsible for the historic environment may include:
- County Archaeologist
- Planning Archaeologist
- Historical Environment Record Officer
- Conservation Officer
The Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers provides an online list of all local historic environment services.
A wide range of voluntary organisations and groups work to protect the UK’s heritage. Their interests and activities are diverse and range from building conservation, to campaigning, to fundraising, to archaeological excavation.
The CBA provides a list of local and regional societies involved with the historic environment.
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