British academy


24 May 2011


Government spending cuts and rushed legislation within the cultural heritage sector are leading to a “devastating” loss of vital expertise, and to human activity that has the potential to “destroy” heritage irreparably, a new report by the British Academy has revealed.

History for the Taking? Perspectives on Material Heritage (PDF file - 1250 KB) focuses on archaeology and built heritage as the areas most at risk, with experts John Curtis (British Museum), Fiona Reynolds (National Trust), Michael Fulford and Anthony Harding (archaeologists) exposing particular elements of concern.

The report reveals:

• the threat to the historic environment posed by the coalition government’s desire to liberate the economy from “red tape” and extend planning powers to neighbourhood level

• the loss of essential heritage expertise following extensive cuts in the number of conservation officers employed in local government

• the growing threats to UK archaeology with 90% of all investigations carried out in England since 1990 now being undertaken by commercial organisations (and less than 10% of those reaching final publication)

• the well-documented but under-addressed risks to cultural heritage in war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan

• the ethical dilemmas and issues for scholars handling antiquities of dubious provenance

Recommendations are made by the authors to address each area of concern, including the development of a formal framework for localism, a ratification of the Hague Convention and the setting up of an effective system for ensuring the completion and publication of archaeological projects undertaken during the planning process.

Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe CBE FBA, Chair of the History for the Taking Working Group said:
“Heritage tourism generates over £20 billion of GDP annually and makes a bigger contribution to the UK economy than car manufacturing and advertising, and yet is always the easy option for cost saving in national and local governments.

“Britain has an extraordinary cultural heritage to be proud of and needs to set an example of best practice in protecting it for future generations.  This is far too important an issue to be left in the care of busy politicians unaided by sound academic advice.”


Download a copy of History for the Taking?  Perspectives on Material Heritage here.  (PDF file - 1250 KB)

The report will be formally launched at an evening event on Tuesday 24 May 2011 at the British Academy.

For further information or a media pass to the launch event, please contact:
Kate Turnbull, Press and PR Manager:  0207 969 5263 /


• History for the Taking?  Perspectives on Material Heritage includes contributions from:

1. Introduction
Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe CBE, FBA
Barry Cunliffe is Emeritus Professor of European Archaeology at the University of Oxford and a Commissioner of English Heritage. He has also served as a Trustee of the British Museum, a Governor of the Museum of London and as Interim Chairman of English Heritage.

2. Saved for the Nation:  Cultural Tourism Today
Dame Fiona Reynolds DBE
Fiona Reynolds has been Director-General of the National Trust since 2001. Prior to this, she was Director of the Women’s Unit of the Cabinet Office, Director of the Council for the Protection of Rural England and Secretary to the Council for National Parks. In 1998, she was awarded the CBE for services to the environment and conservation, and in 2008, appointed a DBE for her services to heritage and conservation.

3. The Impact of Commercial Archaeology on the UK Heritage
Professor Michael Fulford CBE, FBA
Michael Fulford is Professor of Archaeology at the University of Reading. He currently chairs the Committee for the Museum of English Rural Life and the Roman Research Trust.  His research concentrates on Ancient Roman landscapes, economy and trade.

4. Archaeology and Cultural Heritage in War Zones
Dr John Curtis OBE, FBA
John Curtis is Keeper of the Middle East Collections at the British Museum. His work analyses cultural heritage in conflict zones, including the damage of cultural heritage in Iraq since 2003.  He was awarded the Iran Heritage Foundation Award in 2005 for “outstanding contributions to the promotion and preservation of the heritage and culture of Iran”.

5. The Problem of Illicit Antiquities:  An Ethical Dilemma for Scholars
Professor Anthony Harding FBA
Anthony Harding is Professor of Archaeology at the University of Exeter. His current work focuses on the European Bronze Age and fieldwork projects in Poland and Romania. He is a Trustee of Antiquity and was also President of the European
Association of Archaeologists until 2009.

• The British Academy’s work on policy is supported by its Policy Centre, which draws on funding from the Economic and Social Research Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The Policy Centre oversees a programme of activity engaging the expertise within the humanities and social sciences to shed light on policy issues.

• The British Academy, established by Royal Charter in 1902, champions and supports the humanities and social sciences. It aims to inspire, recognise and support excellence and high achievement across the UK and internationally.   For more information, please visit