The importance of heritage is something that has gained increasing attention in recent years, whether because of the funding given by the Heritage Lottery fund to preserve buildings, TV series like the BBC’s Digging for Britain or concern over the destruction of unlisted old buildings like the Crooked House pub, the desire to recognise and preserve is great.
Every year bodies like English Heritage add new buildings, monuments and archaeological sites to various lists, and sometimes the public can get involved with the process. The upshot is a growing number of recognised buildings and places, with rapidly expanding databases needed to catalogue them.
Indeed, as any new heritage asset is added to the list, any old documentation relating to it automatically becomes of increased value, providing information about the history of an important place and the people associated with it. That means document scanning services can be very useful to help build up digital records as new heritage assets are listed.
Such a process is now taking place in locations across the UK as various bodies seek to add new entries in 2024 and make updates to the management of existing ones.
Some of these bodies are large and well-resourced, with some major plans involving well-known established assets. For example, Falkirk Council and Historic Environment Scotland (HES) are to hold a public consultation in the town early next month on plans to update the management plan for the Antonine Wall.
One of six UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Scotland, the 37-mile wall was built by Roman emperor Antonius, who succeeded Hadrian, as he sought to push the northern limits of the empire deep into what was then Caledonia.
The project was abandoned after less than 20 years and the wall, built from turf rather than the stone used by Hadrian, has all but vanished, but many structures from forts to ditches remain.
HES will not just have to agree on plans with Falkirk Council, but the other local authorities through which the remnants of the wall stand – East Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire, Falkirk, Glasgow and North Lanarkshire.
Among other things, this means effective management may depend substantially on having digitised details of the updated plan and any supporting documents, which all the local authorities can access. This may be useful if, for instance, the upshot of the public consultation is to work on a national trail like the one along Hadrian’s Wall.
Moreover, the plan may be subject to regular updates in the future for various reasons, such as the emergence of locations of particular interest due to archaeological discoveries.
The updated Antonine Wall plan may be a large undertaking overseen by a Scotland-wide body, but some heritage projects across the UK are being carried out by far smaller bodies and involve heritage sites that have yet to gain any formal recognition.
For example, in Berkshire, the Maidenhead Advertiser has highlighted plans by Maidenhead Neighbourhood Forum to create its own local neighbourhood listing, with residents being asked to nominate potential entries. These will be buildings and other assets not already protected by being in a conservation area.
In cases like this, where a group is a small, local one of limited scale, it may benefit from outsourced help with creating digitised records as it is less likely to have a large, established database with staff employed to maintain it.