Since 1995, 47 areas of land in England have been listed on Historic England’s Register of Historic Battlefields, but it remains unclear what exactly they are trying to protect.

The battlefields are also given protection by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in paragraph 194, equivalent to that of a Grade I listed building or a World Heritage Site.

However, many of these battlefields are now farmland with little to no trace of a battle having ever occurred at the site. Historic England have two criteria for choosing battlefields for protection: was the battle important enough, and secondly is it known where it was fought? Essentially, the battlefield register is about linking an historical event to a place.

It is not immediately obvious what effect the NPPF might have on the management of battlefields, or on making decisions regarding development on or in the vicinity of a battlefield. How do you measure the impact of a proposal on the imaginative response to an event that has left little trace? What are you trying to protect when making decisions about these sites?

The NPPF’s focus on preserving the significance of heritage assets serves battlefields well. These are landscapes that were not designed to be battlefields, but became so through an accident of history,  and consequently in the intervening centuries they have continued to evolve.

Their identity as battlefields is only one aspect of the landscape and because their significance can be less immediately physical, their sensitivity to change is different from other heritage assets.

Therefore, a careful assessment is required to identify the features and characteristics that contribute to a landscape’s identity as a battlefield. With this comes an appreciation that they can frequently absorb change such as small developments without losing their ability to relate back to the events of the battle, the qualities for which they were registered by Historic England in the first place.

For more information on Historic England’s registered battlefields click here.

26 February 2019