Historic Seascape Characterisation (HSC) maps an understanding of the cultural processes shaping the present landscape in coastal and marine areas. It extends principles of Historic Landscape Characterisation (HLC) to the rich and varied heritage in, on and beneath our seas and along our coasts.
Past human activity has made extensive impacts on all aspects of the present coastal and marine environment, just as on land. HSC, with HLC, allows the historic landscape from land through coast to sea to be encompassed in a common framework and to stand alongside natural environment datasets.
A nationally-applicable HSC method was finalised in March 2008 from the England’s Historic Seascapes Programme, funded by the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF). That HSC method has now been implemented across England’s north east coast and adjacent seas. Along with four ongoing HSC projects, also ALSF-funded, coverage will extend to about 60% of England’s seas and adjacent UK Controlled Waters by March 2011, including all areas of current or prospective marine aggregates extraction and contributing to a national HSC database.
Pressures on our coasts and seas are increasing rapidly in number and scale, from coastal sea defences, port expansion, new shipping channels, extraction of aggregates, oil and gas, and wind-farm construction amongst many others. All contribute to, but also impact on, the historic marine environment. Entry into force of the European Landscape Convention in the UK in 2007 and the enactment of the Marine and Coastal Access Act in 2009 signal major changes in marine policy which provide a receptive framework for applying HSC.
Understanding the character of historic and cultural processes that have shaped the present landscapes of any area is vital for sustainable future management of our coastal and marine environment as it is on land. The growing development pressures are taking place against firm evidence for severe degradation of the marine environment from man’s activities, whether directly on, in and beneath our seas or from wider global impacts such as climate change. That is prompting radical reviews at EU, national and agency levels to the policies and measures governing how we use our seas. HSC will provide the area-based perspectives needed to give cultural context our marine management decision-making, ensuring marine planning measures enjoy the support of an informed public and giving time-depth to our understanding of man’s impacts on marine ecosystems.
Our coasts and seas are widely used as a leisure resource and their cultural heritage plays a major role in defining our identity from the local to the European. Public attitudes to the sea are changing too, with concerns, for example, about pollution from sewage and vast amounts of litter washed ashore. But beneath that identity, public understanding of marine cultural landscapes and their relevance to our daily lives remains limited.
HSC is readily adaptable to enhancing public awareness and engagement with the coastal and marine cultural dimension. By presenting that cultural perspective for all coastal and marine areas and activities, HSC connects with the experience of all who use our coast, the sea and their resources. Making that connection with people lies at the heart of our approach and has profound implications for how we treat and manage the sea.
Resources from the England’s Historic Seascapes Programme, including the Method Statement detailing the national HSC methodology, are available on the Archaeological Data Service website.