Archaeology & Development

The English landscape has a complex past and sometimes it is unavoidable that, during the course of development, archaeological remains are uncovered. Archaeology is protected through the planning process, making the management of archaeological risk a necessary precaution.

In March 2012 the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was published, a document setting out the Government planning Policy for England and consolidating two dozen previous documents. Paragraph 141 of this document informs that it is the developer’s responsibility when dealing with heritage assets that may be affected during the course of development.

Local planning authorities should make information about the significance of the historic environment gathered as part of plan-making or development management publicly accessible. They should also require developers to record and advance understanding of the significance of any heritage assets to be lost (wholly or in part) in a manner proportionate to their importance and the impact, and to make this evidence (and any archive generated) publicly accessible. However, the ability to record evidence of our past should not be a factor in deciding whether such loss should be permitted.1

Written Scheme of Investigation (WSI)

A WSI is a method statement detailing the steps taken by the developer to ensure that the proper and correct procedure will be taken during an archaeological intervention. It is usually the first port of call and written prior to the actual physical intervention taking place. A WSI should be part of the archaeological condition attached to the planning application, although this document alone will not necessarily clear the archaeological condition as a standalone document.

Desk Based Assessments

Desk Based Assessments consist of documentary and map research, aerial photographic study and a walk over site survey. They are often used as a first phase in a staged programme of archaeological investigation. The archaeological potential of a site is assessed, together with recommendations to help minimize the impact of development on any archaeological remains. Desk Based Assessments can also be used to determine the level of heritage risk upon a site prior to land purchase.

Vertical aerial photograph

Aerial Photographic Survey


Map of Croyland

Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), Heritage Statements and Scheduled Monument Consent

We can provide Heritage Environmental Statement Chapters as part of an EIA, produce Heritage Statements and organise Scheduled monument Consent for development projects.


Once you have submitted a planning application to a local authority it may require an archaeological evaluation before planning consent is granted. Evaluation can be either non intrusive such as geophysical or field survey, or intrusive such as trial trenching.

The definition of archaeological field evaluation is a limited programme of non-intrusive and/or intrusive fieldwork which determines the presence or absence of archaeological features, structures, deposits, artefacts or ecofacts within a specified area or site on land, inter-tidal zone or underwater. If such archaeological remains are present field evaluation defines their character, extent, quality and preservation, and enables an assessment of their worth in a local, regional, national or international context as appropriate.2


An evaluation will gather information on the archaeology of the site, so that an informed recommendation can be made to the local authority regarding the potential impact of development upon any buried or built heritage resource. This may include proposals for preservation of remains in situ, or the sympathetic design of the foundations to lessen the impact of the development. It may also include proposals for further investigation and recording, such as excavation and strip, map and record or a programme of observation and recording, sometimes known as a watching brief.

Photograph of an Open Area Excavation taking place

Open Area Excavation

Photograph of a trial trench with a mechanical excavator in the background

Trial Trench Evaluation

Plot of a Geophysical Survey over a basemap

Geophysical Survey



Excavation and Strip, Map and Record

Excavation, sometimes known as strip, map and record is usually undertaken when significant archaeological remains have been demonstrated to exist on a site, usually proven by evaluation.

The definition of archaeological excavation is a programme of controlled, intrusive fieldwork with defined research objectives which examines, records and interprets archaeological deposits, features and structures and, as appropriate, retrieves artefacts, ecofacts and other remains within a specified area or site on land, inter-tidal zone or underwater. the records made and objects gathered during fieldwork are studied and the results of that study published in detail appropriate to the project design.3

Observation and Recording

Observation and Recording, sometimes known as a watching brief is usually applied as a condition of planning consent, when previous investigations such as desk-based assessments or evaluations.

The definition of an archaeological watching brief is a formal programme of observation conducted during any operation carried out for non-archaeological reasons. This will be within a specified area or site on land, inter-tidal zone or underwater, where there is a possibility that archaeological deposits may be disturbed or destroyed. The programme will result in the preparation of a report and ordered archive.4

Photo of a historic building

Historic Building Survey

Excavator carrying out work on an archaeological site

Observation and Recording

Map plot showing results of an earthwork survey

Earthwork Survey









Historic Building Recording

Historic building recording may be required during re-development of a historic building or structure and is often specified as a condition of Planning Consent, Listed Building Consent or Conservation Area Consent. Currently there are four levels of historic building recording (Levels 1-4) as specified by Historic England.5 We can also provide Historic Building Appraisals and Assessments to support planning applications.

The definition of archaeological building investigation and recording (ABIR) is a programme of work intended to establish the character, history, dating, form and archaeological development of a specified building, structure, or complex and its setting, including buried components, on land, inter-tidal zone or underwater.6


Archaeological survey may comprise of a range of survey techniques, from topographic, contour and 3D surveys of visible earthworks, to geophysical survey of buried archaeological remains. Surveys may be required as a planning condition prior to visible archaeological remains being affected by development, whilst geophysical techniques may be used as part of an evaluation programme of works, or to target trial evaluation trenches prior to development.


Images: all images are ©Midland Archaeological Services 2015

  1. NPPF 2012
  2. Chartered Institute for Archaeologists 2014
  3. Chartered Institute for Archaeologists 2014
  4. Chartered Institute for Archaeologists 2014
  5. Historic England 2006
  6. Chartered Institute for Archaeologists 2014