Although levelled by ploughing, this late prehistoric or Romano-British farmstead enclosure west of Exeter is clearly visible as a soil mark. The distinctive ‘zig-zag’ pattern indicates active erosion of the defensive bank by cultivation.Many historic and archaeological sites are well preserved under permanent pasture, with appropriate stocking levels. However some farming practices inevitably have an impact on the Historic Environment. Often this can be because the landowner is not aware of the archaeological remains, or the effect of even shallow cultivation on below-ground archaeology.

  • Cultivation has been assessed as the single biggest hazard facing monuments
  • Archaeological remains are unique and cannot be replaced once lost. They are often fragile and, even though they may have survived for millennia, can be completely destroyed by a single event or by years of cumulative damage (Ripping up History, 2003).
  • Some archaeological sites are highly visible, whilst others are hidden and only revealed through accidental discovery, archaeological excavation or aerial photography.This poorly sited water trough on a prehistoric barrow (burial mound) in north-west Devon has led to poaching, causing damage to the mound and surrounding buried ditch. It has since been relocated under archaeological supervision, as part of a Higher Level Stewardship Scheme.

See the Farming and Archaeology in Devon Information and Advice Note for more details.

Historic environment protection is a clear component of the Code of Good Agricultural Practice for farmers, growers and land managers (‘CoGAP’).

Protecting archaeology on farmland

Buried archaeological features may be invisible on the surface. The pits and postholes of this Iron Age settlement near Exeter were discovered when topsoil was stripped for the new A30.Many important in-field archaeological sites are not visible at ground level, but can be close to the surface.

Other features may be easily visible as ‘earthworks’, for example the banks of ramparts, burial mounds or defensive ditches, or as built structures ranging from ‘orthostatic’ field boundaries to ruinous chapels, industrial chimney stacks and concrete anti-tank cubes.

In-field earthwork remains of platforms and enclosures of possible medieval date.Good management – for example appropriate stocking levels to avoid poaching, scrub control and soil management to prevent erosion – will help to preserve them.


Ploughing (even ‘to the same depth’) can damage buried archaeological sites or destroy them completely.

Subsoiling is particularly harmful, as it is likely to destroy buried archaeological deposits, given the depth at which they are usually found in Devon.

Groundworks such as creating new water supplies, gateways or feeding facilities can damage archaeological sites of all kinds, and these potential impacts should be carefully considered.

Trees and energy crops such as miscanthus can cause damage to archaeological sites through ground preparation, root growth and harvesting.

• Traditional maintenance is the best way to preserve ancient field boundaries, but casting up may impact on underlying archaeological sites and should be avoided in archaeologically sensitive areas.

Maintenance of historic farm buildings should be sympathetic, making use of traditional materials.

Stoke Rivers Iron Age hillfort from the air, showing different stages of destruction of the ramparts. The ramparts survive as a field boundary in the foreground, as a raised bank in the field to the right of the picture and to the left as much reduced earthworks.If you are planning any of these activities, a quick check with the Historic Environment Team will flag up any known archaeological features that might be affected.

Payments for protecting archaeological and historic features can be claimed through Environmental Stewardship.

Further information:

What historic features are on my land?

The cropmarks of two prehistoric enclosures and a prehistoric ring ditch near Kingsbridge show the survival of below ground archaeological features.The Devon Historic Environment Record may hold records of archaeological sites not known to landowners.

You are welcome to use the Devon Historic Environment Service to:

• Access historic environment information on the HER.

• Discuss management issues for archaeological sites on your land.

Neolithic flint arrowheads discovered at Haldon. These are about 5000 years old. Stone tools like these can often be the first indication of the presence of an archaeological site. © Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, ExeterInformation from the Devon HER is available online through the Heritage Gateway and can also be accessed by coming to the HER office and viewing the record personally. Please phone to book an appointment. For simple enquiries, contact us by phone, fax, email or post and we may be able to obtain the information you require.

There is currently no charge for this information. In some cases we can offer a farm site visit to discuss specific management issues.

Historic Landscape Characterisation is a map-based interpretation of the landscape’s historic development, and it can be accessed online or through the HER.