2. Historic Environment Records
The UK Second World War Heritage group was established by Chris Kolonko and Peter Hibbs in 2018 to support involvement in researching, recording and interpreting Second World War heritage assets throughout the UK. The group also aims to promote ethical fieldwork, in-line with current archaeological best practice, and encourage the recording of sites with Historic Environment Records and wider heritage organisations.
Despite the subject of Twentieth Century Military defences in the UK being relatively well established and popular, there are few available good practice guidelines for members of the public.
These good practice guidelines will outline how to ethically conduct research and fieldwork for those wishing to investigate and record surviving wartime structures.
By working to good practice guidelines you can ensure that your field recording does not lead to serious issues arising and that no damage is caused to the sites and structures under investigation. These guidelines also highlight legal issues associated with site recording and investigation.
These guidelines are based on experience of working in the field in both a professional and personal capacity.
The UK Second World War Heritage group admins are NOT responsible for any issues that arise as a result of using this guidance.
These Guidelines can be downloaded in full here
Historic Environment Records
It is always best to start by contacting your local Historic Environment Record (HER) or Sites and Monuments Record (SMR). The HER can often provide useful advice and guidance for field recording.
Direct contact with local HER/SMRs is to be encouraged. HER/SMRs often require up to date and accurate information regarding Second World War sites, especially in regards to their current condition and threats to long term preservation. Information submitted directly to local HER/SMRs may lead to the long term preservation of surviving sites or, at the very least, preserve the sites in the record. The information held by HER/SMRs is used as a primary source to inform planning decisions at a local level and ensures that lost or demolished sites are preserved in the record. If the significance of surviving sites and structures can be highlighted and demonstrated, it is more likely that they will retained for the future.
It is highly recommended that you record your findings directly with the relevant HER/SMR. This will ensure that your valuable information is added to the area’s definitive record and will be used to inform local planning decisions; thus helping to preserve surviving sites and structures. However, be sure to consult with your local HER/SMR before submitting information as there may be required data formats to allow the information to be accessioned into the HER/SMR’s database.
Do not rely on others to submit data and records to the HER/SMR on your behalf. It is unlikely your information will be sent, or submitted in a timely manner. If you choose to submit information via a recording project please ensure that the project is endorsed or recognised by the Association for Local Government Archaeology Officers (ALGAO), the local HER, or a recognised heritage organisation (Such as Historic England or The Council for British Archaeology) and check that all project data will be archived with the relevant HER or Archaeology Data Service (ADS).
Submitting information to unrecognised projects will not ensure the long term survival of Second World War era sites and can leave sites vulnerable to trespass, or illegal excavation and vegetation clearance.
Always aim to provide detailed information to outline the value of surviving sites. A detailed record is more likely to highlight a site’s significance within the definitive record. As HERs are a key source or information for planning and listing applications it is extremely important that you highlight the history, significance, and importance of surviving sites. Failure to inform local heritage professionals will lead to the further loss of important sites, as we frequently see today.
Contact details for HERs in England can be found here- http://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/gateway/chr/default.aspx
Click these links for contact details for Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland
A standardised site recording form can be found on the here-
This form can be used to record sites in a standardised format that can aid the inclusion of your records and data into the HER/SMR. However, be sure to check and confirm the required data formats with your local HER/SMR before submitting data.
An introduction to detailed recording of wartime heritage assets can be found here-
Most Second World War sites and structures sit on private property. As the structures belong to the landowner, consent must be gained in advance of accessing the property.
Trespassing, that is accessing private land and property without landowner consent, is one of the biggest issues affecting surviving Second World War era sites and structures. Trespass is not generally a criminal offence. However, if damage is caused to the land or property (e.g. illegal excavation or vegetation clearance) or abusive behaviour exhibited to the landowner while trespassing, the Police can be called in to remove a trespasser from private land and criminal charges may be brought against the culprit.
Landowner consent is required to access private land or property and landowner consent should always be gained in advance of any fieldwork.
Always be courteous when meeting landowners, explain the reasons why you would like to access their land and exchange contact details. If possible, written consent from the landowner is recommended.
If you are granted access, arrange a convenient date to conduct your site visit; especially if fields are under crop or being used to graze livestock. If the landowner doesn’t allow you to access their land that’s the end of the matter; don’t trespass regardless.
Private land doesn’t need to be marked with a sign and a lack of signage does not give you the right to access private property without consent.
Trespassing is highly un-professional and has the long term potential to contribute to the demolition or permanent sealing of surviving structures by the landowner. This ruins things for those with an actual desire to learn from surviving sites and ensure their preservation. A landowner is well within their rights to seal or attempt to make a wartime structure safe if trespass is an issue and has the potential to lead to injury of those engaging in trespass.
One recent example of a landowner removing holdfast bolts and sealing the magazine of a surviving coastal artillery battery has been largely criticised online. However, this action was a direct response to frequent trespass on the site. The decision to make the structures safe by removing trip and trap hazards was a means of ensuring injury to those engaging in trespass was minimised. The landowner was faced with little choice, especially when personal injury to those trespassing could lead to legal action against the landowner.
You should aim to work closely with landowners. As the sites and structures you are recording belong to them it is a good idea to build up a good relationship with landowners, aiming to highlight the significance of the Second World War sites they own.
Respect the landowner’s property and right to privacy. Although it may be legal to photograph a site on private property from a place of public access, it is best to use some discretion when taking photographs that may intrude on someone’s right to privacy. Always consult the landowner beforehand.
Any surviving structures you encounter are the property of the landowner. It is not your responsibility to clear them of vegetation or earth; especially without the prior consent of the landowner. Unauthorised clearance of structures can leave them open to vandalism and malicious use, and may even lead to their demolition by the owner. Unauthorised clearance can also destroy important archaeological and environmental features, such as supporting trenches and a structure’s original camouflage scheme. Unauthorised clearance of vegetation and excavation within Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) is highly illegal.
Unauthorised vegetation clearance also has the potential to cause damage to the structures being cleared. Pulling vegetation can lead to permanent damage to brick shuttering and once vegetation is removed the structure open to the elements, which can lead to accelerated decay. Also, if significant damage is caused to vegetation it can die and decay, leading to additional structural damage. Any such damage caused as a result of unauthorised vegetation clearance can be considered a Heritage Crime.
UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you attempt to excavate, metal detect, remove material from, or cut down vegetation to access a site without requisite permissions and/or consultation with relevant heritage or environment organisations.
Excavation (of any kind) should only be carried out by (or with the assistance of) a qualified/experienced archaeologist. Such archaeological work must be conducted with the prior approval of the local Historic Environment Record and landowner and all results submitted for inclusion in the HER database within the agreed timeframe. Any excavation conducted without landowner consent can be considered a Heritage Crime and is therefore illegal.
Never remove any material from sites as, again, this belongs to the landowner.
Public Rights of Way
Many surviving wartime sites and defences can be accessed via public footpaths and rights of way.
Public footpaths and rights of way that give you access to the areas you wish to investigate can be identified in several ways. You can find online versions of most Definitive Maps which show current public footpaths and rights of way, courtesy of the Geograph website- http://www.geograph.org.uk/article/Definitive-maps-online
Ordnance Survey maps also highlight public footpaths and bridleways.
Remember- You will need landowner consent to access features that don’t sit directly on a public footpath. If you can’t secure landowner consent, don’t leave the footpath.
As most structures survive in a dilapidated state, it is not recommended to enter them. Be sure to consider your own safety if you do decide to enter any structures. If you do choose to enter, only do so if you can see inside the structure. Be aware that many wartime structures are now filled with rubbish, stagnant water and may also contain high levels of asbestos.
If you do choose to enter a structure it is at your own risk and will not be the landowner’s fault if you are injured or worse.
Significant damage is being caused to surviving wartime structure by those who break and enter or attempt to access secured structures.
Do not break in to any structures you encounter. This goes without saying as breaking and entering is illegal and causes damage to surviving sites. Arrange access with the landowner before conducting fieldwork.
Many wartime pillboxes are now used as bat roosts. The entrance to these structures will be barred, so don’t attempt to get around the barred entrance. It is a criminal offence to disturb a bat roost.
Some of the sites and structures you investigate may be subject to statutory protection in the form of Listed or Scheduled status. Such sites are protected by law. Be aware that relatively few wartime sites are protected by Listed or Scheduled status and few Pillboxes are protected. More information here- https://chriskolonko.wordpress.com/2017/06/22/pillbox-myths-1/
Historic England’s website allows you to search the National Heritage List for England for such sites. This is the only official source for Listed and Scheduled sites in England and also includes information on protected wrecks, registered parks and gardens, and battlefields.
The National Heritage List for England can be searched via the following link-
If you are planning on recording a Listed building or Scheduled Monument, it goes without saying that contact with the landowner should be established to discuss what you intend to record and why. It would also be recommended to consult with the local Historic Environment Record and Historic England to check if there are any restrictions in place before you conduct any field work.
Information regarding how to gain Listed or Scheduled status for surviving sites can be found on Historic England’s website here-
Many wartime sites and structures sit within Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), Special Protected Areas (SPA) and designated Nature Reserves.
Again, it is best to consult with the landowner and Natural England before undertaking fieldwork within such protected sites. There may be restrictions due to nesting birds or flora and fauna within the designated area and consent may be required before any fieldwork takes place. Consultation with the landowner and Natural England is very important to ensure that no damage is caused during the field recording process. In no circumstances should you attempt to clear vegetation or access sealed structures within SSSIs, SACs, or SPAs.
You can identify SSSIs via the Natural England website via the following link-
Guidance for gaining SSSI consent can be found here-
Magic Map is an online application that makes it very easy to identify protected sites, such as SSSIs. The map also shows the boundaries of the protected areas.
SACs can be identified via the following website-
Pillboxes and other wartime structures are often converted into Bat roosts. Interfering with a Bat roost is highly illegal and is classed as a criminal offence. Bat roosts are sometimes sealed and barred, which should act as an indicator not to enter. This is one of the many reasons why contact with the landowner and any local organisations is a necessity.
It is your responsibility to gain the required permissions and consents BEFORE conducting fieldwork. Failure to do so may land you in trouble.
Aircraft Crash Sites
All military aircraft crash sites in the UK are protected under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986. It is an offence totamper, damage, move or unearth remains at such wreck sites without a license from the Ministry of Defence. This covers all sites, irrespective of whether people were killed in the crash.
Heritage crime has a severely negative impact on surviving Second World War sites and structures. This can be anything from vandalism or graffiti, through to the illegal excavation/metal detecting, or clearance of vegetation from sites without landowner consent and other relevant permissions.
Many sites sit within Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAMs), or Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). Such sites are strictly protected and any unauthorised clearing of vegetation or excavation within them is highly illegal.
Report any heritage crime you encounter, either in person or online, by calling the Police on 101 or via available online forms. Contrary to what you may read online, you don’t need to be the landowner to report heritage crime and the site does not have to be designated (Listed or Scheduled) to be reported.
If you do spot anyone undertaking illegal excavation, unsolicited clearance, or damaging sites, SAMs or SSSIs it is best to contact the authorities immediately.
Please consult the Historic England Heritage Crime guidance for more information-
Given the nature of sites from the Second World War unexploded ordnance (UXO) is a present danger. If you do encounter any objects which you believe to be UXO while conducting field recording there are a number of steps to take to ensure your own safety and the safety of others.
- If you do suspect that you have found UXO DO NO TOUCH, move, disturb or tamper with the object in any way.
- Photograph the object without disturbing it, or write a description of what the object looks like and describe its location.
- If possible mark the location of the suspected UXO, without disturbing it, so that it can be found.
- Inform the Police that a possible UXO has been found. They will contact the authorities to ensure the item is disposed of.
Use of drones is becoming more popular and they are frequently used to investigate wartime heritage assets. If you do use a drone, there are guidelines in place to ensure that it is used safely and legally within the UK.
We recommend you consult the Dronsesafe and the CAA websites to ensure that you are legal to fly and operating within current codes of practice-
A PDF copy of the Drone Code is available from dronesafe.co.uk here- https://dronesafe.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Drone-Code_October2019.pdf
It is also recommended that you contact your local Historic Environment Record to check whether they have the facility to archive video footage recorded during a drone surveys and the formats required for this data. Remember, you are not effectively recording sites unless your data and reports are submitted to the local Historic Environment Record.
Always read, understand and adhere to a website’s copyright statements before taking information and data from website. This is particularly important when using information/data from Historic Environment Records, reports, publications and other historical/archaeological databases.
Data sets published online and elsewhere, such as the original Defence of Britain project archive, Historic Environment Record and the National Monuments Record, are often not necessarily in the public domain. In other words, even if data is freely available online someone still owns it and retains copyright. Please adhere to any published guidelines or contact the data’s copyright owners for clarification and/or permission before attempting to modify, redistribute or publish such data sets and the information contained within. It is likely that a data license is required to modify, redistribute or republish such information and a license fee may be charged for using data. Again, read through any available terms and conditions and if unsure contact the copyright owner.
Provide full references for any quotes taken from books, websites or other written material.
Remember, images published within books, reports and online are owned by someone. Copyright permission is required to redistribute them. Also read the copyright statements within books before reproducing gazetteers or site lists. It is likely that these are not free to distribute based on a publication’s copyright guidance.