Archaeologists call for protection of peat bog as ancient record of past environments

British archaeologists are calling on the Government to speed up the protection of the UK’s most important peat bogs and designate them as Special Areas of Conservation due to the significance of the archaeological and environmental evidence that they contain.

The Council for British Archaeology (CBA), a non-governmental organisation with around 10,000 members, fears that organic remains such as seeds, trees, pollen, spores, insects and shells, which are well preserved in the waterlogged conditions provided by bogs and mires and reflect past environments, will be irretrievably lost by the destruction of bogs such as Thorne and Hatfield Moors in South Yorkshire. Whilst areas important for their geology or conservation values can be designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), the environmental deposits from the last few millennia tend to lie outside the statutory responsibilities of statutory heritage and nature conservation agencies, says the CBA.

“The peat milling process destroys all archaeological and ancient environmental remains getting in its way,” said CBA Research and Conservation Officer, Alex Hunt. “So the announcement last year to designate major peat bogs as Special Areas of Conservation also offered hope for protecting their archaeological and ancient environmental assets. But the process seems to have stalled and our concern is that the longer it takes to designate these sites, the greater will be the scale of irreversible losses.”

However, the legislative tools with which the Government could protect these sites do exist, says the CBA. “Last year the Government ratified a European Convention that formally extends the archaeological heritage to include any evidence of human interaction with the environment,” said George Lambrick, CBA Director. DIY company B&Q has announced that it intends to reduce peat use with the goal of going completely peat-free, says Lambrick (see related story), “and we believe it is now time for the government to bring its policy in line with the international obligations for heritage conservation to which it has signed up”, he said.

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