The Heritage Watch Awareness Initiative by David Rees and Mark Harrison
The National Rural Crime Network (NRCN) https://www.nationalruralcrimenetwork.net/ champions a better understanding of crime in rural areas, and new, effective ways to help to keep rural communities safe – and make them feel safer too.
Established in July 2014, the Network is now supported by 30 Police and Crime Commissioners and police forces across England and Wales. The Network includes a wide range of other bodies with a deep interest in community safety and rural affairs, ranging from Neighbourhood Watch to Historic England (previously known as English Heritage).
The problem of crime and anti-social behaviour relating to historic buildings and archaeological sites (both maritime and terrestrial) is not a modern phenomenon. It has been documented for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. However, what is new is the sheer scale and extent of the criminality. For example, in 2012 English Heritage published research which revealed that in 2011, 18.7% of all listed building, similar to the beautiful building shown in Figure 1 were physically affected by criminal activity. That is more than 70,000 listed buildings! For almost 30,000 listed buildings, the impact was classified as ‘substantial’. More generally, around 20% of listed buildings are harmed by crime every year. This figure is almost double for listed places of worship.
Historic England defines heritage crime as:
‘Any offence which harms the value of England’s heritage assets and their settings to this and future generations.’
The understanding of the threats posed to heritage sites, buildings and cultural property continues to improve.
The following types of crime have been identified as the most prevalent:
• Architectural theft, in particular the theft of metal and stone
• Criminal damage, in particular damage caused by fire – arson
• Unlawful metal detecting, sometimes referred to as ‘nighthawking.
• Unlawful disturbance and salvage of historic maritime sites
• Anti-social behaviour, in particular fly-tipping and off-road driving
• Unauthorised works to heritage assets
• Illicit trade in cultural objects
As part of what is known as the Heritage Initiative a scheme called Heritage Watch is now operating in Cheshire, Essex, Kent, Hertfordshire and the City of York. A new scheme for Shropshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire is currently being developed by local practitioners. Each scheme is slightly different in order to meet local need and demand. The Heritage Watch badge at the top shows the logo for the scheme.
Since 2011, more than 8,000 law enforcement and heritage professionals and local community activists have been provided with the advice, training and expertise they require to protect the historic environment in their local areas.
A growing number of police services have identified officers to act as single point of contact for matters relating to heritage and cultural property crime and anti-social behaviour – a function that is often aligned with the investigation of offences within the rural and natural environment. This network of specialist officers, police staff and support volunteers are helping to provide an effective and efficient response to heritage crime.
In parallel, the Crown Prosecution Service has identified specialist prosecutors to act as wildlife and heritage crime coordinators.
Police and Crime Commissioners across England and Wales have identified the threat to the historic environment and in 2014 the National Rural Crime Network (NRCN) was formed to develop a greater understanding of crime in rural areas, and to identify new and effective ways to help to keep rural communities safe and reassured. The NCRN is now supported by 30 Police and Crime Commissioners and police forces across England and Wales. The Chair is Julia Mulligan, the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire and the Vice-chair is Tim Passmore, PCC for Suffolk. In addition to PCCs and the police, the Network includes a wide range of other bodies with a deep interest in community safety and rural affairs, ranging from Neighbourhood Watch to Historic England
Across the country, local history and archaeological societies, sub-aqua and metal-detecting clubs are developing Heritage Watch schemes to seek to inspire and encourage communities to be more aware and vigilant about the threat of heritage crime within their local areas and to report any suspicious activities to the police.
The value of our built and cultural heritage cannot be judged in pounds and pence alone. The impact of theft from historic buildings and archaeological sites, including those situated in the maritime environment, has far-reaching consequences. We rely on the goodwill of landowners to enjoy our hobby, and the impact of crime on them is increasing.
As metal detectorists we are constantly out in the countryside, often in quite lonely isolated locations. We, as detectorists are often well placed when out and about to make a helpful report.
There have been three successful training sessions for metal detectorists delivered by David and Mark since 2019.
David Rees has a background partly in law enforcement, and the rehabilitation of offenders, and is now a teacher and Associate Lecturer for a leading College and University Campus. Through his own company he provides training to individuals, and company employees mainly in office applications. He has enjoyed the hobby of metal detecting for nearly 40 years, and is the Chairman of a Wiltshire based club, and also Chairman of the Western Region.
Mark Harrison BSc (Hons) FSA, is a former senior police officer and Historic England's Head of Head of Heritage Crime and Policing Advice. Mark is responsible for the development and delivery of the Heritage Crime Programme and the Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage (ARCH).