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David Porter » Articles at Suite 101 » English Historic, Cultural and Heritage Environment

English Historic, Cultural and Heritage Environment

England’s history, heritage, culture and natural environment contribute to the economy and national pride, but would an English assembly make more of it?

English people often talk about England and the United Kingdom as if they are the same entity. Of course, they’re not, as most people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would affirm.

England’s historic past is not only another country, but also a rich and unique vein of wealth to explore and exploit. Shakespeare had it in the ‘once more unto the breach, dear friends’ speech in Henry V: ‘Cry, God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

Linked closely, are England’s natural landscape and cultural heritage. All together they contribute to the

tourist industry (and transport, hospitality, food/drink industries). While Wales and Northern Ireland have Assemblies and Scotland has a Parliament to look after their cultural pasts, shouldn’t England, with all her history, heritage and culture, be afforded the same?

The Landscape

English Heritage, the government’s statutory adviser on the historic environment, state that England’s rural landscape is one of the ‘jewels of our national heritage’. They say if people concentrate on individual buildings or archaeological monuments, historic dimension can be missed if landscape is admired only as beautiful scenery.

They run Historic Landscape Characterisation (HLC) programme in partnership with local authorities, which provides a framework for understanding and informing decisions affecting tomorrow’s landscapes. They use interactive GIS-based descriptions of the historic dimension – the ‘time-depth’.

Agricultural settlements to city dwellers, industries to the maritime environment, all are important in deciding what to keep/preserve and what is worth developing for education and/or commerce. The very diversity of landscapes has inspired artists, writers and poets as part and parcel of English heritage.

Historic Environment

Natural England defines historic environment as particular contribution to character and value of all English landscapes. How people used and travelled over land and seas, for instance, shows a ‘strong, traditional and locally distinctive character’. Human activity (past and surviving) of interacting with places is the interest.

How previous society was organised is useful in current and future planning. How people defended themselves, harnessed natural resources and adapted to ongoing climatic, economic and technological changes, have lessons for today. Natural England point out that the past is a non-renewable resource; ‘once lost, it cannot be recreated’, although it can be simulated and re-imagined.

Cultural Landscapes

Cultural landscapes concern historic events, people and groups at home, work and play, individually and collectively. They are man-made such as estates, houses, farms, gardens, parks, cemeteries, highways, harbours, mines and industrial sites. They are also works of art and texts, narratives of peoples and regional identity.

The study of the past to inform the present is well accepted. Natural England’s statutory purposes include ‘nature conservation’ and ‘conserving and enhancing English landscape’. It is, as they admit, a ‘distinctive yet complementary relationship’ with English Heritage.

They administer Scheduled Monuments (SMs), Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and Natural Nature Reserves (NNRs), listed buildings, habitat, common land, soils and landscape management, visioning and planning policies/guidance activities with people and communities. Change through time is the key factor in their studies.

They help implement the main planning document in force currently in England, Planning Policy Statement 5: Planning for the Historic Environment (2005). They work with the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) and contribute to ongoing debate about how far ‘land of outstanding scenic, historic and scientific interest’ is worth maintaining and preserving for the benefit of future generations in terms of the tax regime.

Tourism’s Contribution

If the National Trust and a host of local amenity societies are included, it would appear that all the necessary and needed organisation is in place to preserve and utilise England’s historic fabric. When tourism is added to the discussion, there are more. VisitEngland is the body working with the industry to grow tourism value, year on year.

They believe tourism generates £97 billion to the English economy, employing over two million and supporting thousands of businesses directly and indirectly. There’s an interdependent relationship with transport, farming, retailing, sports and the arts. 100 million domestic overnight trips are made annually (spending £17b in 2009).

England receives 25 million international visitors to enjoy 21 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and cities. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported (James Hall, Daily Telegraph, 16 September 2011) that an emerging Chinese middle class was swelling numbers with their favourite destinations London, Oxford (Blenheim Palace, Bicester Village), Manchester and Cambridge.

Scotland was on the list too (for Edinburgh Castle, St Andrews for golf and Loch Ness). In London they like Buckingham Palace, open-top buses, Harrods, John Lewis and Selfridges. Alnwick Castle, Northumberland doubled as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies and is a big draw.

Stonehenge, Bath, Canterbury, Durham, York and Stratford-upon-Avon are on VisitEngland‘s ‘popular with overseas visitors’ lists. 600 miles of English coastline of beaches, rocky cliffs, salt marshes and the World Heritage Jurassic Coast pull in more. England boats ten National Parks, wildlife, geological and scientifically interesting places and a shopping experience that is rich and varied.

World-class museums, Alton Towers, Eden Project, festivals like Glastonbury, Royal Ascot and Henley Regatta are big draws. The 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, Rugby League and Cricket World Cups in 2013 and Rugby Union World Cup in 2015 will bring in yet more. England can accommodate over two million guests nightly, with more bed spaces planned.

The Future

Tourism growth scope is enormous. Landscape, geography and weather are extremely varied in such a small country, and visitors come to share it. English men and women who’ve contributed literature, theatre, visual arts, music, dance, political and social change, medical advances, engineering and technological innovation are woven into English culture, history and heritage that tourists want to experience.

The exploitation/development versus the preservation/access debate, of course, continues. Many UK visitors come not to Wales, Scotland or Ulster separately, but to see more. However, if there were an English assembly/Parliament, it would deal with these exclusive assets, so they earn the revenue, yet are treasured into the future.

First published on Suite 101, 21 September 2011

Image: Stratford-On-Avon: Quintessentially English – snowmanradio


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