What is heritage crime? Well, we can link it in to non-heritage crime quite easily; thievery, vandalism, destruction. But what can we do to prevent this damage to our important heritage sites?
In heritage the theft of lead from the roofs of churches causes damage not only by removing the metal but also due to water getting into the building afterwards. Vandalism includes graffiti on buildings and monuments of cultural import which then costs thousands of pounds to remove in order to restore the monument to its previous non-vandalised condition. Destruction, whether purposeful or accidental, is a great threat to heritage; the repair of such damage affects the integrity of monument and there is no way to recover a completely destroyed monument. The unlawful alteration of listed buildings or buildings in conservation areas, unauthorised excavation and illegal metal detecting are also heritage crimes. These crimes all impact upon heritage and hinder the preservation of important buildings and archaeological sites all around the world. The devastation of these sites can lead to the destruction of important ties between us and our past.
So what can be done to prevent heritage crime? In order to conserve our finite, fragile heritage we must first develop ways to protect it. Our heritage, our history; our cultural legacy left to us by the people who shared our landscape during the centuries and millennia before us is important not just to us but to also to the people of the future.
In 2011 English Heritage devised the ‘Heritage Crime Programme’ which outlines ways in which to protect heritage assets through working in conjunction with the Police, the Crown Prosecution Service and local authorities. Alongside this is the Alliance to Reduce Crime Against Heritage (ARCH) which is a national network of volunteers who set out to tackle heritage crime through gaining local support and alerting the community to the damage caused by the criminal and destructive actions of others. One major heritage crime prevention initiative is currently being promoted by Cheshire West and Chester Council – a campaign is under way to alert the community to heritage crime. A list of crimes to heritage is presented along with instructions on how to report any witnessed heritage crime. This is a step in the right direction for the protection of our heritage and other counties in England appear to be following the example of setting up a heritage crime prevention procedure.
With the level of heritage crime increasing with the continuing recession it is vitally important that more of these initiatives are introduced across the UK to prevent the loss or damage of important heritage assets. However, as far as I am aware, Wales currently has no such plan. That is, a plan dedicated specifically to the prevention of heritage crime. Cadw itself is dedicated to conserving Wales’ heritage to the best possible standard, which is a commendable aim indeed, and they do a very good job considering just how much heritage there is in Wales. But is that enough to protect our heritage from those who steal, damage or destroy it, whether intentionally or accidentally? In their 2011-16 priorities, Cadw have specified that tackling heritage at risk is important and that they will take action to identify and address Wales’ heritage at risk, monitor the condition of and support management of historic assets and to review industrial heritage sites. The prevention of heritage crime is a target in English Heritage’s ‘National Heritage Protection Plan’ (NHPP) which ensures that there is a procedure in place to tackle this crime.
In view of the apparent success achieved by English Heritage and their ‘Heritage Crime Programme’ it would seem that a similar initiative would be beneficial to the heritage in Wales. A network of various organisations and local authorities and community members who could create a similar group to ARCH would provide much needed protection to many of Wales’ heritage sites. In England, all National Parks have joined ARCH however only the Peak District National Park has signed up to the Memorandum of Understanding. If Wales were to develop a similar plan ‘to conserve and protect’ it would give the National Parks, The Brecon Beacons National Park included, a guideline to the prevention of heritage crime.