English Heritage Press Release


News Release
20 March 2001


English Heritage will take the lead in England in championing the European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (known as the Valetta Convention) which comes into force today (Tuesday 20 March).

English Heritage Head of International Policy Dr Christopher Young, said: “We are delighted that the Government has ratified this Convention to ensure better protection for Europe’s rich but vulnerable archaeological heritage. Many of its recommendations match those made in Power of Place, the review of the historic environment spearheaded by English Heritage and published last December. The Convention takes up our call for:

  • a broader definition of archaeology to include buildings and sites above ground as well as below and those under water;
  • an holistic understanding of the historic environment taking into account that it is whole places which people value not just individual elements; and
  • an integrated approach to conservation, education and awareness raising.

“By ratifying the Valetta Convention the Government has demonstrated the United Kingdom’s continued determination to be at the forefront of the conservation movement.”

The convention:

  • ensures high standards for all archaeological work, so that excavation and other potentially destructive techniques are carried out only by suitably expert persons, while adequately recognising the role of the volunteer;
  • broadens the definition of archaeological heritage to include all remains and objects and any other traces of mankind from past epochs, including structures and their contexts whether on land or under water;
  • addresses the mandatory reporting of chance finds and the control of illicit trade in antiquities;
  • requires the conservation of excavated sites, the safe-keeping of finds and the inventorying of England’s architectural heritage;
  • addresses provisions for funding development-led and rescue archaeology;
  • promotes mutual technical and scientific international co-operation including the collection and dissemination of information;
  • promotes public awareness, access and education; and
  • recommends the creation of archaeological reserves for future research and the preservation of material evidence.

The requirements of the convention are already broadly met by existing legislative systems within England, but there are a number of areas where improvement is needed to give the Convention full effect. This improvement can mostly be achieved by building on current best practice within the professional and voluntary sectors, but there are some minor statutory changes needed in the medium and longer term.Key statutory changes that would greatly assist the strength of the current system include:

  • Widening the definition of monument to enable scheduling to be applied to classes of site such as occupation sites from the Palaeolithic era which are not described as ‘works of man’ and are therefore currently excluded,
  • making it a statutory requirement for local authorities to keep Sites and Monuments Records as the information they contain is essential to a comprehensive system of protection.

English Heritage looks forward to working in partnership with central and local government, other agencies, professional bodies and the voluntary sector to promote and protect the historic environment and increase the already high standard of archaeological work in this country.


For further information please call English Heritage Public Affairs on 020 7973 3293

Notes to editors

The Convention has value as an advocacy document with central and local government and agencies as a means of gaining resources and establishing the priority of work on the historic environment.

The lead on the illicit circulation of archaeological material rests with the DCMS and Re:source. The DCMS announced last week that the government is acceding to the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

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