5 Issues and opportunities

These issues and opportunities were identified by an HER audit carried out in 2019. This section is structured according to a standard methodology provided by Historic England, and the tasks listed under each heading come from the audit or from discussion with HER users and potential users.

5.1 Content and coverage

The HER has been actively adding content to the record over the last five years.  In particular, the number of monument records has increased substantially. 

5.1.1 Monuments

Assessment of monument type coverage has identified poor monument coverage for the following broad classes:

  • Agriculture and Subsistence
  • Commemorative
  • Health and Welfare
  • Industrial
  • Transport
  • Water Supply and Drainage

Assessment of monument period coverage has identified poor monument coverage for the Palaeolithic. Although coverage of all other periods has been assessed as average, there is clear room for improvement, particularly for the prehistoric periods, in refining the chronology of recorded sites.

Topics for thematic enhancements were identified during the audit. These include under-represented monument types and well-represented monument types requiring improvement in depth and quality of record. It is anticipated that these enhancements will also improve the coverage of records across periods.

5.1.2 Thematic enhancement

These tasks have been identified via the HER audit process and do not address all known gaps in the HER or aspirations for refinement and enhancement of data. HER Forum meetings have identified several strong themes for HER enhancement, including:

  • places of worship, churchyards and churchyard monuments
  • war memorials, war graves
  • building materials and techniques, including thatch, cob, brickworks and quarries
  • roads and trackways, and monuments such as bridges, milestones, toll houses and fingerposts
  • county, parish and field boundaries, including hedgerows and drystone walls
  • woodland archaeology, including ancient woodland, veteran trees

While these themes are touched on partly and/or have not been prioritised owing to the nature of the audit process, some clearly lend themselves to volunteer recording and community engagement in general.

5.1.3 Events

Assessment of event coverage was deemed to be poor for most event types. Events that took place before 1980 are also under-represented.

Categorisation of many (largely older) current event records does not reflect the complexity of the work that took place. This is in part ‘legacy’ from the old database (coded, almost no text) rather than being due to a lack of fieldwork or reporting, though there are clearly places where more work is needed or where work is not reported to the HER. It is a problem of quality rather than presence/absence. The old database structure forced an extremely simple categorisation, and only very skeletal records could be created at data migration, and many of these are mapped as points rather than polygons. Work to remedy this has concentrated on monuments, but it is necessary to work systematically through events as well. Some is due to rudimentary reporting of older events; resolving this necessitates delving into the sources.

5.1.4 Sources

A list of backlog items is maintained. Good progress has been made in clearing items identified as backlog in earlier audits. HER volunteers have identified and located many grey literature reports not submitted (or in some cases known) to the HER and obtained digital copies of reports previously available only in paper format. Participation in the NRHE to HERs Project and the HER being increasingly up to date with OASIS have contributed significantly to this success.

In addition to grey literature reports the HER reference collection includes a small number of publications. Most sources used are officers’ own. Access to journals (online or as hard copy) is very limited, and this is a significant constraint to HER enhancement.

A known issue is that few academic reports, offprints of papers, or datasets are submitted to the HER.

Good progress has been made in creating a rudimentary catalogue of photographs of historic buildings and Conservation Areas inherited from historic buildings colleagues, as a preliminary to scanning of negatives and deposition in the Dorset History Centre. More detailed cataloguing is required, and there remains a large quantity of plans and other paper-based material related to historic buildings to be assessed for inclusion in the HER and/or disposal. It is HER policy not to acquire or retain primary archive material, so this collection represents a significant aberration. It is being dealt with as a matter of urgency and as resources allow.

5.1.5 Data sharing

The HER does not share data with adjacent HERs and does not have any formal or informal protocols regarding data along its geographical boundaries. This has been discussed by ALGAO SW HER group. 

Tasks identified

  • review recording policy to include more detail in some areas
  • thematic enhancement of monument groups Agriculture and Subsistence, Commemorative, Health and Welfare, Industrial, Transport, and Water Supply and Drainage
  • enhance Palaeolithic records – project proposal
  • enhance event and findspot records
  • complete basic summaries for monument records
  • check status and mapping of legacy records in relation to Listed Buildings, Scheduled Monuments, Conservation Areas and Registered Parks and Gardens
  • seek formal data sharing arrangement with the National Trust
  • seek formal data sharing arrangements with neighbouring HERs
  • institute regular uploading to the Heritage Gateway
  • investigate resumption of data exchange with Defence Infrastructure Organisation
  • cross references with Church Heritage Record
  • cross references with Historic Milestone Society
  • cross references with respect to 20th-century military databases e.g. Defence of Britain, Pillbox Study Group
  • thematic enhancement of hillforts and associated monuments
  • thematic enhancement of barrows, incorporating condition survey data
  • thematic enhancement of dating, environmental archaeology
  • revise online HER report form. Introduce customised form for common types (e.g. round barrows, milestones, field boundaries) and guidance if feasible
  • HER volunteer manual
  • continue parish summaries as ‘place’ monument records
  • look into recording of place name information, including field names

5.2 Data standards and security

It is essential that HER information can be readily retrieved and understood, and important that data from different HERs can be compared. Data standards ensure that information is recorded in a consistent and retrievable way so that the maximum benefit for the users of data is obtained from the investment. 

5.2.1 Data standards

The Dorset HER uses the MIDAS Heritage (see note below) data standard and Forum on Information Standards in Heritage (FISH) approved vocabularies and thesauri. The HER is broadly conformant with the national standard but Historic England’s Knowledge Organisation Services (KOS) recommends that to aid efficient data exchange the HER considers adopting a broader prehistoric terminology along with the subdivisions of the post medieval period, and adding 20th century and its subdivisions.

Issues affecting data quality or consistency of recording practice were identified in the audit, and it is known that older database records tend to be less consistent than others.

Current HER guidance gives basic information to data providers on the submission of information to the HER. In the case of archaeological contractors relying upon their observance of professional standards. It is recognised that this has a knock-on effect in taking up officer time.

The HER now has a core team of volunteers experienced in using HBSMR, and advice from them is that more detailed instructions would be welcome.

Note: MIDAS Heritage is a British cultural heritage standard for recording information on buildings, monuments, archaeological sites, shipwrecks and submerged landscapes, parks and gardens, battlefields, artefacts and ecofacts. The data standard suggests the minimum level of information needed for recording heritage assets and covers the procedures involved in understanding, protecting and managing these assets. It also provides guidelines on how to support effective sharing of knowledge, data retrieval and long-term preservation of data.

5.2.2 Security

The HER database moved to being remotely hosted by exegesis SDM Ltd in December 2019. The HER is backed up regularly. Back-ups are stored securely and are retrievable. Elements of the HER's digital reference collection are backed-up as part of the regular backup strategy for the host organisation. HER staff have received training in digital security procedures to a level that is adequate for the present needs of the service.

HER reference material is stored in one place in lockable storage and cannot be borrowed. The HER has sought advice from the Dorset History Centre record office when planning strategies to manage the reference collection.  The components of the collection have been assessed and decisions made about how long each will be retained by the HER.  The HER staff are aware of the British Library Preservation Advisory Centre's guidance on Basic Preservation.

It is HER policy not to acquire primary archive material, though some issues exist around uncatalogued material inherited from historic buildings colleagues. This is being addressed. In the meantime, storage for these items is as good as it can be, with negatives kept as cool as possible. 

Tasks identified

  • revise period recording categories to include prehistoric/late prehistoric, post-medieval subdivisions, 20th Century and subdivisions
  • more explicit information services policy, with links to data protection and privacy statements
  • review UK GEMINI compliance
  • update Recording Manual to aid data entry and concordance of records with approved terminology
  • create more specific guidelines for HER contributors, including systematic use of OASIS and requirements for digital data, including GIS
  • introduce recording forms and guidelines for external contributors to encourage observance of national data standards and terminology
  • complete scanning of photographic negatives of historic buildings and conservation areas, and deposit originals with the Dorset History Centre.

5.3 Access and engagement

The HER is promoted by circulation of a leaflet, on the Dorset Council website, and through attendance at events. The lack of a distinct HER ‘brand’ and more substantial display and promotional material means that the HER identity is often submerged within that of the event. HER participation in external projects often goes unacknowledged by that project.

Promotional activity is generally in response to demand, which is a drain on time and resources and patchy in its effect. There has been strong feedback from the local HER Forum in support of a regular newsletter. The option of providing a dedicated HER newsletter has been explored. It is possible to publish some items within e-newsletters belonging to the Council’s countryside or archive services, but there has been some difficulty in participating in these corporate e-newsletters while retaining historic environment ‘identity’. 

5.3.1 Satisfying user needs

Local government reorganisation in 2019 affords an opportunity to achieve a more ‘joined-up’ approach to providing access to HER data for local government officers across the county, providing them with clear guidance on best practice for use of HER data, and to providing them with mediated data suitable for each specific purpose. There is currently no direct access to HER information for planning or conservation staff.

HER Forum meetings and informal discussions have given clear indications of current user needs, and many relate to in-house use by colleagues and volunteers.

Some of these can be met by improved presentation of existing data sets and mapping:

  • Dorset Historic Towns Survey reports have been available on the Dorset Council website for some time with very positive feedback from local authority colleagues and the general public. The underlying mapping is not available but is in course of preparation for publication via the Dorset Explorer website
  • Historic Landscape Characterisation data in its ‘raw’ form has fed into Landscape Character Analysis and is used widely by local authorities and other agencies, consultants and researchers. It has the potential to be of so much more use and interest to local people if published online and with supporting explanatory material.
  • the HER has provided alert/constraint mapping to district and borough councils, and unitary authorities in the past. This was paper based and (to some degree) customized to each authority's requirements. There has been some exploration of use of the Historic Landscape Characterisation and Dorset Historic Towns Survey mapping to create coarse alert/constraint mapping. This was promising and needs to be pursued further urgently to develop a usable data set.

This new presentation would also benefit users outside the local authorities. Historic urban characterisations have not been done for Dorchester, Bournemouth and Poole. It is considered that a similar characterisation for Portland would be useful.

It is necessary also to address long-standing issues relating to incorrect use of HER data by colleagues, some archaeological contractors, and applicants:

  • modification and continued use of HER data provided many years ago for a specific purpose;  
  • use of data from the Heritage Gateway or Dorset Explorer website, although both websites clearly state that the data is not suitable for in-depth research, planning or land management.

Training for colleagues, combined with more detailed guidance for HER users and requiring archaeological contractors to cite an HER enquiry number in reports may reduce this.  Stronger guidance provided before an HER enquiry or planning application is made would improve the experience for those unused to HER information, for example a householder preparing a statement of heritage significance. It would lead to the historic environment content of applications being better and, in many cases, increase speed of processing.

HER users include those who provide information for incorporation into the record, both as a result of the planning process and as volunteers. Recording information for the HER can be daunting for inexperienced contributors, and amateur enthusiasts are often not aware of best practice and data standards. Participation in the Buildings at Risk pilot project showed that volunteers are quite capable of recording complex and highly structured data. 

5.3.2 Reaching new audiences

We want to increase awareness and extend use and access to the Dorset HER to a wider cross-section of Dorset’s population. Postcode analysis of the general public who come to events or make HER enquiries has shown them to be predominantly affluent elderly, with most other groups under-represented in comparison with the general population of the county. There is a need to extend awareness and use of the HER to a wider cross-section of Dorset society.

Outreach and educational resources are developed ad hoc on request. This is not an effective use of officer time, is not properly resourced and falls a long way short of doing justice to the HER and the archaeology of the county. It has been a long- term aspiration to develop good quality material.

This is about more than providing educational opportunities. Many people are unaware of the past on their doorstep. 

Tasks identified

  • more detailed HER recording policy to include arrangements for exchanging and sharing data with neighbouring records, and complementary sources of information
  • guidance for HER users to include signposts to other sources of heritage information
  • publish Dorset Historic Towns Survey mapping on Dorset Explorer website
  • incorporate the national Seascape Characterisation into the HER
  • revise Historic Landscape Characterisation mapping and publish on Dorset Explorer website
  • explore provision of enhanced HER data for planners, conservation officers and other colleagues
  • develop alert and constraint mapping
  • Dorchester characterisation
  • Bournemouth characterisation
  • Poole characterisation
  • Portland characterisation
  • farmstead characterisation
  • analyse PAS data and create monument records for significant interpretable concentrations
  • explore provision of data through corporate GIS
  • record locally listed buildings in a consistent manner
  • revise Conservation Area records and assess information formerly held by district, borough and unitary councils
  • revive the online form for the Buildings at Risk! Survey
  • Publish HER user statistics on the website
  • issue a dedicated newsletter
  • develop social media presence

5.4 Infrastructure and service delivery

The office space currently allocated to the HER is more than adequate for the needs of the service.  The host authority has gone out of its way to accommodate the HER (and PAS) providing a room with lockable cabinets for secure storage, and desks to accommodate volunteers and visitors at a time when flexible working and hot desking has been rolled out in the authority. 

5.4.1 Corporate and business arrangements

The HER is covered by the host organisation’s Disaster Plan and Business Continuity Plan, both of which are high level and have no specific reference to the HER. HER staff are not responsible for disaster recovery or business continuity procedures. However, lists of equipment (HER and PAS) are maintained with details of suppliers, to ensure speedy replacement in case of loss. 

5.4.2 Staffing and support services

Administrative support is provided to the HER by the host organisation; this includes support for customer invoicing, purchasing and other aspects of financial administration. Training and support for CPD are provided.

Support from in-house ICT and GIS teams remains strong. In addition to day-to-day support for the HER, IT and website team support enabled the early adoption and continued use of a suite of online forms. Online forms were developed for recording of Buildings at Risk data by volunteers, with the facility for checking and downloading by Conservation Officers, and recent Transitional Digital work has reviewed online forms in preparation for the introduction of online payment and data licensing.

The HER does not have a succession plan and succession planning is not provided for in other corporate documentation or procedures. 

5.4.3 Service delivery

The audit was undertaken in 2019 but this plan is being written during the Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, in the course of which the need to accelerate moves to streamline enquiry processes, and the online recording of information for the HER as well as more varied presentation of HER data has become more urgent. Steady progress has been made thanks to the support of ICT and GIS colleagues. HER needs have a lower priority in comparison with many other council functions, and this may be an obstacle to HER development.

Tasks identified

  • revise online HER enquiry form and introduce more structured user categorisation
  • introduce online payment and licencing
  • introduce HER enquiry form for use in house
  • revise basic website content
  • continue to maintain log of HER enquiries and revise user and enquiry categories
  • publish statistics about HER users and enquiry on the website
  • identify heritage assets owned by BCP and Dorset councils in the HER database
  • assess council-owned heritage assets and holdings, particularly farms
  • create a succession plan

The next part of the forward plan

6 Themes for the future

Senior Archaeologist, Promotion and Liaison

Name: Claire Pinder
Email: Claire.Pinder@dorsetcouncil.gov.uk
Tel: 01305 224921
Full contact details