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Historic Environment Record purpose and users

The Dorset Historic Environment Record (HER) is one of a nation-wide network of records. The information they hold is used by a wide range of people and organizations for general interest, research, planning, and land management.


Historic Environment Records are:

Information services that provide access to comprehensive and dynamic resources relating to the historic environment for public benefit and use.

National Planning Policy Framework from the Department for Communities and Local Government, 2012

They are the direct descendants of the network of Sites and Monuments Records (SMRs) which were created in the 1970s in response to the lack of archaeological information available to owners, developers and planners, and the consequent loss of archaeological remains through urban and rural redevelopment. Today HERs are unique repositories of - and signposts to - information relating to landscapes, buildings, sites and finds spanning more than 700,000 years of human activity. Their content complements and enriches the collections of museum, archives, local studies libraries and local history centres, and underpins the work of local authority 'historic environment services'. In particular, HERs can be used to:

  • advance knowledge and understanding of the historic environment;
  • improve its protection;
  • support its conservation, management and enhancement;
  • inform strategic policies and decision-making relating to spatial planning, development control and land management;
  • streamline the planning process;
  • support heritage-led regeneration, environmental improvement and cultural tourism initiatives;
  • contribute to education and social inclusion;
  • promote public participation in the exploration, appreciation and enjoyment of local heritage.

Historic Environment Records (HERs): Draft guidance for local authorities in England (Department for Culture Media and Sport, 2008, 4-5)

The Dorset HER includes a database that contains more than 35,000 records with information about remains from the prehistoric period to the present day. Information on nationally-designated (conservation areas, listed buildings, registered parks and gardens and scheduled monuments), locally designated and undesignated heritage assets is recorded. As well as information on archaeological finds and features and historic buildings (all known as 'Monuments' in our technical jargon), episodes of recognition and recording (known as 'Events') and the various sources from which information about them has been drawn (known as 'Sources'), are recorded in the HER.

The database is linked to a Geographic Information System (GIS) with geographical depictions of all sites on the database, ranging from simple point locations to complex plots of extensive sites such as ancient field systems, and supplemented by material such as reports on work that has taken place as part of the planning process and photographs.

Dorset Council maintains the HER for the geographic county of Dorset, comprising the two unitary authorities Dorset Council and Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council. Maritime archaeology is also recorded.

HER users

The Dorset HER serves a wide range of users. Information in the HER supports the work of Dorset Council's Historic Environment team in a variety of ways. For example, we provide advice to local planning authorities across the county on the archaeological implications of planning applications. This role was emphasised in the National Planning Policy Framework which stated that local planning authorities need to have access to HERs for up-to-date information about the historic environment, and use it to assess the significance of heritage assets and to inform plan-making, designation and development management decisions in the planning system.

As well as local and national government and other agencies such as the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission, the HER provides information and advice to: developers and their agents; archaeological contractors; farmers, landowners, and other land managers; utility companies and other statutory undertakers;  local communities, including community groups undertaking parish plans; teachers, students and researchers; amateur archaeologists, local history and other groups interested in some aspect of the historic environment; authors and journalists; local residents and other interested individuals.

Information provided by HER users is collected and statistics compiled. We are committed to consulting existing users and confirming their needs, defining and consulting potential future users of HER information and identifying barriers to use of the HER. HER users are asked to provide feedback on our service, and to become members of the Dorset HER Forum.

Dorset HER Forum

Anyone with an interest in Dorset's historic environment is invited to help shape the development of the Dorset Historic Environment Record by becoming members of the Dorset HER Forum which seeks to: involve current and potential users and contributors in the development of the HER; bring wider knowledge and expertise from local communities and government, and the business, education and cultural sectors to the development of the HER, and inform the ways we all use and benefit from the information the HER contains.

This description of the Dorset HER and how to use it has been compiled in consultation with the Dorset HER Forum. Find out more and join the Dorset HER Forum.

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