Sunday, May 21, 2006

How much of an impact do the visitors have on the preservation and protection of a site like Hadrian’s Wall?

It iIt is evident that while humans have imposed many undesirable and often unexpected changes on the environment, they often have capacity to modify the rate of such changes or reverse them. There are cases where this is not possible once the soil has been eroded from an area it cannot be restored.(The Human Impact on the Natural environment – Andrew Goudie, 2006)

Is the impact of the landscape, archaeology and the wall itself reversible or are those changes, damages and soil erosion being destroyed permanently. Is making Hadrian’s Wall sustainable for future generations, is nothing more than prolonging the inevitable, should an important archaeological site be closed to the public or will this in itself only make the deterioration of the site speed up because closure would mean there would be a lack of funding coming into the region to help pay for the preservation of the site.

With over 1 million visitors a year how much impact does this have on the protection and preservation of the site as a whole, and are there any impacts on the remaining archaeology underfoot. Could the number of visitors be reduced or sections closed off, or would this have an impact on the sustainability of the site and the communities along the wall, who rely on those visitors. Does the survival of these communities depend on visitor numbers to the wall?

Should we accept that this heritage site is in a state of constant destruction as a result of its own success? People have been visiting the wall since the 18th Century. Its potential as a heritage site for tourism was first realised I n the early part of the 20th Century. Should we now stop people from visiting the site, that init self would be impractical and wrong, due to the fact that Hadrian’s Wall is apart of our heritage and therefore belongs to the people.

In 1996, English Heritage published the Hadrian’s Wall Management Plan in attempt to provide a clear objective and vision for the future of Hadrian’s Wall Military Zone. (Visitor Management - Case Studies from World Heritage sites)

The aim of the plan was to carefully manage the protection and preservation of the site as well as the experience of visitors to the wall and its numerous attractions along the site. By managing the visitor experience the hope is that this will reduce any harmful impacts along the wall. Yet at the same time ensuring that the visitors gain maximum enjoyment understanding and appreciating the heritage along the wall. In 2002 the management plan was updated and it recommended, “Sustainable development to ensure the recovery of the local economy especially after foot and mouth” (Heritage Management Plan – Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage site).

Recently there have been proposals for an investment of around £56.25 million which would potentially increase the amount of visitors to the wall and its attractions by a third and potentially create 1,672 new jobs. Increasing the amount of visitors will only add more pressure to the impacts being created by an already stressed site, yet more visitors means an increase in jobs and a greater development in the walls sustainability as a tourist attraction.

With a greater increase of visitors will have a major impact, more visitor’s mean that the land along the wall will fall prey to soil erosion through an increase in visitor activity. With improvements to local amenities and attractions along the wall has brought a greater increase in day visitors. With this increase in foot traffic management of the site have maintained a grass sward. The reason for this was to keep visitors in a maintained path without damaging in a wide area.

Access need not entail actually walking on a fragile archaeology, as long as visitors can see remains in sufficient detail. (Finding the Way- British Archaeology July/August 2005)The problem of this particular type of footpath is that its natural and therefore can’t take the pressure from the amount of visitors to the region. Then if that amount of visitors is going to increase, then the grass sward will deteriorate at a far greater level. The saving grace that a grass sward has is that it is natural and there for blends in to the natural landscape, but it does require a greater level of maintenance. The hope of the path is to keep the visitors to a particular area, rather than walking all over the place creating erosion on a greater and wider area of the landscape along the wall, thus reducing the impact on the wall and its archaeology.

Footpath, maintenance and construction creates a permanent scarring of the landscape, but in encouraging visitors to keep to a path, it is arguably less damaging than an ever increasing natural path. (Wall Management Plan- Hadrian’s Wall Heritage Site).Some critics argue that a hard surface path would be better. A hard surface path wouldn’t require the same level of regular maintenance as the natural grass sward. Yet at the same time the hard path wouldn’t blend naturally into the natural landscape. It would jar; it would need careful planning and thought, it would also be more expensive in the initial stages of development. It would not be impossible to produce a hard surface path that would blend into natural landscape, but it would be expensive and some of the private landowners along the wall may object. The Peak District in Derby have been implementing a natural stone paths on some of the areas that have a great number of visitors, in the hope to reduce any impacts they may have on the landscape.

The ambition to retain a grass sward on the Hadrian’s Wall trail was flawed. They argue that increased hard surfacing is needed because of the trail’s success on attracting so many walkers. (Finding the Way- British Archaeology)Has the fact that the success of the site has led to its downfall. Is it possible to continually preserve a site like Hadrian’s Wall and its archaeology when visitor numbers keep increasing year by year? The pressure on the wall and its archaeology will keep growing, but is its sustainability not only lay in the protection of that archaeology but in the attractions and communities along the wall.

It’s estimated that around 1.5 million tourists visit the wall and its attractions on the wall each year, with that number expected to continually grow. (Visitor Management - Case Studies from World Heritage sites)With more visitors will mean more money to the region, this in effect means that there is more money for the funding for the needs of conservation and preservation of the site.

Even though there is a green sward, it isn’t able to cope with the increased traffic of visitors. Professor Peter Fowler said, “I was really quite alarmed, the problem is that the trail is very close to the wall and it doesn’t seem in any significant way to be managed. It’s not the walkers; it’s the lack of management of the trail which is causing the erosion and wearing of the path which in places is, around 10-15cm deep.This would suggest there is a great need to provide a hard surface path, which will cope with the ever growing visitor number. A decision needs to be made, is it better to have a path that can cope with the number of visitors or a natural path that will blend into the landscape and be sensitive to the archaeology underneath. A hard surface path on the more popular stretches of the trail may be the best solution, but this will need to be both sensitive to the archaeology underfoot and the landscape it sits in.

English Heritage and the countryside agency are committed to the view that the green sward is the most sympathetic surface to the protection and preservation of the archaeology. (Finding the Way- British Archaeology)Daily management will be needed to help maintain the green sward, especially as visitor numbers will grow year by year. Once erosion has established acceleration is quick, which will require a regular maintenance to protect the landscape. In order to provide this level of maintenance, a requirement might be that local staffs are given additional training to help with the management of the trail. Better and continued use of volunteers will also improve the protection of the wall trail. To do this a regular monitoring system will need to be initiated with a precise system of reporting and all damage, especially if the wall and its attractions are to be appreciated by future generations and continued use as a national trail. Making use of the visitors themselves may be a potentially useful tool, asking visitors to report any damage they see along the wall, this may also be a way of making the visitors acting in a responsible manner whilst walking along the site.

Should we stop visitors from walking the site, as this would instantly reduce any impact on the site? This is an impossible task, plus the site should be enjoyed any and everyone. Also reducing the number of visitors would have a detrimental effect on the communities and businesses along the wall that rely on those visitors. Yet at the same time there has to be plan in place to help reduce the impacts of the visitors on the archaeology and the building remains along the wall.

It has fulfilled economic objectives, having so far generated an estimated £4.5m within the regional economy. Businesses reliant on tourism welcome this, especially after the hardship suffered when visitor numbers fell during the foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2001. The trail has provided farmers on the wall, hard pressed before foot-and-mouth, with opportunities to diversify. (Finding the Way- British Archaeology)Reducing the impacts along the wall is a difficult issue, the wall is there to be enjoyed by all, but it must be maintained in a sustainable way so that future generations can also enjoy the site. There is also the problem of developing a sustainable plan that will help the communities along the wall that rely on the tourism generated by the wall and its attractions.
For a site like Hadrian’s Wall the management team can only do so much, at the end of the day it comes down to people like me who visit the site. The visitors have to behave in a more responsible manner; respect has to be paid to the archaeology of the site and sensitivity and delicate nature of the landscape at the archaeology. Visitors numbers will only increase, those visitors will have be careful and sensitive to the need of the site. By behaving in a more responsible way whilst visiting the site, then hopefully the site will not suffer to much from the impacts of human activity.

Vale, B & Vale, R (1991) – Green Architecture: design for a sustainable future, Thames & Hudson.
Seymour, J (1982) -The Lore of the Land, Whittet books.
Horster, V (2003) – Living the Past, English Heritage.
Holden, A (2000) – Environment & Tourism, Routledge.Mowforth, M & Hunt I (1998) – Tourism & Sustainability, Routledge.
Shackley, M (ed) (1998) – Visitor Management: Case Studies from World Heritage Site, Butterworth Heinemann.
Goudie. A (6th Ed) (2006) – human Impact on the Natural Environment, Blackwell Publishing.

English Heritage (2005) - Making the Past part of our Future, English Heritage Publications
HM Government (2005) – Securing the future: delivering UK sustainable development strategy, TSO.
English Heritage (2002) - State of the Historic Environment Report, English Heritage Publications.
Hadrian’s Wall (2002) - Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site Management Plan 2002-2007,

British Archaeology (July/August 2005) – Finding the Way, Paul Austen, CBA Publications.



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