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Home News Desk UK's cultural heritage under threat - Peers warn

UK's cultural heritage under threat - Peers warn PDF Print E-mail

The UK’s cultural heritage is under threat as the knowledge and skills needed to preserve the physical artefacts, which make up so much of that heritage, are being lost.  That is the stark warning found in a House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report just published .

The Committee warn that unless government, and in particular the Department for Culture Media and Sport, take the issue seriously there is a real danger that Britain’s reputation as a leader in the science underpinning conservation will be lost and we will face the possibility of irreversible losses from among our treasured works of art, rare books and historical buildings.

The report, to which Icon contributed both written and oral evidence,  criticises the DCMS for failing to grasp the seriousness of the threat to heritage science and its wider implications for conservation. The DCMS has focussed on widening access to our cultural heritage, which, while desirable, also helps to hasten its deterioration. The Committee call for the Government’s policy on sustainability to be applied to the heritage sector – in other words, recognising that future generations have an equal right of access. This requires that conservation, based on sound science, be given a higher priority. 

The Committee also call on those in the heritage sector – museums, universities, charities, libraries, and others – to work together to develop a broad-based, national strategy for heritage science

Commenting, Baroness Sharp of Guildford, Chairman of the Committee, said:

“We must safeguard our cultural heritage not only for the present generation but also for future generations. We must not allow unique, iconic physical artefacts that embody British culture to be lost through poor management. 

“Britain was for a long time at the forefront of conservation techniques. This reputation was built in the mid twentieth century with the development of science-based conservation at the National Gallery and British Museum. However this key conservation research is now undervalued in Britain, in particular by DCMS, at the same time as our priceless cultural artefacts face not just the familiar threats of wear and tear, but new threats such as climate change.

“As a nation we must ensure we stay at the forefront by developing new techniques and applying scientific research in this area. We have a wealth of cultural, artistic and architectural heritage that must be maintained. This is of vital importance today, not least through cultural tourism which adds £38 billion to the economy, but it is of equal importance to preserve these treasures for future generations. All the key players – DCMS, the National Museums and Galleries, English Heritage, the National Trust, and many others – need to come together to ensure that our descendants don’t miss out on their cultural heritage.” 

Icon is extensively quoted throughout the report.  A main recommendation is that English Heritage should provide the secretariat to support the development of a national strategy for what the report calls heritage science, with the implication that Icon wouldn be on the steering committee.  Another is that the necessary resources be provided to enable Icon "to become the focus for the use of heritage science projects to promote public engagement with SET as a whole".

The report is published by The Stationary Office Science and Heritage, House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, 9th Report of 2005/06, HL Paper 256.

The full report is available at:

The members of the Committee who conducted the inquiry were:

Baroness Sharp of Guildford (Chair)    
Baroness Perry of Southwark
Lord Broers    
Baroness Platt of Writtle      
Lord Chorley   
Lord Redesdale
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff               
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood
Baroness Hilton of Eggardon    
Lord Winston
Lord Paul                                 
Lord Young of Graffham

Icon has produced an unofficial summary which can be downloaded here pdf Science and Heritage Summary 108.54 Kb

See also Alastair McCapra's View from the Top in  the 20 December 2006 issue of: pdf Research Fortnight 58.04 Kb 

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