England's Historic Seascapes: Demonstrating the Method

SeaZone Solutions Limited, 2011

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SeaZone Solutions Limited (2011) England's Historic Seascapes: Demonstrating the Method [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor] https://doi.org/10.5284/1000144

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HLC is a method of assessing and classifying an archaeologist's view of the historic cultural landscape as an aid to inform the management of the historic environment. The approach brings together historic and natural environmental datasets in a GIS format to enable the interpretation of landscape character types and the areas in which they are expressed. This method encourages the interpretation of data in a manner transcending their isolated expressions to encourage the identification of recurring trends which characterise the historical and cultural landscape.

The landscape is characterised by HLC according to a series of recurring 'Types' reflecting the dominant historic cultural processes which shape our perceptions of an area's present character. It is designed to inform a broad range of applications including spatial planning, conservation and wider approaches to heritage management which emphasise the positive contributions to be gained for everyone's quality of life in understanding and maintaining the cultural legibility of the world we inhabit.

HLC has being applied across England, in multiple contexts including county based HLC, urban HLC, AONBs and National Parks, undertaken predominantly by Council HERs. To date HLCs is approaching two thirds of National completion. HSC draws on the same core principles as underpin HLC to produce a characterisation of the marine and coastal historic landscape.

Characterising the Marine Zone

The HSC Method, while maintaining the principles used in HLC, recognises the need for different expressions of those principles in the coastal and marine environment.

The coastal zone to landward and seaward of mean sea level is an area of overlapping, not abutting, terrestrial and maritime perceptions, demanding assessment of both landward and seaward perspectives and requiring interoperability between the overlapping HSC and HLC coverage.

The marine environment provides a number of distinct differences from land for historic character assessment. Methods developed and used to apply characterisation principles in terrestrial and near shore HLC have required adjustment in order to apply the principles effectively to offshore areas. Some of the key attributes that characterise the coastal and marine landscape itself in this respect include:

  • Understanding the way the character of marine landscapes is perceived in contrast with that of terrestrial landscapes
  • The sea has multiple vertical levels which can vary greatly for any given area in their historic character: the character of the sub-sea floor, sea floor, water column and sea surface all need to be understood in their own right.
  • Dynamic marine environment: the natural environment of much of the inter-tidal and marine zone is dynamic and constantly changing due to natural physical processes such as currents, tidal range and sediment mobility.

The application of HLC to the coastal and marine environment was first trialled in a single area - Liverpool Bay and waters off the Fylde. The four successive pilot projects provided a range of related approaches to the effective expression of characterisation principles in the coastal and marine zones.

The key issues highlighted during the five pilot projects were addressed during the HSC Method consolidation in 2007-8. The multi-dimensionality of the coastal and marine zones, married with the need for recognising time depth during the characterisation of the historical and cultural landscape, has been resolved through the use of a multi-level approach.

In order to recognise the contrasts in character potentially existing at differing levels in the marine environment, the following classification has been prescribed within the recorded attributes:

  • Sub-sea floor HSC: identifying the dominant historic character beneath the sea floor veneer
  • Sea floor HSC: identifying the dominant historic character within or directly on the sea floor veneer,
  • Water column HSC: identifying the dominant historic character across the vertical height of the water column
  • Sea surface HSC: identifying the dominant historic character of the surface of the water
  • Previous historic character (recorded where information bears on it)

The time depth of the assessed marine historic character is recorded in the attributes in two main ways in the national HSC Methodology: by recording in the 'Period' attribute the date at which an area adopted its present character, and by recording multiple expressions of 'Previous HSC' for a given area where available evidence bears on that.

Similarly, the contrast between the character type structures and the nature of available and appropriate mapping frameworks for the coastal, intertidal and marine zones has been recognised and dealt with in the national HSC Methodology by adapting the approach to representing character assessment so that coastal and intertidal character is mapped using polygons, whereas offshore the character type mapping uses a grid mesh. This approach has encouraged a more seamless transition between HLC and HSC by matching the extents of character polygons between the two datasets where possible.