The online resource for the historic environment

3.08 Conservation strategy

To assist your understanding of this Unit see BS 7913: 2013:
Section 5: "Using significance as a framework for managing the historic environment"
Section 6: "Significance as part of operational care and other interventions"
Section 7: "Maintenance"
Section 8: "Heritage and project management"

“A conservation management plan is simply a document that helps you look after the heritage. It explains why the heritage matters to people and sets out what you can do to look after it in any future use, alteration, development, management or repair.”
Heritage Lottery Fund Conservation Management Plans

“Conservation … cannot be about static preservation but dynamic management and research.”
English Heritage A Future for Our Past

“The Cultural Significance of a place and other issues affecting its future are best understood by a sequence of collecting and analysing information before making decisions. Understanding cultural significance comes first, then development of policy and finally management of the place in accordance with the policy”
Article 6.1 of The Burra Charter 1999.

In Conservation Management Plans the Heritage Lottery Fund suggest the following cycle or progression of plan and action development:

  • Agree the aims of your plan and how you will use it
  • Involve people
  • Understand the heritage you are dealing with
  • Assess its significance
  • Explore issues and opportunities
  • Define how you will manage the asset
  • Use and develop the plan
  • Monitor and review the plan

This suggested systematic approach offers a very good simple structure for evaluating your understanding of an asset, its significance, vulnerability, and how you will respond to its needs, patterns of use and development. No matter how complex or simple the asset on which you are working this elementary approach provides the starting structure for management of intervention works and its use is recommended. You may develop it to suit individual asset needs and requirements but it should form the basic armature of response.

The establishment, through thorough research, of cultural and historical significance informs and underpins intervention strategy. It facilitates a structured approach to intervention work and assists in ensuring that conjecture does not influence the process. It will have been established at the investigative stage of the work what is of vital value to the protection of significance, what (as a result of detailed analysis and in the absence of subjective response) is less important and what deterioration or decay processes are involved and how these need to be addressed in order to protect significance.

Part of the process of pre-intervention planning will involve assessment of those elements of the historic asset that are vulnerable – either as a result of decay, patterns of use or structural deficiencies, or as a result of other factors of influence on the structure’s deteriology that are adversely affecting the longevity of it.

Some causes of defects or decay may be outside the asset itself these might include such causes as:

  • Atmospheric pollution
  • Subsidence and vibration
  • Vandalism and theft
  • Fire damage
  • Contextual changes – traffic measures etc

You should show, within your provision of evidence that you have actively considered and responded to such influences as part of your conservation strategy.

It may be necessary as part of the assessment process to call in experts or specialists in the use of materials, patterns or processes of decay etc. It may also be necessary to call upon the services of professionals who have expert knowledge or understanding of the asset form or, who are experts in the history of the asset, its context or development. It is one of the fundamental attributes of a good conservation professional to have a clear knowledge of his or her own limitations in being able to properly assess and formulate a conservation strategy. None of us can be sufficiently expert at all things and we must recognise when more focused, esoteric or even arcane knowledge can provide useful insight into how to respond in order to protect significance.

Part of the process of good husbandry when managing an historical asset is an ability to anticipate future patterns of decay and deterioration and to link this to planned intervention. This might follow the recommendation for five yearly reviews of condition – the ‘Quinquennial review’. See Programming Church Repairs

Such reviews should address the prioritisation of response or, conservation plan/strategy might identify the following action priority rating:

    Priority 1: Immediate
    Priority 2: Urgent
    Priority 3: Necessary
    Priority 4: Desirable

By reference to BS 7913: 2013 Annex B "Conservation manuals, logbooks and four/five yearly inspections", define the criteria for prioritisation of response.

Conservation strategy should also encompass planning for disaster response. This should include being prepared for flooding, fire, natural disasters etc.