The online resource for the historic environment

5.03 Conservation strategy

To assist your understanding of this Unit refer to BS 7913: 2013
Section 4: "Heritage values and significance."
Section 5: "Using significance as a framework for managing the historic environment."
Section 6: "Significance as part of operational care and other interventions."
Section 8: "Heritage and project management."

Underpinning any conservation intervention/strategy is the need to accurately determine what is, why it is and how an historical asset is significant. Such assessment must always be a primary action when planning and formulating intervention strategy. There is a fundamental need to understand significance, via study of detailed physical and documentary evidence. This in order to inform intervention policy before planning physical work – the historical record offered by an asset to future generations may be damaged and even destroyed if intervention policy does not take account of the reasons why and how an asset is significant. The assessment of significance will become more important with the recent changes to listed building legislation, particularly in respect of Heritage Protection Reform and its recommendation for Conservation Management Strategy for larger sites.

“Work on a place should be preceded by studies to understand the place which should include analysis of physical, documentary, oral and other evidence, drawing on apropriate knowledge, skills and disciplines.”
Article 26.1 Burra Charter 1999

Consultation with all who have an impact/use heritage need to be consulted in order to canvass their views and encourage understanding through involvement. See BS 7913: 2013 Section 4: "Heritage values and significance". See also, BS 7913: 2013 para 5.4 "Strategic plans".

“...a historic building cannot be protected through management without a thorough understanding of what it is that is important and why." BS 7913: 2013: para 5.5 "Consultation management plans".

“Wide ranging consultation and engagement should take place in preparing [a] conservation management plan, as the same historic building can be valued by different groups and individuals for different reasons." BS 7913: 2013 para 5.5 "conservation management plans".

See also, BS 7913: 2013:
para 5.6.2 "Consultation"
para 5.6.7 " Management strategy."
para 5.7: "The process of planning major change affecting historic buildings."

“When managing historic buildings, significance should be taken into account at every stage from the business strategy of the organisation that owns it or occupies the historic building to physical work involved." BS 7913: 2013 Section 6 "Significance as part of care or other interventions".

To which must be added, consultation with wider society (the public) who also retain an interest in it.

“The organisation and individuals responsible for management decisions should be named and specific responsibility taken for each such decision.”
Burra Charter Article 29

“…[conservation] management plans… provide a framework for discussion, consultation and agreed action, and try to set out what the objectives and priorities are for conservation.”
English Heritage (1996) A Future for Our Past

“A conservation plan is a document which sets out the significance of a site and explains how that significance will be retained in any future use, repair, alteration, development or management… Conservation plans are based on a common intellectual process which covers the following concepts

Assessment of significance
Identification of conservation issues (including conflicts and how significance is vulnerable)
Policies for retention of significance

…in order to succeed, the process must be creative, analytical, participatory and synthetic”
Clark, K. (2001). Informed Conservation. English Heritage

See also the Building Conservation article Conservation Plans: A benefit or a Burden. Clark, K.

See also BS 7913: 2013:
Section 4: "Heritage values and significance."
Section 5: "Using significance as a as a framework for managing the historic environment."
Section 8: "Heritage and project management."

Conservation planning is a fundamental, pre-intervention and forward looking, management process and will identify issues that are of importance when assessing an asset and should include: gaining an understanding of significance (a fundamental process before any intervention is considered, see Unit 1), identifying vulnerabilities, assessing impact of proposals, and formulating management policies for protection of significance during use and proposed intervention work. Once a need for intervention has been identified such assessment is vital if the impact of proposals are to be fully understood and implemented without compromising significance.

Conservation plans can be a vehicle for identifying and agreeing capacity for change that, in turn, guides action, including intervention.

The process must look not only at immediate plans for work on or within an historical asset but should also address future plans for it including repair, maintenance, alteration, development and on-going use. (see BS 7913: 2013 Section 7: "Maintenance".) The plan will obviously require updating from time to time and the adoption of a four/five yearly process of review is probably a reasonable starting point for regular evaluation. The conservation plan should always be considered as a fluid strategy as many factors influence the use and management of the historic environment and may be subject to continual change; the need to respond to threats will be on-going and the plan should reflect that pattern of change. The plan should be considered as the master strategic document influencing all actions of intervention and use. Reference to it must be a primary action prior to consideration of any intervention process. Its use will assist in re-establishing and reinforcing what is significant about SMEs and such referral must been seen as an essential process when considering intervention and determining policy. The conservation plan should also establish recommended routes of communication and establish guidelines for reference back to those who have ‘stakeholder’ interests in the asset, and to the wider public who will also have a view and may have concerns about its continuity. Involvement of both these groups will assist in encouraging support for conservation and promotion of the historic environment.

Taking account of opinions outside the focused field of conservation facilitates a more balanced view and understanding of significance and perceived value.

“Understanding the nature, significance, condition and potential of a heritage asset must be the basis for rational decisions about its management, use, alteration or disposal. A sound, but succinct, understanding of a heritage asset is essential in order to determine why and how it is significant. This in turn highlights the opportunities for and constraints on change, and informs decisions about management.”
HELM Managing Local Authority Heritage Assets: some guiding principles for decision makers.


Implementing a conservation plan will assist in:

  • Formulating an overall view and strategy including methods of recording change
  • Facilitating an overview of the asset and its contents, condition and vulnerabilities
  • Prediction of long and short term requirements

  • Planning for long term maintenance including sourcing and allocation of funds
  • Assessing impact of proposals and prediction of long term effect of change
  • Structuring on-going management planning
  • Facilitating strategies for communication and promotion.
  • (after Heritage Lottery Fund)

All this: whilst judging and avoiding any detrimental effect on significance and the narrative value offered by an asset and whilst maintaining its full authenticity for future generations.

The conservation plan should become a document for structuring a strategic response to all aspect of the management and functioning of the historic environment, including all factors that will impact on its use and longevity and should include staffing policy and responsibility determination. Communication of the information used in the conservation plan to assess significance must be firmly communicated to all staff involved with intervention work and management of an asset. It is essential that all concerned with and involved in work on an historic asset should be clear about why and how an asset is important. They must be clear about their role in the management and use of an asset such that significance is not placed at risk by inappropriate action by poorly informed staff.

Consider how the absence of staffing structure and methods of communication might impact on the significance of an asset.

"The strategic plan should drive all the organisations by articulating its basic concept of vision, mission, goals, objectives and activities". BS 7913: 2013 para 5.4 "Strategic plans."

According to BS 7913: 2013 para 5.2 What is the primary focus of the Strategic Plan.

Staffing structure should be identified and an appropriate management strategy put in place defining individuals’ roles and responsibilities: such role definitions being part of the nexus of response to the management of an asset. Staff need to be sure of who is responsible for what and to whom they should refer prior to making decisions that might affect significance. The impact of ill-considered interventions may have a damaging if not catastrophic effect on significance and therefore any action must be preceded by evaluation and determination of impact.

Similarly, owners/users of or tenants in an historic asset need to be aware of how their use of it might be a threat to significance. They need to be made aware of why and how the asset is significant, they need to be informed and educated to realise that their use of an asset may place significance at risk. They should be able, through enlightenment and improved awareness, to make value judgements about the asset and how they might best protect and maintain authenticity by careful use of it.
The provision of a Home Information Pack for owners and tenants of an historic asset will assist in ensuring that users/occupiers of historic dwelling are as aware as possible of what is significant about their home. This to ensure that their use of it does not place significance at risk.

Consider what might be included in a Home Information Pack given to owners/occupiers of an historical asset to ensure that their use/occupation of it does not place significance at risk.

The wording/content of the Conservation Plan needs to be tailored to suit scale and use of an asset. Small-scale assets need to be provided with a plan that is easy to use and implement. Larger sites will, of necessity, generate a need for more complex plans.

All proposals for intervention will impact on the historic environment; it is incumbent upon you to evaluate that impact against the conservation strategy of the asset for which you have responsibility.

“Once a conservation adviser has defined the significance of the fabric or aspect affected, they will need to look more closely at the impact of the proposals. … in effect, risk assessment for historic buildings and their landscape.”
Informed Conservation. Clark, K. English Heritage.

Assessment of the impact of intervention must be undertaken before any physical work on site. The proposals must be analysed, and their effects assessed against loss of fabric, authenticity and dignity. If a proposal is likely to have an adverse impact on significance then an alternative proposal must be investigated and the least damaging alternative adopted.

“The process of finding ways of minimising or avoiding damage … is known as mitigation. Indeed, mitigation is probably the principle aim of the impact assessment process.”
Clark, K. as above.

See Informed Conservation. Clark, K. English Heritage for information on impact assessment procedure.

In respect of an asset for which you are responsible determine, by reference to the preceding text and recommended reading, how your management strategy compares with the general consensus of what is considered an appropriate structure for historic asset management.

A full conservation plan may be too unwieldy a document to refer to on a daily basis the use of an abbreviated form of the master strategy document will assist in the management and understanding of an asset, particularly in respect of smaller site and assets

A conservation statement is, in simple terms, an abbreviated or shorthand version of a conservation plan and identifies and lists factors important to an understanding of a SME, its history, significance and vulnerabilities. It may also outline future policies and gaps in knowledge or understanding of a SME. The conservation statement may form an armature for a full conservation and management plan and may be a precursor to it. The conservation plan will address issues more relevant to ‘running’ a SME and may refer to cost planning, fund sourcing and income generation; it is more of a management device than a conservation statement but the two may be combined on smaller sites. A complex site will generate the need for a separation of these two documents as the issues will be considerably more complicated, interconnected and inter-active and may require co-ordination and synthesis of a great deal more information.

HLF has published Guidance on how to prepare a Conservation Plan.
Reference to it may provide you with an understanding of what needs to be considered as part of the process.

This guidance will help you to prepare a conservation plan. It describes how you manage the site and design the project. It is downloadable at the following site:

A business plan may be a tertiary response in the management process (also known as the "Strategy plan" see BS 7913: 2013 para 5.4 "Strategic plan"), being influenced by its precursors the conservation statement and the conservation plan. A business plan for a site of significance is separate from a conservation plan as the issues covered by it will address subjects more applicable to the financial issues associated with the business needs of a site, rather than be focused on conservation matters. It is not to say, however, that the two should not at some point cross relate. See also Unit 4: identification of income sources and identification of funding sources. The business plan will be influenced by an understanding of the significance of the site and its structure and will rely on its precursor the conservation plan. Conservation plans/strategic plans/business plans may be combined on smaller projects.

The need for pre-intervention planning should be self-evident: if you are to intervene in or have an impact upon the historic environment you have a duty to assess that impact and how it might affect importance and significance. You must minimally intervene and have a minimum effect on significance. Your work must involve no or minimum loss of fabric, and thereby authenticity, and your intervention must, ideally, be reversible and respect all previous periods of intervention in order to protect an asset’s historic narrative.

The products of any investigation work and the recording and storage of methodologies/justifications defining intervention work must form part of the overall strategy for on-going management of a SME. The provision of documentary evidence of intervention will assist future generations in gaining an understanding of the reasons for and motivation behind interventive work. Such information must, therefore, be carefully archived and stored in suitable and easily accessible form for future use.

“The keeping of proper records is a fundamental principle of conservation.”
The Care of Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments by Government Departments in Scotland. Conservation Unit Department of National Heritage. Historic Scotland.

“We may make mistakes – in fact as humans we are bound to – but future generations are unlikely to blame us as long as we tell them what we did and why.”
Jackson-Stops, G.

See also BS 7913: 2013 para 8.3 "Project records."

Identify what sort of documents might constitute records of intervention and where these might be stored.

You might usefully refer to:

The Care of Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments by Government Departments in Scotland. loc cit.
Managing Local Authority Assets. DCMS, English Heritage.
Informed Conservation. Clark, K. English Heritage 2001