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The value of a watching brief
What is the value of a watching brief? To the developer it is often an open-ended and potentially costly expense; to the archaeologist it frequently provides a frustrating glimpse of something to which more time should be given. Is there another way?

Normally a watching brief is adopted following earlier forms of evaluation, such as a desk-based assessment and trial trenching. If the trial trenching has not found anything then fair enough (providing the trenches were properly located in the first place). However, I have known watching briefs to be required as the [u]only</u> means of recovering archaeological information, and substantial archaeological features have been poorly recorded.

Would a larger-scale fixed-price excavation at an earlier stage prove a better response? It would enable archaeological features to be properly defined and recorded, and would also provide the developer with a fixed cost.

Possibly controversial - and I am not leaning towards any particular viewpoint - I am just curious to see what people think...
Not controversial at all.

A watching brief where the remains are not adequately excavated or recorded suits no one. It is always better to evaluate first or excavate rather have a watching brief. Funnily enough most contractors will say watching briefs are fine - the archaeologists turn up do their thing and don't hold us up. In a sense this is the point I am making, if archaeologists so rarely hold up a development because nothing is found, what is the point of them? A watching brief as a cheap way of excavating something is really just that - an inadequate excavation.

Surely a WB is the result of a sensible compromise between the developer and the archaeology. A site may have a low potential for archaeology which is deemed to be of enough interest to have a look but is economically unfeasible to excavate. So we either cancel the development or cut the work down to a WB and everybody is reasonably happy.

I agree that a WB normally finds very little, are often badly recorded and generally can be seen as an inadequate excavation but there is no reason for this if done properly.
It does rely on good communication with the developers. I'm fed up with driving 20 miles to see a trench being filled with the last drops from the cement lorry.

On a lighter note they do et me out of the office, an hours drive listening to the cricket, quick chat with a machine driver and a wander around the site. Jobs a good un.
I think that there are two main problems with asking for a watching brief. The first is that many archaeologists go out with the expectation of finding nothing, and consequently may not be as observant as they could be. The second is that, if something does turn up, the archaeologist is often not willing to hold up the construction schedule in order to deal with it properly. Reading that back, it sounds very critical of contracting archaeologists, and I don't mean it to be. It's just that I think that carrying out a watching brief needs an archaeologist that is confident enough in their role in the planning process to halt a site in the face of pressure from the developer.
Lets get back to basics. A planning condition can only be imposed if without the planning application would other wise be refused. Therefore such a condition should not be applied to a development if there is not clear evidence that archaeological remains are present.

PPG 16 requires archaeological remains to preserved by situ or preserved by record.

An archaeologist on site who is too much of a wimp to stop the development while whatever has been found is excavated should not be there. The system is clear cut in this circumstance - the development stops. If the developer does not then they are in breach of their planning permission etc etc. If found guilty this carries a fine of upto 20k if you plead guilty.

If stuff is present that needs excavating - either it need excavating or it doesn't - all we are discussing is when it will be discovered. In terms of the PPG16 system the extent of the excavation should be the same if stuff is found in a watching brief or not. The cost of the excavation will be the same whenever the remains are found what will be different are the other costs to the developer.

If archaeology has made the development uneconomic it is simply tough on the developer.

In PPG 16 a watching brief is a means of ensuring that the developers do what they are suppossed to and thus prevent damage to important monuments.

I agree watching briefs are nice little earners for archaeologist though - they are always done on a day rate. I always used to enjoy them when I was a proper archaeologist - a nice drive in countryside take a few photographs stop somewhere nice for lunch.


I agree with much of what Dr Wardle says above. A watching brief should only be performed by an archaeologist who is confident enough to stop development, but the point is that this isn't always the case. In the area where I work, inexperienced archaeologists are often sent out to undertake WBs, are often either unwilling or unable to record sites properly. I don't blame the on-site archaeologist as much as I blame the unit that put him/her in that position. Often it seems to me that units have undertaken the job on the condition that they'll find nothing.

Similarly, I agree that if archaeology makes a development uneconomic, that's just tough. If a development is so marginal that the cost of a watching brief is unsustainable, there's bound to be some other cost that crops up which will push it into debt.

However, I don't agree that planning conditions should only be imposed where there is good evidence that archaeology is present. In the case of greenfield developments, there may be no recorded archaeology, but development may encounter something that was not known beforehand.
Most watching briefs are like a trip to the seaside! A bit of traveling followed by a rainy day and a quick dip of the toe into the cold water and off again! Opps, sorry forgot the bag of chips and a cup of tea at lunch time!And sand between your toes in the bath at night.
In other words, not pointless, but rarely gets to the bottom of things!
In my opinion the planning laws need a very large overhaul in favor of saving the hidden treasures of our country.
To start with I'd make it compulsary to have either insurance for all developers to cover any unforseen archaeology that may be found.
Secondly I'd dare to suggest a tariff be made against all new developments on a sliding scale(a type of stamp duty percentage) that would be cheaper to the small development and obviously costing more for the larger one's. Having an archaeologist popping in for a day is about as useful as a 'cat flap' in an elephant house.Smile

Evil to him who thinks evil.
[8D] Nice way of summing it it really....

To misquote Edmund Blackadder it is like a pencil without a lead................... POINTLESS

Big Grin
[8D] Nice way of summing it it really....

To misquote Edmund Blackadder it is like a pencil without a lead................... POINTLESS

Big Grin
How long before any government whether national or local take a deep breath and jump in with a policy that will actually achive something.
Its the procratination of poloticians that have got us to this point in time. What or how much more must be lost due to the greed of a few at the cost of the many? It takes one brave man or woman to stand up and say do you know what's being lost and can never be recovered again!
I'm a metal detectorist with a passion for human history especially our own. It grates me so much that I have seen sites destroyed because of greed. Its got to start at the planning stage and with some lateral as well as radical thinking going into the efforts to bridge a devide between archaeologist and developers(no matter how small they may be!).
If you guys could have your way what would your choices be to help this situation along? As a Church Minister I often start with answers and then go backwards to make them workable!

Evil to him who thinks evil.

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