INTERNATIONALLY important heritage sites are being ravaged by a rising tide of crime and vandalism, with Yorkshire one of the worst hit areas in the country, according to shocking statistics released today.
English Heritage said the “worrying” rate of attacks on the region’s historical assets had been revealed for the first time after it commissioned the first ever survey of so-called heritage crime across the country.
The study shows that Yorkshire, along with the north east and north west of England, tops the table of destruction, with more than a fifth of historic sites suffering some kind of attack over the last year.
London suffers the lowest level of heritage crime, and English Heritage bosses said their figures showed a “strong link” between the problem and levels of deprivation in communities in the depressed North.
Experts said heritage crime encompassed everything from low-level anti-social behaviour and criminal damage to metal thefts and the deliberate raiding of archaeological sites undergoing painstaking work.
Henry Owen-John, a planning director at English Heritage said: “This is the first time we have carried out a comprehensive analysis of the threat crime poses to our precious and vulnerable heritage.
“The figures for the North are alarming, particularly for metal theft. Damage done to a listed building or an archaeological site can often not be put right and centuries of history will be lost forever.
“These places have an obviously high value to society. Their particular vulnerability warrants every effort to ensure they are still around for future generations to enjoy just as much as we enjoy them now.”
English Heritage’s study forms part of its recently-launched Heritage Crime Initiative, sparked after high-profile vandalism attacks on major Yorkshire assets such as Clifford’s Tower in York.
Councils and other interested bodies are being urged to sign up to the project and attacks on other assets, such as English Heritage-owned Monk Bretton Priory, in Barnsley, have added further urgency.
Staff were forced to close the site last summer. after it was repeatedly targeted by vandals who stole items from the Grade-I listed, 13th century building.
Bishops’ House in Sheffield has also suffered crime, including attempted arson, which led to the installation of CCTV and plans for a fence around the half-timbered structure, which dates to 1500.
Sheffield Council, which owns Bishops’ House, is currently discussing signing up to the Heritage Crime initiative, along with South Yorkshire’s other three councils.
The county’s principal archaeologist, Dinah Saich, said she found the English Heritage figures “surprising and disappointing”.
She added: “These figures show just how important it is to protect these sites. Metal theft is a huge problem, and Sheffield’s old post office in Fitzalan Square has been totally ruined by such attacks.
“But archaeological sites are also under attack from what we call treasure hunters.
“The problem is that a lot of heritage crime currently goes unreported, because people in charge of buildings and sites, and the public who may see it happening, often think that nobody will be interested.
“Until now it has been very difficult to put a figure on it, but now we can see how many sites are damaged and in the case of archaeology, the extent of the loss of items that are totally irreplaceable.”
The Association of Chief Police officers has signed up to the Heritage Crime Initiative and lead officer Richard Crompton, Lincolnshire’s Chief Constable, said it was now being taken “very seriously”.