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Archaeology is the study of the past through the material remains left by our ancestors. The evidence can be buried or upstanding, deliberately constructed or the by-product of other activities. The evidence can consist of a few artefacts or an ancient place name.

Archaeology is a finite, non-renewable resource. Some sites are durable and visible, while others are hidden and only revealed through excavation or research. However because the archaeological resource is irreplaceable, excavation is usually only appropriate if the site will otherwise by destroyed without record, or if there is a proven research need. Non-invasive investigation techniques are always preferable.

Many monuments and sites are protected by being scheduled as ancient monuments, but this protection is limited and only extends to cover the more important monuments; the majority of lesser sites have no formal protection. More information on scheduling can be found on the Historic England website. New sites are being discovered regularly but others are being destroyed by human and natural processes.

Planning a development

If you're planning a development, it pays to seek the advice from a Historic Environment Officer as early as possible before submitting a planning application. This can save time, money and avoid problems later. For developments which cross the border into the South Hams, you may also need to contact the Devon County Archaeological Service.

You can use our development enquiry service for a one hour online historic environment pre-application advice and information meeting held on MS Teams with a Historic Environment Officer. Face to face meetings either at Ballard House or on site can be requested to discuss your proposal subject to officer availability. Please see the Strategic Planning & Infrastructure Fees Policy to confirm the cost of the meeting.

After this preliminary appraisal it may be necessary to commission a fuller archaeological assessment or evaluation by a professionally qualified archaeological contractor. A list of these contractors can be provided on request. Generally the costs of archaeological work made necessary by development would be borne by the developer.

The Government has set out its planning policies for the historic environment and our heritage assets in the National Planning Policy Framework, Chapter 16. It was published on 24 July 2018 and replaced the previous NPPF (2012).

Archaeology will be a material consideration for the Local Planning Authority when making a planning decision. If further archaeological work is needed this can be secured by the use of a planning condition, or a legal agreement under Section 106 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990.

The type of archaeological work requested can take a number of forms:

Desk-based assessment

A detailed study of the available information about a site before a planning application is submitted or approved. Sources of information can include the Historic Environment Record (or Sites and Monuments Record), published reports, journals, historic maps and photographs.


A survey or trial excavation to assess the nature, extent and importance of archaeological remains within a proposed development area, before a planning application is submitted or approved. Techniques can vary but may include fieldwalking, geophysical survey and trial trenching.

Excavation and recording

A controlled programme of fieldwork, usually involving full excavation, with analysis and publication of the findings, to provide a lasting record of archaeological evidence that will otherwise be destroyed by the development.

Watching brief

The recording of the archaeological evidence coming to light during the course of the development.