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 English Heritage 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 our 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.

An initial consultation will show whether there is any known, or likely, archaeology within or adjacent to a proposed development site. 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. The archaeological report should be submitted with the planning application, and must include an assessment of the likely effects of the development and any measures proposed to reduce its impact. The Local Planning Authority may defer a planning decision until this information is available.

The main priority is to preserve important archaeological remains in-situ whenever possible. To achieve this, the impact of the development on the archaeology should be minimised, or if this is not possible, detailed archaeological excavation, recording and publication of the results will be required. If the archaeology is particularly important, planning permission may not be granted. Generally the costs of archaeological work made necessary by development would, in most cases, be borne by the developer.

Archaeological considerations 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.

A typical condition would be:

No part of the development allowed by this permission shall be commenced until the applicant (or their agent of his successors in title) has made arrangements, to the satisfaction of the Local Planning Authority, for a programme of archaeological work, in accordance with a written scheme of investigation which has been submitted by the applicant and approved by the Local Planning Authority.

A programme of recording can involve a full excavation of the archaeology in advance of the development, although on smaller sites, recording may take place once development has started, this is known as a watching brief. 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 SMR), 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.