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1. Background

Time Team
Defence of Britain
Local Heritage Initiative
Images of England

One of the most visible signs of the current popularity of archaeology and history is the amount of air time both television and radio devote to them. In the UK, programmes such as the Time Team and others have presented archaeologists with opportunities to reach the general public. The enthusiasm conveyed in these programmes has encouraged some people to get off their sofas and become involved in recording different aspects of the historic environment. At the same time, funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (Heritage Lottery Fund 2002) has resulted in new opportunities for volunteers to become involved in practical research and fieldwork through projects such as the Defence of Britain, Local Heritage Initiative and Images of England.

Popular enthusiasm for the historic environment in the UK takes place against a background of increasing pressure. The pace of development in towns and in the countryside has seldom been more rapid with new housing developments, road improvements, science parks, leisure facilities, visitor centres all impacting on the surviving resource. The pressure of development and the importance of conservation are recognised in both national (DCMS 2002) and international legislation (European Commission 2002), as is the importance of reliable and accurate information about the locations of archaeological remains and historic structures. Information is an essential foundation, supporting both effective conservation management and serving public interest in the historic environment. We need to develop our knowledge of what survives today, not only in order to take decisions about its future but also to present it adequately here and now (English Heritage 2000).

Enthusiasm, conservation, management, research, are all reasons why many different people and organisations have become involved in collecting and managing information about different aspects of the historic environment. Significant investments are being made into developing databases and other digital resources to support conservation management and public information services. However, the data are held by different people and organisations in a variety of locations across the UK and it is difficult to build an overview of the resource. In a response to this scenario, a group of organisations with an interest in information relating to the historic environment came together in 1998 under the auspices of the Council for British Archaeology to form HEIRNET, the Historic Environment Information Resources Network (HEIRNET 2002). In forming HEIRNET their aim was to find ways of working together to improve access to information about the historic environment in ways that are geared to users' needs and which emphasise public benefit. This article will look at some of the areas that are being explored by HEIRNET.

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Last updated: Tue Feb 18 2003