Capturing our archaeological heritage

Gary Thompson, Asset Manager at The Crown Estate

16 December 2015

CITiZAN volunteers

As manager of around half of the UK’s shoreline, The Crown Estate is delighted to support the CITiZAN project, inspiring people to capture our coastal heritage before it’s lost.

From Lindisfarne to Land’s End, much of our island’s history is being washed away. Unlike archaeological sites in our towns and cities, coastal archaeology sites are not routinely protected or recorded, and many are being destroyed by winds, waves and storms.

The Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network – or more snappily, CITiZAN – is one of England’s largest ever community archaeology projects. The aim? To train a national network of local volunteers to survey, monitor and record vulnerable archaeological sites along 6,200 miles of coastline and over 500 miles of foreshore on tidal rivers – a task that simply would not be possible for any one professional group on their own.

The CITiZAN team and volunteers are capturing our coastal heritage before it’s too late.”

Gary Thompson, Asset Manager at The Crown Estate

Using standardised methodologies, these volunteers are contributing to a growing database of knowledge about these important sites, opening the door to new research opportunities. Local groups already involved in archaeology projects are also being included, uniting different approaches to create a standardised model.

A big thank you to charity partner MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology), which is leading the project nationally, with project partners including the Heritage Lottery Fund, National Trust, Historic England, the Council for British Archaeology in York and the Nautical Archaeology Society in Portsmouth.

Here are some of our sites where the CITiZAN team and volunteers are capturing our coastal heritage before it’s too late:

Cleethorpes in East Lincolnshire is home to a prehistoric submerged forest, hidden beneath a pre-Bronze Age peat bed. The forest is made up of numerous well preserved tree stumps and fallen trees, but is at constant risk from erosion and damage by sea life such as molluscs. The CITiZAN team recently discovered a rare Bronze Age trackway that is believed to be more than 4,000 years old. There are also four known shipwrecks in the intertidal zone, an important souvenir of the area’s fishing industry.

A wrecked fishing vessel at Shotley Gate

A wrecked fishing vessel at Shotley Gate

Earle’s Shipyard on the River Humber was the site of many major ship launches in the 1850s, before closing during the Great Depression of 1932. Today the remains of the shipyard can be seen in three 19th century lighters, as well as slipways and the original seawall. Building on earlier work by John Buglass Archaeological Services, CITiZAN volunteers are recording and monitoring the site before the shipyard slips further into the sea.

Palace Quay in Suffolk is a large mid-18th century jetty. Above the quay is the precariously sited St Clements Chapel, constantly threatened by the disappearing cliff. CITiZAN is looking at the relationship between the quay and the chapel, recording the sites before they are lost to tidal erosion. Dendrochronology sampling, which you may be more familiar with as ‘studying tree rings’, is being used for dating. In addition, a drone is being used to get a detailed aerial view, as the site may include a Saxon fish trap, stretching at least 50m into the estuary, an important record of the fishing industry in the area.

6,200 miles

of coastline

and over 500 miles

of foreshore on tidal rivers to monitor

Shotley Gate in Suffolk, owned by The Crown Estate and the RSPB, is an estuarine foreshore with evidence of both an industrial and agricultural history. The wreck of an early 20th century fishing vessel provides a perfect site for training volunteers in vessel recording techniques. The remains of a series of chalk barge beds also hug the sea wall to the west. These would have provided the vital link for agricultural produce to be traded up and down river, as chalk offers a stable but non-abrasive platform for flat bottom barges during low tide. CITiZAN aims to date these features and understand more about their links with local industries. This is an urgent matter, as extreme tides are washing away the chalk.

These sites give a flavour of the variety of locations being monitored through CITiZAN. They really do span all historical periods, from prehistoric submerged forests to World War II coastal defences, as well as Roman buildings, lost medieval ports, fishing settlements and countless abandoned boats, barges and ships.

Feeling tempted to sign up as a volunteer? Please visit the CITiZAN website using the link below. 

Further information

CITiZAN project

CITiZAN website